“39 years ago, I was alone. Nobody talked about being raped by your boyfriend.”
“I thought that because [he] was my boyfriend, I was at fault,” said Barbara McLean of her experience with sexual violence as a teen. “I looked up, and there was another boy standing there, too. They proceeded to take turns holding me down while the other raped me.” This pattern of multiple-perpetrator sexual violence continued over the next year. Barbara felt humiliated—but she didn’t tell anyone what happened right away.
It wasn’t until she was talking to a classmate that she realized the experience wasn’t normal. “I talked about the fact that the act was coercive and violent, and my classmate turned to me and said, ‘Oh, no, honey…you were raped.’” From that point on, her point of view was different. “The next time my abuser came to find me, I knew if I went with him I would be raped again. I told him no...and I was free.”
It can be challenging for teens, who are new to dating, to recognize that sexual assault and abuse may be part of an abusive relationship.No matter who the person is, or how the relationship is defined, it is never okay to engage in sexual activity without someone’s consent.
Later in her adult life, Barbara was involved in an abusive relationship and experienced intimate partner violence. It took time and strength to leave her partner, but doing so was freeing. Leaving an abusive partner isn’t easy and can be made all the more challenging if the victim relies on the perpetrator for support. Reaching out for help from friends, loved ones, local organizations or law enforcement is often an important part of safely leaving an abusive partner.
These experiences with sexual violence don’t define Barbara, but she won’t deny the impact they’ve had on her life. “Since I’ve opened up, I’ve been mindful of just how awful it was. I’m learning to own the trauma attached to the experience.”
In time, Barbara regained her unbreakable spirit and enrolled in a master’s program studying social policy. She wrote her thesis on the importance of “second responders” and how they help change the lives of survivors of intimate partner violence. Today, Barbara works for a Violence Intervention and Treatment Program in Brooklyn, NY. She also volunteers on RAINN’s Online Hotline, providing up to 30 hours a week of critical support for survivors who need a safe place to talk about what happened. “I don’t want anyone to be alone when they’re going through something traumatic. It simply doesn’t fly in my world.”
Barbara wants other survivors to know how important, and how healing, it can be to tell someone what is happening. “Tell someone, tell anyone, tell everyone. You’re not alone. Thirty-nine years ago, I was alone. Nobody talked about being raped by your boyfriend. Now, you can reach out through a bunch of outlets and they’ll help you take your power back.”
Barbara is one of seven survivors featured in the RAINN Survivor Series. Learn more about the campaign.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800.656.HOPE and online.rainn.org, y en español: rainn.org/es.