I want to tell a story of a child with a dream and a goal who was made to grow up a little too quickly. I'm telling this story here in order to spread a message without the burden of having to be re-victimized at work when everyone finds out my story.
I was an eager, ambitious high school senior with an idea. As a lifelong sports fan, and someone who wanted to work in sports, I was going to write to my local sports radio show host and tell him why he needed me as an intern. My family had listened to his sports coverage for years and with me also taking classes at the local university my senior year, I would be a good candidate for the position. To my excitement, after meeting with me and my parents, he agreed I would be helpful to his staff, and he took me on. I was thrilled for the opportunity because I knew if I handled it well, I’d leave the position with an amazing reference.
Things started out smoothly, and I was definitely clicking with my boss. The better I did, the more responsibility he rewarded me with and that made me feel so successful.
But at some point it all changed. My boss’ willingness to depend on and provide me with opportunities switched to admiration and even attraction. As a 17-year-old, I didn’t sense or feel the change right away. To someone with limited romantic experience - and work experience, for that matter - his increased attention felt appropriate because it was never outside the walls of our work environment and it was usually followed by a new assignment or even more responsibility which, when you are trying to get a foot in the door in a male-dominated industry, is all a young girl wants.
Things quickly began to spiral out of control once he realized that I was overwhelmed by his feelings for me and what that meant at work. All of a sudden, we were regularly involved in a physical and emotional relationship. I knew he had a wife and family but I had never met them, and at my young age, the consequences of our actions weren’t something my mind could even make room for, given how overwhelming the experience was. All I knew was that my successes at work seemed to parallel how he felt about us. When he felt good about us, good things happened for me at work.
I kept our secret because the thought of all my success at work disappearing due to my conscience was unbearable. And he knew that. He pressured me to buy into our secret even more when he asked me to exchange rings with him. At the time, it made me feel so special and important. He would wear it when we were together and I would wear mine. Now I see that ring exchange for what it was: intentional grooming. The more he made me feel committed to our secret, the more I had invested in it, and the less willing I would be to tell anyone.
Eventually, because he was careless with emails, my parents caught on to the situation. Their immediate reaction once they approached me was to let me know how disappointed they were in me, and that they didn't raise me like that. At that point, it hit me how serious and abnormal this all was. But it wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized I had been abused, taken advantage of, and it wasn’t my fault. And that is where my message truly begins.
Early in my career, I had just received a promotion at a small university but was having trouble in my personal relationship. It was during this time that I began to realize how my experience with this man, as a child, had affected how I feel about myself, and how I had been allowing other people to treat me for a long time. I pretty quickly came to the conclusion that therapy was in my future, if I was to ever get back to the confident, ambitious girl I once was.
Therapy is a hard, testing, unpleasant process at times - in fact, most of the time. However, eventually it feels rewarding and freeing. I want to help erase the stigma that comes with therapy. It is not something that broken, weak people do. It’s something that strong, determined people do, when they decide they don’t want to settle for less than the best version of themselves anymore. It’s about time that employers, friends, family members, and the public at large starts to see therapy in that way. It is only then that an entire generation of survivors will begin to heal. Through the therapy process, I learned how to think about myself as empowered again, even though my old boss took away my power. I learned that I have choices and options, even though he made me feel like I didn’t have a choice.
I am still healing from that experience in my internship. I see more and more each day how the trauma of being taken advantage of affects my life. Now I can see how he groomed me from day one (even before that, truthfully, since the grooming started with his on-air persona. After all, he’s a local celebrity. No one would hire someone who would do something like this, right?). He made my parents believe I was going to be working in a wholesome, safe environment. I went to work everyday thinking that whatever happens here is probably fine because my parents like this guy. Very early on working there, I began to associate our physical contact with heightened opportunities and job experience, and that association was something he built up consciously and with intent. He preyed on my ambition. He knew that I wouldn’t let something a little uncomfortable deter me from my goal. He groomed me to deal with something that started as uncomfortable and ended in full-blown workplace sexual misconduct, if not assault.
Shining light on the grooming process was a big reason for telling my story. Grooming can look like so many different things, depending on the situation. Grooming is anything done by the perpetrator with the intent of making the victim and those around them comfortable enough to not see, report or stop the abuse. Parents, loved ones and the victims themselves are often blinded by the abuse that is being perpetrated right in front of them based on how well they were groomed. An awareness of these processes is important in our society in order to protect children.
The statistics say that every nine minutes a child is sexually assaulted. That means that most likely you work with an adult or a young person who was or is currently in an abusive situation. Talking and behaving in a way that is sensitive to the possibility that you are around one of those people is important. Survivors can be triggered by anything that reminds them of their abuse: a word, a smell, or even a voice. Keep all of these things in mind and remember, the person next to you at work could be a survivor and you wouldn’t even know it.
I want the world to know that I am okay. Therapy allowed me to heal and be a better person. I also want readers to think about therapy in a way that removes stigma and supports healing in whatever way works for a person. Do not consider using therapy to heal as a weakness. It takes real strength to ask for help, and that’s what I want others to do.