When I was a young man—more like a boy, actually—I was molested and sexually assaulted on several occasions by two different older men. I was 16, which is pretty young, considering, but I was also a young 16-year-old: I was slow to develop and was younger physically than the majority of young men my age.
Today, I am not ashamed of what happened. It was not my fault. The reality is that I was targeted, groomed, coerced and assaulted at the hands of men who manipulated me and took advantage of my nature.
The statistics of rape and sexual assault in Indian country are staggering. One out of three of Native women are assaulted or sexually abused, a horrible rate. This makes my heart ache and I fight tears for our sacred women as I write this.
As I try to stand up for our women, I also want my fellow Native men to know you are not cowards, you are no less a warrior and you are not alone if you were sexually assaulted in your lifetime.
I am going to describe a bit of what happened to me. So, respectfully, an alert to anyone who may feel uneasy: My story might trigger memories of your own experiences. If you are not ready, please know this is also ok.
I had managed to get a part-time job at a chicken fast food restaurant after school and would sometimes take the bus home at about 7 pm. On one evening a stranger sitting near me began talking to me about how someone he knew was a movie producer. I was immediately interested because I thought being in a movie would be exciting.
He asked me to get off the bus earlier than my stop and went and bought beer. Yes, I was very uneasy, but I didn’t want this stranger to think I was not cool. We drank and he kept telling me to ‘go for it’ and drink the whole bottle at once. I complied.
He told me the producer actually produced pornographic movies. I was very uneasy. Then he asked if he could perform oral sex on me. I complied, internally horrified.
He asked for my phone number. Though I didn’t want to – I gave it to him. I don’t remember what happened after this. I think I walked the remaining miles home. I eventually saw my father driving his car to look for me. He must have sensed something was wrong.
The next day was odd. I felt as if I was in a bubble and was simply observing my life from another place. Therapists call this disassociation. I told no one at all about my experience for many, many years.
When that man did call me, I felt an instant panic… I lied and told my best friend to talk to him. She was a girl and I asked her to lie by telling him she was my girlfriend. I never knew his name.
The Other Time
An older friend of mine, I’ll call him John, told me to come to his house on several occasions. He was a professional photographer and videographer. He had professed great interest in my enthusiasm for my own life in a way that few people ever had. He won my confidence and trust. I now see he only saw me as a target.
At one point John asked if I would like to make some money. Again, I was very uncomfortable…but as a kid growing upon Compton Blvd I never had money. So even though I was uneasy to the point of feeling sick to my stomach, I said with hesitation … yes.
The rest is terrible. He filmed me using the restroom; he performed sexual things on me with his own hands, inserted objects in me, and more. Then, after weeks of this, (and yes, I was ashamed that I returned over and over again) he decided to try and have sex with me.
It was painful, and wasn’t going to happen. When I finally protested at the end, he screamed at me and I finally understood what was happening. My young brain had never quite figured it out. I was thinking of the money and trying to ignore the rest.
I jumped out of his window – as that is the way I exited and entered over these several weeks – and rode my bike home – my bike. I was sore and I cried myself to sleep. I thank the Creator that I did not decide to take my life.
That was not easy to write.
In the years that followed, I feel as though I acted in ways that were harmful to me. But I continued to learn that my choices were harmful to myself (drugs, alcohol, dating too much) and I was not very nice to others.
I can only thank myself for making great choices when I finally realized things were not my fault.
Here are the things I have learned for myself that I hope might help other Native men who have been victims of sexual crimes:
1) ‘You should have known better’ is not true.
2) You were a victim.
3) It doesn’t matter if you responded physically; our psyche is NOT connected to our physicality.
4) It was not your fault.
5) It doesn’t matter how much older the person was than you. Physical maturity is not the same for everyone.
6) You don’t have to ‘get over it.’
7) Being molested, raped, assaulted does not make you a weak man.
8) It does not mean ‘you wanted it’ if you did not fight back or if you agreed to it.
I am sure there are a lot more things to say that would be relevant.
The biggest thing that helped me over the years – was learning to understand that what is best for you is best for you. I realized this important point, even though I was molested, sexually assaulted and victimized, it was not my fault. Just because I didn’t stand up with a baseball bat and scream for the police or pull out a knife, or put up my dukes to defend myself; it was not my fault.
I told myself, if someone had come down and taken me to a private, safe room and asked if I wanted the assault to take place, what would my answer have been? For me, I would have said no. That has been comforting to me.
Many times people are surprised at how far down we will fall when our own self-value is challenged. But I am NOT ASHAMED.
I was targeted and assaulted. I was a child.
I am now a strong man. As I said, I have a beautiful wife and I do everything I can to protect her from harm. I try to improve every day in how I carry myself. My wife Delores has been a huge force for good, as has been my great friends Dann Boyko and Michael Bucher and Lisa Ellwood.
I will continue to fight for the rights that Native people deserve to have in Indian country as an editor and a journalist. I refuse to allow people that have targeted me as a child in my past to stop my success.
I will serve as a voice to my fellow Native men and women that are not able to speak out.
Together we will continue to fight. Together we will continue to succeed.
Vincent Schilling is Akwesasne Mohawk and is the Arts and Entertainment, Sports and Pow Wow Editor and contributor for Indian Country Today Media Network. Follow him on Twitter at @VinceSchilling.