One in Six

I remember sixth grade like it happened yesterday, instead of 1988. We were the oldest kids at Garfield East Elementary, and one of the privileges of our seniority was getting to switch classes for the first time (even though it was only for three periods).

It was a baby step to prep us for junior high, or maybe just something that entertained our three 6th grade teachers.

Mrs. J. was my teacher and she had also been my teacher the previous year. There were three of us girls who were special enough (or randomly selected) to be in her classroom two years straight.

The three of us weren't particularly close, but we were all nice and non-trouble makers. One was super mature for her age, a lovely piano player and the class (or school) brain. 

The other, whom I'll call Kelly, now reminds me of a young Whoopi Goldberg when I look back: dark complexion, wild hair, and the funniest kid in class.

Me, I was quiet and pronounced kilometer like a European. I was fresh off the boat, er, Lufthansa from Germany. My classmates didn't know the meaning of "Nazi" but that's what they liked to call me on the playground.

That wasn't nearly the meanest they could be. They saved that for Kelly, who seemed like she could take it, being a budding young comedienne and all. What they tormented her about was unspeakable to me then, and unfathomable to me now. 

Even though I remember feeling grown up in the 6th grade, now I look back on a class full of babies. 
Kelly was raped by a high schooler, or older, I think the summer before 5th grade. She once told me every single detail when no one else was around. 
RAINN, the Rape, Incest and Abuse National Network reports that one out of six women has been sexually assaulted in their lives. 
She was happy at the end of our 6th grade year because she was moving south. She cried when she told me about the new life she'd start where no know would know what she did, even though she had been violently forced to do it. 

I was a very naive kid but I knew it wasn't her fault. I knew there was no way for it to have been her fault, yet she earned herself the reputation of slutty girl before anyone had a clue what that word meant. My abuse, which happened a couple of years prior to meeting Kelly, also was not my fault. But it hadn't been as "bad" as Kelly's abuse, and I'd often cry for her instead of me. Perhaps the guilty beginning to my long history of "altruism"? 

Back then, I didn't speak up for either one of us. But in the past three weeks that I've had to prepare for this International Women's Day radio special, to air tomorrow from 10 - 10:30 a.m. EST on 88.5 WMNF in Tampa or online at, I've held myself, Kelly, and the new survivors I've recently met and interviewed very dear. 

I hemmed and hawed and tried to write different scripts that had no room for me, wasting time writing around my own story. But today as I tied up the loose ends, I found I fit right in. 

Although I'm often guilty of wanting to befriend the people, groups, and organizations I write & report about, I have to say that the one group I have never wanted to be a part of was this survivor's group.

Not because I don't want to be strong and get on with my life, but because I've wanted to stay with my head in the sand and get on with my life. But once you've discovered you've got sand in your eyes and mouth, you kind of have to take responsibility for yourself from that point. 

I realize now that it was a little crazy of me to try reporting on a topic I'm still very emotional about. Last week I cried through almost every interview, but I regained myself in editing (that's usually the place I generally lose it, in the privacy of a small, dark room). 

Now that it's almost done, I do feel like I did this for myself. And for the survivors I met, the ones I haven't, and tonight Kelly especially comes to mind. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Dawn for being such an inspiration and using your voice and talents to inspire others! The awareness you have created today will save lives! Sincerest thanks and hugs to you!!!!