Op-Ed: It’s Time to Protect V.I. Teenage Boys from Sexual Assault

Amaziah George
Amaziah George

In September, the nation was rocked with allegations that Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee at the time, had sexually assaulted a high school classmate at a house party in 1982. Like many people following the hundreds of video snippets, articles and commentary by prominent public figures, I was triggered in an unimaginable way by Dr. Ford’s testimony and even cried watching at home.

At first, not because of her testimony, but by the way elected officials in Washington, Americans and Virgin Islanders handled the developing story.

I was sexually assaulted in the 2010-2011 school year while enrolled at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School during my senior year. The attack did not take place on campus, but involved a male classmate that was in his junior year at Kean. He was a football player, was enrolled in JROTC and was showered with attention from girls on campus.

At the time, it was no secret that I was interested in men and women in high school. My teachers didn’t care, my classmates didn’t care, and my mother was warming up to the news after I told her on my 18th birthday. I was open about my sexuality in my senior year, just one year after three other openly gay senior males had graduated. Nobody picked on me, but that doesn’t mean that other gay students and effeminate males weren’t targeted and bullied daily.

I found out very quickly that straight men often treated gay men like women they didn’t respect. Like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified in front of Congress in September and in front of the world about an attack by a classmate, I felt my own past traumas rushing back the more I followed the news coverage.

Dr. Ford, now 52, accused Kavanaugh, and other male classmates of sexually assaulting her at a house party during their high school years. Some may ask why Dr. Ford came forward 37 years later, instead of reporting it earlier on. In my case, I waited nine years to speak publicly about what happened to me, and like she said in her testimony last year, “I am terrified.”

Like her, I thought an incident like that happening while in high school wasn’t a big deal and had the words “public humiliation” written all over it.

Our first interaction outside of school occurred on a Friday or a Saturday. I know this because I attended a jam in the old club above Wendy’s in Havensight, and teen jams weren’t normally held on Sundays in 2010. I’ve never (at least not to my knowledge) named my attacker, and have only talked about the ordeal in therapy sessions and have never discussed it at all with my parents, siblings or previous partners.

The night began after 10 p.m. for my sisters, my friends and myself. I was held back in the 6th grade so I was already 18 when my senior year began. I had a moderate amount of liquor that night but was able to hold my own and sobered up before it was time to drive home.

I made eye contact with a guy across the room I had recognized from school and he smirked at me over the loud music. I don’t remember if I smirked back or not, but eventually he came over, we dapped one another, began talking and eventually exchanged numbers. I had already talked with him prior to that night but the conversations were always short and casual. He was a football player and I wasn’t interested in sports outside of volleyball and track and field, so there wasn’t much to talk about.

At the time, I didn’t suspect that he was interested in men until we exchanged numbers that night. We began texting a few minutes later. I weighed about 110 pounds at the time, was fairly quiet, geeky and sometimes socially awkward. He asked me to come over to his mom’s place to chill and I said “OK,” hesitantly. I wasn’t sure what I should do. I wasn’t interested in sex, (though the topic never came up) but wanted to explore my own sexuality maybe by talking or kissing. So I dropped my friends home and drove my mom’s car to his place.

On this night, I had abused my mother’s trust, the trust that she usually extended to me on weekends. Usually, myself and my two sisters checked in with my mom even if we got in at 4 a.m. after a jam. My senior year was also the only year in high school where I was allowed to drive myself home from late night events. I took the keys and snuck back out the house after my sisters finished showering and went to bed. My mom worked more than one job, and kept a watchful eye on us. Like many of my classmates, sneaking out could only happen while our parents went to bed.

I drove over to a housing community to meet him after I managed to leave home quietly. I won’t mention which housing project this happened in, because that isn’t important. However, I’ll try to share the most important details of the incident. I parked downstairs and texted him that I was outside. He told me that his mother was at work and gave me the apartment number. I closed the door, locked the car and made my way up the stairs – admittedly very nervous. I liked him but didn’t know what to expect once I got upstairs.

I turned the doorknob and walked into a dark living room. A few moments passed and nothing happened, no sound, no light. The door closed behind me and he emerged from the shadow cast by the door. I turned around and saw a new look on his face, one that was more intense than our first interaction earlier that night when we exchanged numbers. His eyes were bloodshot red and the smell of alcohol was on his breathe. Before I could say a word, he pressed me up against the wall and began kissing me.

I was uncomfortable, mainly because of the how rough he was, the smell of the liquor and the fact that I didn’t even like kissing. I tried to pull away but instead he repeatedly stuck his tongue down my throat and gripped me harder. I began saying things like, “hold up, give me a second,” and “wait, stop.” But the more I resisted the harder he pinned me against the wall.

Eventually, we ended up on the kitchen floor and my struggle got a little more desperate. At this point, I could barely move his (maybe 150 pound) body off of me. I struggled on the floor with him for what seemed like 30 minutes. I was scared, sweating and angry. Somehow, he managed to pull his pants off while I was pinned down. He even managed to remove some of my clothes and eventually began forcibly trying to penetrate me. I was in pain, and started slowly giving up because fighting felt useless.

This wasn’t like the fights I had gotten into in past years. The longest fight I could remember being in had lasted 15 minutes, (starting and stopping again) but it was nothing like this. Here I am, at 4 in the morning, at classmate’s apartment while his mother was at work and I was supposed to be in bed. I thought, if I reported this, it would be the end of my social life and put my family in the crosshairs of unnecessary news coverage. My mother wasn’t a negligent parent but I was wrong that night – it took me years to realize that I wasn’t wrong to resist his advances.

I didn’t know how the night would end, and I kept thinking of ways to cover it up if I got away. There wasn’t a support system at home, in school or in the Virgin Islands in 2011 that I felt comfortable utilizing and began exploring ways to sweep my own assault under the rug before it had even concluded. I also wasn’t sure which friend I could trust with something like this on such a small island. After all, the U.S. military’s ban on openly gay service members wouldn’t be lifted until later that year after my high school graduation.

As I continued to struggle under his weight, I remember crying – mostly out of frustration and exhaustion. At this point, I was so tired and distraught that I began taking breaks and allowing him to have his way so I could conserve energy for later. After all, he was drunk, I was supposed to be in bed, and I wasn’t sure how this would end if other neighbors began hearing the struggle from their apartments.

Nearly all of my clothes are stripped off now, and he’s still half dressed, continuing to force himself onto me. I could tell he didn’t know what he was doing from the look in his eyes. It was almost as if he was dreaming, and ‘consent’ was something he had never grasped even when sober. I realized that even if he managed to rape me that night and managed to remember the account, he wouldn’t think that he did anything wrong.

I eventually managed to get him off of me. He was too off balanced to stand up, or even sit up straight. I quickly got dressed, and angrily grabbed all my things and left. The next day in school we crossed paths and didn’t do our usual dap. I could tell as I walked past him that he remembered the night before, but probably only in drunken flashes.

I didn’t call 911, and I didn’t go straight home. Instead I called a police that I trusted to tell him what had happened.

Now, rewind to a few months before the attack. I was on my way to a friend’s house before marching band practice on a Saturday. My mom knew exactly where I was, and who I would be with. As I walked to my friend’s home, a car drove by while I was bumping music in my headphones. The car stopped suddenly and reversed slowly until it was lined up with me.

The window rolled down, and it was a man in his mid 40s or early 50s. He asked my name and where I was headed. I was friendly on most days and I was a 17 year-old in broad daylight, so I viewed the interaction as innocent.

He began asking me where I was heading and I responded, “to a friend’s house.” He then asked “Where are you heading after that?” I told him marching band practice.

I was 17 at the time and loved music, so he instinctively began inquiring about my musical abilities, which included singing and piano at the time. He mentioned that he was a police officer, invited me to sing at his church and asked for my number to contact me about the location and time. I gave him my digits and moved on with my day, excited about singing in the near future.

Less than 20 minutes later, he texted me. The conversation immediately became inappropriate when he asked me if I had a boyfriend, which I did at the time. He began asking to see me at late hours at night and I never took his invitations. I still don’t know why I called him right after the attack, remembering that he made a pass on me when I was only 17. I drove to town to meet him and told him what happened. He got angry, not because of what the guy put me through, but because he was jealous. I can’t remember much of the police officer following that night, except that he began pursuing several of my male classmates that were 15, 16 and 17 years-old in the months that followed.

I kept my distance and encouraged my classmates to avoid him. None of us, all boys, ever reported him. I learned two years later that reporting him would have been useless, after learning that he had given me a fake name. I still don’t know who he is and have not seen him with the VIPD since 2011.

Girls in high school often confided in me about being raped or molested by friends or family members. Many of them had never told their parents, leaving me to keep the secret. I usually encouraged them (hypocritically) to report it and tell their parents.

Encounters like this had been happening to me since the ninth grade. In a separate incident, I confided in a friend and told her that her father kept making romantic and sexual advances towards me. I was only 15 years-old at the time. I also wasn’t interested in men (or aware that I was) and had a girlfriend. She denied that her father was gay and our friendship fell apart for several months.

The start of puberty revealed my attraction to men, but encounters with older men like this made me feel dirty. This made me wonder if their advances were only making me more interested in their predatory behavior. Eventually, she reached out to me and apologized, mentioning that her father had made passes on several other male students as well and that they too had confronted her about it. After hearing the same story from other boys in school, she eventually confronted her father. I’m not sure what happened after that since we never reported the encounters and stopped talking about it after to focus on our friendship.

After all, we were kids and didn’t deserve to spend our high school years stressing about the hideous things in the world that awaited us. Can you see how damaging experiences like this can be for any teenager? We suppressed a major issue to save our friendship and inevitably, protect her father.

These encounters have affected my performance at past jobs, manifesting itself as a crippling depression and more often as a repressive anxious state. I joined the Marine Corps in 2013 and went through 3 months of grueling physical training. I say grueling because of what the training triggered within me. Through different stages of training, I was pressed up against fellow recruits, we showered together, fought one another during specific training exercises and lived in an extremely high stress environment for a quarter of a year. I was pretty athletic so the physical part was fairly easy. We also had regular talks and classes about sexual assault and rape occurring in the military and that was the first time I had to face the horrific experience head-on.

I began having nightmares, I missed shots on the range and eventually asked to speak to a therapist because I didn’t want to hurt myself or my fellow recruits. My senior drill instructor arranged for me to meet with a Uniformed Victims Advocate. I was eventually referred to a civilian on base contracted by the Armed Forces and tasked with handling incidences of sexual assault, including attacks that happened before enlisting. In sessions with the therapist, I confessed that I was scared to live in an environment where men used power, strength and emotionless personas to survive. I dreamed every night about one of them or even one of my drill instructors leading me to a back room and repeating what had already happened to me almost two years ago.

I tried to push through training, but felt myself losing focus as I tried to navigate a past trauma I had never talked about. Truthfully, the Marine Corps was the first place I felt safe talking about my experience. It eventually got better, and I learned to use that pain to liberate anyone who may have experienced what I did, regardless of their gender, their gender identity or their sexual preference.

I’m hoping that one day, schools in the Virgin Islands will create safe spaces for teens (especially LGBTQ+ students) to report any incident without fear of humiliation or public backlash.

I also wanted to share with Virgin Islanders that sexual assault, rape and other forms of inappropriate sexual behavior with adults and children are never OK, and are never the child’s fault, even if the child wanted it. Parents should speak with their children, even if they don’t fully understand them.

Adults have been actively pursuing children on each island for decades, and it’s time to make them pay.