In my family, including my extended family, we are very close. I spend more time with my younger cousins every week than I do with my friends, and even sometimes, my roommate. So it definitely came as a HUGE shock to me today, when my 14-year-old cousin disclosed to me that a boy that she had a crush on and was friendly with for years, randomly and out of the blue, snapped her on Snapchat asking her to send him nudes.
I am so grateful and so incredibly lucky that she has three, strong-willed and amazing older female cousin’s that tell her constantly how amazing she is, and that she determined that she has too high of self-respect to EVER send those out. Especially because they have never had any relationship before. But she couldn’t figure out why, even though she didn’t do it, she felt so uncomfortable around him, and why she spent that entire night “shaking on the inside”.
We were sitting in my car, after a study day at the library, following two very chaotic family weeks. We had been studying for a few hours before-hand, and I could tell there was a lot on her mind, but I didn’t know what.
I mean, honestly, there were a myriad of things that she could be dealing with. The recent loss in her family, our cousin getting married yesterday, just starting high school and kind of feeling lost in the crowd, and so on and so forth. So, when we were in the car, and she told me she wanted to tell me something, I was bracing myself for a grief pep-talk, and not at all what I ended up working with her on. Obviously (and honestly), I’m honored that she confided in me and felt comfortable enough to bring this up to me, but I felt totally at a loss for what to say to her. I didn’t know if I should find the guy and beat the ever-loving crap out of him, or pep-talk her like I would everyone else. But for me, (And not to make this about me…) it was more personal.
I felt offended, and sad, and angry for her. And she, although only 14, was incredible at expressing what she was feeling.
But how do you differentiate between speaking to your family or a loved one, and speaking to a stranger?
I mean, I always empathize, whether I know you or not. But for me, this was probably the hardest sexual assault case I’ve ever dealt with, aside from my own.
How do you look at this child, this teenager, that emulates only innocence and silliness, and try to explain to her that she feels violated and unsafe because she was sexually assaulted?
The answer is, you don’t, and I didn’t. But still, having to validate the feelings she expressed broke my heart.