I grew up in a loving family. My family was not rich or wealthy, but we had a good life. Just like any other 12-year-old girl I had a dream. I wanted to ride. I was in love with horses and dreamed of having my own some day.
One day, my mother made my dream come true. She was not able to buy me a horse, or pay for riding lessons, but she had a friend who had a stable and was looking for someone who could take care of her little pony at no charge. To say I was over the moon excited would have been an understatement! This opportunity meant the world to me.
Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon I would come home from school, eat lunch and then take the bus to the stables. My mother would pick me up most days after work.
There was an older man (maybe in his 60s) who took care of the stables and the horses. He showed me how to saddle a horse and how to brush it, scrape its hooves and of course, how not to get bitten or kicked while doing that.
As much as I enjoyed taking care of that pony, I was in love with the big horses, so when the stable master one day asked me if I wanted to ride on his horse to get a feel for being on a big one I was more than willing to go.
I climbed up onto this beautiful golden-brown animal and the stable master held the reins and walked beside us.
It was a beautiful warm summer’s day. The air smelled like dust, flowers, grass and horse. We walked along fenced meadows and a couple of fields until we came to a shed.
He told me that he just had to go inside to get something and he wanted to give his horse a rest since it was such a warm day. He helped me down and we went inside.
The shed looked like a small tool shed with saddle equipment everywhere, tools hanging on the wall behind a dusty old work bench, a chair that had seen better days and a daybed with a rough blanket on it. It was on that bed where the stable master asked me to sit down. He rummaged around at the other side of the hut and then came over to sit beside me.
He started a conversation with me, asking if I had a boyfriend. Shyly, I said yes, even though I found that question to be strange. Then he asked me if my boyfriend had ever kissed me before. I replied: “Yes, on my cheek.” This man then wrapped his arm around my shoulder, pulled me closer and kissed me on the cheek.
What happened next startled me and made me become as stiff as a statue. His hand, the one that was holding me by the shoulder, moved under my arm, seemingly wanting to hold me by the waist but instead moved upwards and came to rest on my left breast. He began to stroke me gently and continued to kiss me on the cheek. At the same time, he placed his other hand on my knee and moved it slowly up my leg.
I did not understand what he was doing or why he suddenly started breathing more heavily all the while he was stroking my breast and moving his hand up my leg moving closer and closer to a part I knew instinctively I did not want to have touched, but was too mortified to react.
I gathered all my courage and asked: “Shouldn’t we go back?” The man breathed in response: “Not yet.” So I endured the molestation for what seemed to be an eternity.
When I came home from the stables that day, I did not know what to do. I did not know if I should tell anyone. I felt strange. I was worried that my parents would be angry or disappointed in me. I could not make sense of what had happened. Luckily, I had told a friend who came by that day and he insisted that I’d tell my parents. He even went with me to my mom.
Thankfully, my mom believed me and took me out of that situation immediately. But that is not where this story ends. When I told my mother, her first and only words were ‘don’t go there anymore’ and this incident was never mentioned again. No explanation of what had happened, no emotional support.
Nothing could have prepared my mother for what I had told her that day. How many thoughts must have rushed through her head that day. How guilty she must have felt for putting me in this situation, even though it was not her fault. She could not have known. No one could have known. She did what she thought was best in this situation. She made an executive decision based on her own mindset and upbringing. She hoped that by not mentioning this incident again and by not pressing charges, I would eventually forget it ever happened.
At first, I did forget, but I was going to remember all of it when I was 16 and old enough to understand exactly what had happened to me.
Fast forward two years in the future. Like every year for as long as I can remember, my family and I went on vacation in Austria. We always went to the same place. It was a family tradition that my grandparents had started. We always went to a hotel high up in the mountains of Tirol near Salzburg, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
It was a trip the whole family always looked forward to. Mountains everywhere, fresh air and amazing food. We had been travelling to this beautiful place for so many years that the owners of the hotel considered us family.
The owner liked to drink. A lot. He had developed an enduring habit of drinking welcome shots with the hotel guests. And since the restaurant was always full and the hotel always booked solid, you can imagine how drunk he eventually became. Drinking wasn’t the only bad habit he practiced. He was also known for teasingly groping women’s breasts. Most female guests knew this about him and endured his advances, simply because no one felt there was any other ulterior motive behind his casually inappropriate advances. He was, more often than not, seen as the drunken hotel owner who simply liked to fondle women’s breasts. His vice was no secret, and no one ever really complained about him simply because he never did anything more than that.
One day during this fateful vacation in 1988, my parents left me and my sister in the Hotel owner’s charge for about half an hour to inspect new accommodations that were being built for guests.
I would have never expected the owner to come at me that day and actually try to touch my breasts. I was, after all, only 14 years old. Still an innocent but not naïve. I immediately said “NO”, then ran away from him. But my voice was not heard. No matter how many times I said no. my feelings didn’t matter. He just kept coming after me, practically chasing me around the hotel. It seemed as if it was a game for him. He was amused by my effort to escape him. This traumatic ordeal went on for about half an hour until finally my parents returned. I ran to my mother in tears telling her what had happened.
To my dismay, my feelings were dismissed. My mother had decided to laugh off the entire ordeal and explained to me that the owner did that to every woman and that he meant no harm. Then in a joking tone, she told the owner that he couldn’t behave inappropriately with her 14-year-old daughter since she did not understand that he was just playing around. I was stunned into silence and grief. I felt as though my mother had failed me. She had made me feel like a silly naïve girl for not allowing this lecher to touch my breasts.
What I ended up learning that day was, that it was not only common, it was completely accepted that a man could touch a woman wherever he wanted, whenever he pleased. Women had no say in the matter.
This day ended up being the last time I confided in my parents about any serious matter.
When I was 16 years old, I had a class in school about sexual assault and where to seek help should this happen. Up to this point I had buried the memories of the previous two assaults deep within my Soul. But that day, when we had this class, everything just flooded back into my consciousness. Only this time, I understood, I knew exactly what had happened. And that made it even worse. I remembered the touching, the stroking, the chasing, and I remembered my parents did not protect me.
About six months later, the bullying started in school. It went on for about a year. My classmates would tease and kick me during breaks while I was sitting by myself, buried in a book. They would spit spitballs at me and bullied away the only friend I had at school. They intentionally forced me into isolation. One day, I was writing a letter to my pen pal, telling her about having a boyfriend and how happy I was. That letter was stolen from my backpack by my classmates and copies of it were distributed throughout the entire school. I felt so humiliated. I never told my parents one word about it. I managed to get through it on my own with no support system. I had learned that nothing would come from confiding in my family. Eventually, the bullying stopped, but not before they destroyed my ability to trust anyone anymore. It took me a long time to overcome this distrust and allow people close again.
Born and raised in Germany, I had had the luxury of a fully paid education and the choice of a trade or profession. When I was 19 years old, I chose hotel business because I was drawn to the hospitality industry. I had dreamed of working on a cruise ship and traveling the world, or even running a hotel someday. But life had other plans.
While completing my education in a large exhibition hotel I was assigned to work a few months in every department. Housekeeping was my favorite part. I loved helping people, straightening out the rooms together with the maids. I felt as if I was making a difference in people’s lives. During my time in housekeeping, a cleaning service was hired to help the maids during busy exhibition season with the workload. I was always nice and respectful to everyone, including the crew of the cleaning service, which were all men. I smiled at them when I saw them and went about my business. One of the men had understood my smiles as an invitation to pursue me. He came at me, touched my hand and tried to kiss me. Already being confused and carrying trauma, this shocked me deeply and I began to question how I was supposed to communicate with men without sending the wrong signals.
Eventually, I had transferred to the restaurant to learn all about meal preparations and service. The restaurant was leased by an Italian with most of his employees being Italian as well.
It was while working in this restaurant that I experienced the most disrespectful, chauvinistic, and inappropriate sexual harassment in my life. The employees had no sense of personal boundaries, decency, or respect for privacy. There were many instances where servers would just walk into changing rooms that had no privacy locks. Several times I had been embarrassed and humiliated by employees who knew full well that I was changing yet blatantly disregarded my need for privacy. There was one waiter in particular who, even when I asked him to leave, would purposely invade my personal space and disregard my protests. Another time, I was in the ladies’ room and that same waiter came into the bathroom and handed me the phone underneath the bathroom stall because my mother had called.
I couldn’t believe the appalling behaviour that went on in this restaurant and could not wait for my training there to finish. No matter where I worked in this restaurant, I always felt very demeaned, insecure, and incredibly stressed amongst those employees. I was always on guard, looking over my shoulders.
I never told anyone about this sexual harassment because it seemed like normal behaviour for these employees and I didn’t believe anything would change if I reported it. Past experiences had taught me that I would not get any help anyway in regard to this inappropriate behaviour. I realized with each year that passed that experiences like this made me feel deeply insignificant and worthless as a woman.
Despite everything, I was a romantic Soul. I dreamed of finding my prince charming, who would whisk me away on a white horse and just love me for who I was. One evening in my early twenties, I went on a first date with a young man. We went to the local Irish Pub and enjoyed a meal together. A woman with roses in her arms came into the pub and the young man bought one for me. I thought it was the sweetest thing, until he took my hand not five minutes later and placed it on his crotch.
I immediately pulled my hand away in disgust and wanted to leave. However, I was taught that such a behavior would be disrespectful and so I stayed. Sadly, I was not taught that it would be perfectly appropriate to leave if my date did something as appalling as this.
When I was 22, I met Roni. We had met through a blind date arranged by a couple of my friends. We had felt an instant connection with one another and had a good time together. Sometimes, his friend Manuel would join us. Both friends were higher ranking officers in the US Army. Roni, Manuel and I hung out almost every weekend. We would often go out to different clubs or have game nights at one of the guys’ places. It was always a fun time.
One night, we were at Manuel’s place and had a bit too much to drink. Roni went home since he had to get up for work early the next day. I decided to stay and sober up before driving home myself since I lived about 30 minutes away.
Manuel suggested that I’d sleep over since I had been drinking and the roads were icy and slippery that January winter evening. I agreed that he was right and decided to stay. We had known each other for a few months and there was no reason not to trust him. I made myself comfortable and decided to go to sleep in the huge king size bed. There was plenty of space for us to sleep far apart. Five people could have fit in between us easily. I was fully clothed in t-shirt and sweatpants, drifting off to sleep on my end of the bed when suddenly I felt him next to me, touching my breasts.
I immediately told him to stop and pushed his hand away. But he kept on pursuing me as I continued to resist and reject his unwelcome sexual advances. I was mortified, in shock, unprepared for this disturbing pass made upon my body. He had never shown any interest in me before and I didn’t know how to make him stop groping me. I was so afraid and at the same time disgusted by the feeling of his hands touching me against my will. Eventually he realized how upset I was and stopped. But by now I was very afraid and worried he would try again. I didn’t know what to do and didn’t know whether to trust him. I struggled with leaving because I was still too woozy to drive on slippery roads. And I also didn’t feel right waking up Roni knowing how early he had to get up.
So, I took a deep breath, and tried to calm and relax myself. I told myself that I would be okay. After a few minutes, I began to get angry and sarcastically muttered to Manuel, ‘Can I go to sleep now or are you going to make a pass at me again?’ I thought that my anger and sarcasm would be apparent and understood, yet that was not the case. He instantly misinterpreted my flippant remark as an invitation and jumped me.
Before I could even protest, he tugged my sweats down and threw himself upon me. I was mortified when he entered me. Somehow, I found the strength to throw him off me. I had no idea where that strength came from because he literally flew across the room. It was in that sober moment that he finally snapped out of his dazed drunkenness.
I jumped off of the bed, wrapped myself in a blanket and began screaming the word rape at him. I was frantic, in a panicked rage, trying to get dressed and leave his place as quickly as I could. I kept watching to make sure Manuel wasn’t anywhere near me. I kept asking myself, how he could have misinterpreted my words. I realized then that I should never mock or berate a drunk, aroused man.
I ran to Roni’s apartment and told him about Manuel’s unwanted assault on me. I expected Roni to stand up for me, especially since Manuel had clearly crossed boundaries with both his girlfriend and his good friend. But Roni did nothing. I was shocked and terribly hurt by his response. He said he wasn’t going to do anything because Manuel was his friend. I just stood there in total disbelief. The one person who was supposed to care for me and protect me, just brushed my experience off as if it was nothing. Needless to say, I left feeling like an object that could be used and then be disposed of. That was the last time Roni laid eyes on me.
When I walked into my home the night after the assault, my father was home. He looked at me and must have seen how distressed I was. And in that moment, he understood what had happened. I didn’t know how he knew but he took one look at my face that day and said: ‘He tried, didn’t he?’ I just shook my head and said: ‘No, he actually did it.’ My dad just nodded, and I turned away to go to my bedroom where I could be alone.
When I emerged from my room later that day, rested and calmed, my father informed me that Manuel had called several times and that he had told him that I wasn’t home. Yet he also said that he could not keep doing this and that I should talk to him. So, the next time Manuel called, I answered the phone. He had called because he was worried that I would report him – of course. But I half-heartedly assured him that I wouldn’t do that and hung up the phone, never hearing or seeing him again.
It was after that sexual assault that I began to question and doubt myself. I began to look for reasons why this had happened to me again. Why had I attracted this horrible experience again? Did I not know how to read men? Did Manuel flirt with me at some point and I never noticed or misinterpreted his communication with me? Was I too open and free in my communication with him? Where had I led this guy on? So many questions passed through my mind, all of them self-interrogating, almost self-incriminating.
This is what many victims of sexual assault and abuse do. They look for reasons to blame themselves because they think it’s the only plausible reason why someone would assault them.
No matter how many questions I asked, I realized that I was not getting anywhere with this self-interrogation, so I decided to confide in my friends and report this guy to the military police. And yet again, I was faced with dismissal. My friends laughed my intentions off as ridiculous and predicted that I would not be vindicated and nothing at all would be resolved by me accusing a military of rape. Instead, they said, I should tell them that I had a relationship with him and had found out that he had a wife in the USA. This, they said, would spark the MP’s interest since they held marriages in very high regard. Needless to say, I did not go to the police since I was quite discouraged by their advice and disturbed by their suggestion for me to lie to the officials about Manuel. Eventually, I sought my dad’s opinion going to the MP and he flat out said to me: ‘It is you against the entire US Army, who do you think is going to win?’ So, I dropped my desire to press charges and never again pursued the incident.
My decision to forget the sexual assault happened made me further withdraw from life. I stopped going out. I stopped seeing my friends. I felt no desire to dance, I felt no desire to socialize. I felt nothing but fear, anxiety and emptiness. I became more and more overwhelmed by this great need to isolate myself and search for a way to heal my violated mind and body. This sexual assault ended up haunting me for years.
To this day, I still remember how I felt hours after Manuel raped me. Every memory of that night would remind me of the stable master’s hands on my young body. I couldn’t escape all the memories, the disturbing images and feelings that would arise every time I thought of the men who had violated me physically and emotionally. You never forget that desperation. You never forget that kind of fear and trauma. It goes deep into the heart, deep into your very cells. And all it took to trigger those disturbing memories was a simple dismissal, rejection or attack on my feelings.
About a year after Manuel raped me, I decided to go out with my friends. I had pushed my trauma into the depth of my mind and began to feel better about myself and the world around me. We went to a newly opened Cuban Club. I loved the music and was excited to go. I was asked to dance by a young Cuban man and accepted, since I was taught that it would be rude to decline. I danced with him to swift Cuban tunes. But of course, my bliss would not last long. My dance partner pushed his torso against mine and held me very tight. I could feel his growing erection rubbing against my crotch. I desperately tried to push him away, but he would not let go of me and pressed even harder against me. I felt sick to my stomach, disgusted and helpless. My friends said they saw what happened, yet not one of them stepped in.