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What a Lifetime of Experiences of Sexual Abuse and Violence Has Taught Me

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West Germany, 1958 — we am 3 years old. My mom tells me never to take candy from a stranger. But strangers with candy have not been a problem.

1959 — I lay under the list and play between the feet of women: friends and relatives. They pronounce about quarrel and rape; name women who were raped during the quarrel and in the chaos afterwards. we always knew the definition of rape.

My mild-mannered mom hates her father, whom we never met, and she never reconciles with him after being sent to live with her uncle’s family at the age of 12, or was it 14? He abused her mom and we think Mutti was not untouched.


As a child we review stories, we watch cinema about quarrel and Holocaust. So much killing, so much rape. we am terrified. When will they come for me? When will we be called to help a neighbor? Will we survive? And if we do, what will be left of me?

I discipline scenarios. What to do when we am in a thoroughness stay … when the Vikings and Mongols come back? we learn to fight. we fight with boys. we take Judo classes. we sight to be ideal at running, hiding, climbing, being still, swimming, diving, conniving. Hiding under water is such an critical skill. A reed can be used as a straw. we am angry. (Even now, we am still angry.)

1960s — I am frightened of the neighbor whose two daughters are my friends. we equivocate being nearby him. One time we chuck up in his car. we am sorry, but I’m also spirited since I’m getting back at him for pushing too fast. Later we learn that he embezzled from the Red Cross and from “two old ladies,” whoever they are. we also hear after from encampment report that his youngest daughter, a heroin addict, “ran off to the city.” The eldest daughter tells me that her sister was sexually abused by their father. we am not surprised.

1968 — I am 13 and the catcalls are coming in my instruction now. My heart beats fast. we feel threatened and embarrassed. The supposed norm. No one helps. we equivocate construction sites, find prolonged choice routes. we wish we were a boy.

1969 — I have a doctor’s appointment and am late for class. As we enter, we apologize. My male teacher asks loudly: “And what did the alloy do?” My schoolmates giggle. My knees wobble. We all know he’s referring to sex. we wish to leave my body.

1968-’78 — Many of us hitchhike. How else would we get around? we try to be safe. we never accept a float with two men in a car. we always know how to open the door. we do not accept rides from guys who set off flutters in my gut. “Thank you, but we am not going there,” we say, instead of getting in.

1970 — Coming from school, two miles from home, the lorry motorist veers off onto a mud road. With a forceful voice we tell him to stop the lorry and let me out. He keeps going until the highway is distant behind. we suppose what he’s planning. He stops in a place nearby the timberland and grabs for me. Fury rises. we turn and my right fist smashes into his chunky face. My left palm opens the door. we jump, run into a field. Run, run, run. we never tell. 

1971 — I work at a vast dialect store to earn income for a tyro outing to Ireland. The store manager frequently stops at my hire in the men’s sweater department. We discuss and we feel special; he’s a mature man in his 40s. One day he asks me to step outside. we do. we am curious. He tells me he adores me and wants to have sex. The child within me wants to hee-haw at the idea, but my rising adult self is angry. Imagining him touching me creates me feel yucky. we contend no. we see ire in his face and he yells: “Those foolish Irish! How can you go to a fucking country like that?” we roar back: “You know zero about Ireland! How can you put them down?” we go back inside. It never enters my mind that we could be fired.

1971 — My father is dying. The priest grabs and kisses me in his office. He smiles lovingly as he offers his hand. Let’s do more, he means. A doorway separates us from his wife and eight children eating lunch. we am astounded and shaken, beet red and angry. we open the doorway and another doorway and leave with what we wish is some dignity. we never learn Sunday school again. we never go to church again. we tell my mom and ask her to pronounce to the pastor. She does not. She does not pronounce against absolute men. He comes to the residence to be with my dad, who never indispensable or wanted a pastor. we know he is looking for me. My mom offers him cake, as is the convention. we stand a tree and only come down after he leaves. we feel so betrayed.

1972 — Now my father has died. we am stoic, show few emotions. Waiting for French category to start we lay on a high window sill. My legs hang down and we dream. we hear commotion. The teacher has arrived. we am prepared to burst down, but the teacher grabs my right leg, circles my ankle with his fingers and laughs: “just wanted to see if my fingers fit.” we am mute and mad at myself for not anticipating difference and branch red. we don’t worry to tell my mother. 

1972 — My mom and we pierce to Hamburg where we have many relatives. we go to an ice cream parlor. The solitary male attendant reaches over the conflicting and squeezes my breast. “Don’t!” we conduct to gasp, swatting his palm away. “I will never come back.” we leave jarred and humiliated. we tell Tante Anneliese and Mutti about the encounter. Ask them to confront the man. They do not. we ask them never to go to the parlor. They continue to go when in need of a treat. we feel tricked and furious. Time to connect my armor, to be always on alert.

1972 — My partner Ulla and we are pounded by a motorcycle gang. Huge guys put us in a “squeeze”—surround us firmly so they can feel us up and… There are many people in the area, but they don’t notice or are too frightened to help. we interest to the squad leader, his energy and pride. “Can you help? Are you means to get your men to back off?” we close into his eyes while we feel hands all over my body. He orders them to let us go. Ulla and we are rattled and relieved. We escaped! we don’t tell anyone.

1972 — My half-sister and we are best friends. She’s a era older than me. She helps me to try Hamburg, my new home. She tells me about her new attribute with a man who was in a Soviet WWII POW camp. “He was tortured, sexually tortured by the womanlike warden. He has scars, earthy and emotional.” we listen whenever she talks about him, but we am too shocked to ask questions. What is passionate torture?

Philadelphia 1974 — I work for a German proffer classification and my assignment is with the United Farm Workers Union. I’m assisting with the grape protest orderly by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. My colleague at Philly’s United Farm Workers bureau comes back from an organizing assignment. She is rumpled and cries. She was raped. we lay with her. we hold her. What to do? Our executive calls the police.

1974 — One of my unchanging UFW picketline participants, a white lady with an interracial child, tells me that a white police officer and she have a deal. She has sex with him in his automobile whenever he wants in sell for him not beating up her black boyfriend, the father of her child. She tries to equivocate the guy, but carries the weight to keep her family safe. we am appalled, furious. The picture of her being frequently raped in the back of a police automobile never leaves my mind. It is still there.

1975 — On my way back from a picket line we pass a retard where all houses were ripped down. we see a man hit a woman. She falls. He kicks her and punches. She gets up, stumbles to get away. we stop my car, get out, call my arms and yell. “Stop attack her!” He punches. “Stop!” we scream. Both demeanour up. “Stop attack her!” The man walks away. What else to do? After a while we drive on.

1975 — I meet an 80-year-old man at a proof we orderly for the union. we am told he is a maestro comrade and organizer. He tells me about McCarthyism and the Wobblies. we like him. we wish to respect and learn from transformation elders. He invites me to have cooking in his apartment. We eat. His place looks empty and poor. We lay on his one and only sofa. He tells me his relatives died in a fire when he was young. Then he lunges at me, plants a lick and tries to hurl on top. we pull him off, my legs and arms formulating distance. we am flabbergasted. He is 80! He worked for good causes! we could harm him, but do not. we rush out the door, jarred and deeply disappointed.

1975 — I pierce into a common residence in West Philly and join the Movement for a New Society. We have an arrangement that the neighbor can stay with us whenever her husband gets violent. We demeanour out for her. At times she can hardly get into the residence before he catches up, yells obscenities and kicks at the door. She always goes back.

1976 — On one of the categorical streets of my new area a black man stops me with a accessible “Hi.” we contend “hi” back. Then: “Hey girl we wish to f**k you.” “Not interested,” we contend some-more pleasantly than he deserves, but we don’t wish a fight. “F**k you, it’s since we am black, right? Hey, you f**king racist!” we walk on, shaking. What a scam!

1976 — A Movement for a New Society crony Amy and we hitch to Kansas for the inhabitant MNS gathering. Our last float is with a long-haul trucker. Amy sleeps in the counter behind the seats. we spend the night warding him off – his palm and difference – while Amy has a pacific night. “You owe me,” he says. “You owe me sex for getting a ride.” We make it to Wichita OK. Bleary-eyed, we event into the assembly and tell a crony about the harassment. “Don’t worry about it,” he says. we am mad at his nonchalance.

1977 — I take a pacifist self-defense course, we tell stories of presence and victories. we join Women Organized Against Rape, Women Against Abuse, help classify Take Back the Night marches. we cry and fury in counterpart conversing sessions.

1977 — I proffer as a rape predicament counselor. We lay in tiny bedrooms in one of the only two hospitals versed to understanding with rape, mostly at night. We wait for survivors to arrive. we don’t know what to do with the children. we have no skills or words. For them life will never be really OK again. Some nights the hotline is eliminated to the house. The phone wakes me up. “Women Organized Against Rape. Can we help you?”

London, 1978 — Scott and we run pacifist approach movement training for the Operation Namibia vessel crew, in oneness with the African onslaught against imperialism. We nap at organisation members’ apartments. My place comes with a drunken, crazy father who camps out in front of my bedroom. The gymnasium is parsimonious and he grabs for my arm every time we go to the toilet. we pull him away. He is not very clever and we know how to understanding with drunks. But we can’t sleep. we am fearful he competence mangle the sealed doorway and locate me unaware. My co-facilitator Scott is sunny and rested. The son shrugs his shoulders when we tell. “Yes, that’s my old man.”

Philadelphia, 1979 — I am watchful for my trolley at the 30th Street sight station. On the other side of the lane stands a high man. Something is off. He catches my eyes, opens his coat. He is nude, penis erect. Gotcha! we feel invaded, furious. we gasp. When we tell a friend, he says. “I am blissful zero bad happened to you.” What?

Street comments in the U.S. relate Germany’s: “Hey honey, wish some nookie?” “Nice breasts!” “Like a f**k?” “Slut.” “Kissy, kiss.” “Ooooh! Look at that ass!” “You don’t know what you are missing.” we am old enough, by now a mom and gifted activist, to pronounce back. But we keep my distance. Many guys are worried with eye hit when we say: “Stop.” we don’t wish to be beaten up. It will take many some-more years for my heart to kick routinely when we pass construction sites.

I have not even overwhelmed the 1980s. we have 40 some-more years of stories. In 2018, passionate bungle is in the news along with the question: since did you not contend something? Often we did, and infrequently it led to change.

I tell my daughters that no matter what, we will always be there for them. When they complain about a slight or insult, we always say: “Want me to come, classify a picket line?”

Anger and beating do not order my life. Just the opposite, we am an confident activist. The stories here are real, but only a partial of my life. we have a smashing family, amatory friends and joyous communities. Being unprotected to passionate abuse and assault are a window into the pang gifted since of war, race, class, gender or passionate identity. The categorical doctrine is support ourselves and others, pronounce up and classify for change. The only slow plea is that we have a tough time sleeping at hotels, on trains, in cars or in friends’ houses.  Sometimes we arise at home when the breeze blows, trees blubber and shutters rattle. My unconscious tells me: be alert.

Author’s note: we discuss a person’s race only when it is impending to the story. The discourse has been epitomised and removed to the best of my recollection. 

Antje Ulrike Mattheus is a human rights romantic and retired organizational growth consultant. Her stirring book is “Cresheim Farm, An American Story.”

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