Throughout youth group and college chapels, the ideas of modesty and purity were drilled into my head. Even at a younger age, I was already being told what I shouldn’t do or wear or say. Being good was one of my main goals in life, so I took all of these lessons extremely seriously and still do.
However, one talk that no one in my youth group ever gave me was how to stay safe. No one spoke about abuse, assault, or manipulation at my university. If the concept of safety even came up, it was quickly glossed over as one of the pros of being modest or acting like a good girl. Thus, all I could discern about staying safe was the more innocent and pure I was, the safer I would stay.
Over the years, my method of staying safe has continued to backfire. I am left confused and bewildered, wondering how I am sending off the wrong signals. I dress fairly classy, never swear, never go on dates, turn bright red just at the mention of kissing or holding hands, never have seen an R-rated movie, go to church every Sunday, etc. In fact, sometimes I try to seem almost childish in my response to life.
Yet, that hasn’t stopped manipulation, lying, assault, and all of the fear that it has caused. I find myself on edge whenever men are around and lacking any interest in a serious relationship ever. None of the speeches I heard prepared me for how to cope when you are not in control of how others talk to, touch, or think of you.
Interestingly enough, my wanting to be innocent and pure has been used against me instead of keeping me safe. I don’t usually know what someone wants until he states it explicitly, so I fall for lies quickly. Also, I have come to realize that anyone can be objectified for anything, including being modest or pure.
Recently, I was acquainted with a man who quickly started acting obsessive towards me. He followed me around, continuously asked me about my faith, and told me terrifying tales about what my future in China would entail. Numerous times, he would comment on how I was “a good girl” or “pure.” Although his words were things I hope to project, the manner in which he said them and his actions made me feel as if snakes were crawling all over me.
I could maybe have moved on from his words if not for his final actions. On the last day I saw him, I came into the room to find him screaming at several men about me. He was mad at the way that they were looking at me and began describing what they were thinking. Threats of violence filled his words as he grew even louder and kept pointing to me. Everyone saw me standing there, but no one addressed me personally. The men defended themselves, and he went on to try to talk to me normally after he calmed down.
However, I was shaken. He kept treating me like some kind of doll, telling me how good I was. His compliments were as repulsive as the men who tried to get me to come over at night. I was not a person in his eyes; I was just an object. Maybe that was a pure, good object in his head, but it was still just a thing. The way he looked at me, touched the back of my head when I wasn’t paying attention, talked to my friend about me – all of it makes me feel sick.
What also makes me sick is that no one did anything. None of those men, who saw me listening, talked to me. No one said that I was safe, that they weren’t going to try to hurt me. In fact, the only person who said he wouldn’t hurt me was the man. “Come on, sit with me. I won’t hurt you,” those were his first words. I should have trusted my initial fear and run away immediately.
However, I have to keep trying to trust people. I just don’t know how to do that and be safe. I wish someone would have taught me instead of just filling my head with the same ideas about modesty and such. Now I realize that no matter what I do, no matter how I dress, someone will objectify me. There will always be people who try to take advantage of me. It is time to find out how to stay safe while staying kind and loving.