Trigger warning: this post deals with sexual assault and grooming
I’ve always been told I’m quiet. Which I am, there’s no denying that. But with being quiet, people also think I’m meek and submissive. I’m definitely not. I’m stubborn and strong-willed and have a very black-and-white sense of right and wrong.
A long time ago, a man – a dirty old man – made the mistake of believing that I was submissive and that, with enough time, he could groom me to become his sexual plaything.
I was twelve. He was a pensioner, a respectable war veteran, who lived in my neighbourhood. He was part of a small group of people who would walk their dogs around the football oval near where I lived. My mum was also part of that walking group (we had a corgi at the time).
Sometimes I would go with my mum to walk our dog and chat with these people. I can’t remember their names, only the names of their dogs. The dirty old man would often walk with the hand of my mother tucked into the crook of his elbow – she thought he was a kind old-fashioned gentleman. When her work hours changed, I would walk our dog on my own a couple of times a week with this group.
The dirty old man would tuck my hand into the crook of his elbow, which I thought was lovely and sweet. After a month, he would kiss me goodbye on my cheek like my wonderful grandfather did. Then other things started happening. He would push his arm against the side of my breast as we walked. Sometimes he would “accidentally” brush his hand across my bottom. The conversations we had, slightly away from the other dog walkers, made me feel uncomfortable – I didn’t really understand the double entendres he was using but I knew they implied something sexual so I would ignore the implied meanings and would continue talking normally.
One day, as I was preparing to leave the small group of dog walkers, he kissed me. On the lips. And stuck his tongue into my mouth.
I was horrified. I ran home and cried for hours. I never told anyone what had happened. I was too embarrassed and ashamed. I never went walking with the group of dog walkers again.
The other things leading up to the kiss – the “accidental” touches and the conversations I knew were of a sexually suggestive nature – to me weren’t tangible. Perhaps I’d misinterpreted something or was making a mountain out of a molehill? But that kiss was like a kick in the gut. It was real and I couldn’t misread it. It was wrong.
I look back on that incident with anger and also with relief. I’m angry because no other adult in the group spoke to me (or to the dirty old man) about the inappropriateness of his behaviour (and I know they saw what was going on). I’m also relieved because I was never in a situation where I was truly alone with him. If I had been, there is no doubt in my mind he would’ve tried to persuade me into having a sexual relationship with him.
A year later he died and my mother went to his funeral. She wanted me to go but I refused. The relief I felt on that day still makes me feel guilty, but not as guilty as feeling that somehow I was the one that did the wrong thing instead of the dirty old man.