Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault and trauma.

In the black community, I was what the elders refer to as “hot.” This is code for a girl that dresses “inappropriately” and is flirtatious or seen with a lot of different boys and men. I could easily check off all of those descriptors but, at 13, I would hope that none of those things indicated that I was ready for sex.

Every young girl visualizes the many romantic ways in which she could lose her virginity. We imagine passionate kisses and gentle touching. We hear violins strumming softly in the background as we see ourselves being intensely loved by this person we are sharing ourselves with for the first time. This was not my virginity story. My virginity story left me with scars.

In the summer of 2002, there was a group of us girls walking the streets. Most of us dressed in clothes that were considered by some to be too short and too tight for a pack of under 14-year-olds. Social media wasn’t popular yet so us kids left our houses for social interaction. We would lie to our parents and tell them we were going to so and so’s house to watch TV and hang out — but the truth is we were looking for boys. The boys in our quiet and stuffy neighborhood were either away at an equally stuffy summer camp or vacationing with their parents for the summer.

I remember we had to cross a busy intersection to get into the next neighborhood, which was where all the action happened. So much action happened across that intersection that my older brothers warned me to keep out of that neighborhood. I’m the “get burned to know things are hot” kind of girl and so, of course, I blissfully crossed the street into the ‘hood with my girl gang despite my brothers’ warnings. In this neighborhood, kids were always outside, riding bikes, playing touch football, drawing on the sidewalk, and, of course, there were older boys huddled together on every corner.

This is where I met him. He asked why he hadn’t seen me before and what high school I went to. I told him I attended a private school — which was true but I technically wouldn’t be in high school until the upcoming school year. We had on the same powder blue Jordan 17’s that had just been released a few weeks before. He was impressed with my shoe style and I was already in love with him. At 13, I knew I wanted to be the girlfriend of someone who was handsome, who had a lot of style and influence, and he checked all the boxes.

This guy, who I’ll call B, was handsome, he was wearing all the latest and, when I asked about him, everyone seemed to be impressed that I knew him and that he was interested in me. When we left that afternoon, I waited for him to call. I fantasized about what our conversations would be like. I imagined going on dates and being seen as his girlfriend — watching all the other girls being jealous of me.

I waited for the entire summer to get a phone call. I even forced my mom to buy me my own phone so that I could pick up every ring. She indulged me because she was, at the time, 6 years shy of 60, had already spent most of her life raising five of her own children (plus the kids my dad had outside of their marriage), and so she was tired. Meanwhile, my father was a reggae singer who was a successful superstar in his home country of Jamaica. This meant that he spent a lot of time out of the country providing for us.

Because of this, I was mostly free to do whatever I wanted and, for the most part, I did. I took advantage of my mom’s exhaustion and my dad’s absence and spent a lot of time on the streets, outside of our quaint neighborhood searching for attention. I was on my own.

Though B had never called that summer, we met up with him and his friends in the same exact spot a couple of weeks shy of the new school year. He was surprised to see me again and I did not care why he hadn’t called me. All that mattered to me at the time was that I would finally get to be near him again. I was wearing a dark wash jean romper — it was so short, I had to keep pulling it out from my vagina. I had on brand new Jordan’s and he did, too.

The older boys invited us into one of their houses. Their mom was at work. There were mirrors everywhere. I got a glimpse of myself and a remorseful feeling came over me as I looked at my 13-year-old reflection, sporting two pigtails, wearing grown woman’s clothes with this much older boy hugging me from behind. He grabbed my hand and led me to a back room. I wish I could have known better but I did not expect to be having sex on a cold floor in somebody’s mama’s bedroom. I asked him to stop, over and over, but I reasoned I was not loud enough. I got tired of buttoning things back up — I grew weary of pushing his hands off mine so I laid there, drifting off to someplace else in my mind waiting for it to be over. My best friend and I cleaned my blood from the floor in silence, neither of us knowing what to say.

For a decade after that summer, I would describe what happened to me as getting what I was looking for.

I left that house with a scarlet letter etched into my soul about who I was and what I deserved. The light of innocence, inhibition, joy, and all things good had dimmed a little. I struggled with putting into words what happened to me because I knew a girl like me, dressed like the girls the world says deserve the sexual assault they received, would never ever be understood.

Years passed and I still had never uttered the word “rape.” I stopped counting the sexual encounter and pretended it never happened. The hardest part about self-hate is that it cannot be contained. You cannot carry self-hate and experience joy of any kind. Self-hate will muddy the waters of anything it comes into contact with. Though I successfully buried the events of that day, I carried the weight of shame and unworthiness well into my late teens and early twenties.

“I left that house with a scarlet letter etched into my soul about who I was and what I deserved.”

That summer of 2002, I decided I did not have a choice in the matters of sex. As a teenager, sexual encounters (whether I intended to have sex or not) somehow felt like an obligation. Even if my truest intention was to come over at 9 pm to actually Netflix and chill, if whatever guy I was with made a move, I obliged because I did not believe I was worthy of exercising choice.

I met my spouse of 11 years at 20 — and was quickly forced into sobriety after becoming pregnant. Before my pregnancy and birth, I was a pretty pothead and you’d rarely catch me without rolling papers and some good green to smoke. Inadequacy, shame, unworthiness, and rejection were some of the words that started to show themselves when I was sober. Marijuana was a coping mechanism I had been unable to go back to once I gave birth to my son. I had to face myself and all of my demons if I was ever going to be good to my son and his father.

If I was ever going to be the loving, affectionate, and kind mother I had intended to be, I was going to need to forgive myself for what happened to me and speak the crimes committed against me out loud.

“I had to face myself and all of my demons if I was ever going to be good to my son and his father.”

Reaching out to the boy (now a man) who raped me when I was 13 wasn’t that big of a deal six years ago — mostly because I hadn’t come to terms what actually happened that day. I had been undecided on whether I was deserving of what happened to me or a victim of sexual assault. The second encounter with B finally proved to me that it was the latter.

He adamantly invited me to his job to talk about what happened. I went to where he worked, praying to God it was a safe place but I also armed myself with a pocket knife and mace just in case it wasn’t. He insisted he had no idea how I felt when I was 13 and then proceeded to attempt to repeat the events of that summer day in 2002. Unfortunately for B, I was not the little girl that felt powerless against him on a cold tile floor over a decade earlier. I was a woman who fought for years to be able to stand firmly in her sense of self-worth. Thankfully, nothing serious nor sexual was able to happen. I left his job fully intact — and disgusted with myself for ever giving this kind of person any amount of my time. I contemplated calling the police. I wanted to have him arrested for what he did to me that summer in 2002 but I knew evidence of a rape that happened over a decade prior is non-existent.

I will probably never be successful at putting him in jail for his crimes but I will write about what he did to me that summer afternoon hoping that there is a girl or woman who will stand up for herself with more urgency than I could have done 17 years ago. I hope that I can be a mirror to a woman who has yet to put into words what has happened to her. I want her to know that she isn’t responsible for what someone with a lack of morals and good judgment has done to her. Nor are her shorts, for that matter.

I write about what he’s done to me because I am the mother of three boys who will inevitably come into contact with a girl the elders call “hot” and they’ll see a girl regardless of her style of dress who is worthy of care, gentleness, and choice.

Anyone with the audacity to take your sense of worth, peace, and safety away is bold enough to face the consequence. Speak their crimes against you out loud, sis — you deserve it.

If you’ve experienced sexual violence and are in need of support, call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).