I was a teenage Lolita

Lolita

Lolita: a precociously seductive girl
(Merriam Webster)

When I was 14 I began flirting with men. I’d made out with a boy my own age but I found men were much more interested in me and I liked the feeling of power I got from flirting. I’d go out on nights out with female friends. We’d meet men on the street or by the canal. We would flirt with them and they’d give us alcohol. We may have been flirting with them, but our intentions were fairly innocent. We wanted to know we could get them to kiss us. Our self-worth depended upon our ability to be seen as valuable sexual objects.

Mostly it resulted in some kissing and over T-shirt groping against a wall or the steel shutters of closed shops, but sometimes it was more. As our friends walked on, the kissing straggler would get left behind.
“Let’s just go down this side street. It’s a little more private.”
I went.
Their hands ventured into my underwear. They’d grab my hand and place it on their penis. They’d start me going. I compliantly continued.

At 15 I had had more men’s hands down my pants than teenage boys’. Until I was 16, the only penises I had touched belonged to adult men in alleys, back streets and dark corners next to the canal.

I never once thought I was being abused, coerced or assaulted. I flirted with them. I kissed them. I allowed them to touch me.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child”1 but when I became a woman, I realised that my childish understandings had allowed me to normalise experiences that shouldn’t be a normal part of growing up.

The men I met were adults. They weren’t men just on the wrong side of 18. They were in their mid twenties to late thirties. I was 14-16 but looked much younger than I was. They understood what they were doing was wrong.

So how did I become a coquettish teenager who “seduced” men? To find the answer we need to look at the preceding years. It didn’t happen overnight.

When I was a pre-pubescent child, the harassment started.

-At nine and ten I found myself in internet chat rooms, speaking to teenage boys (or at least I think they were teenage boys). They’d ask me about the boobs I didn’t have and talk about their cocks. They’d tell me what they wanted to do to me. It was screwed up, but I liked the attention.

-At around ten I was flashed by a man who shouted sexual comments at me from outside what I can only assume was his own front door. His brazen assault shows he had no fear I would report him. He was right.

-When I had just turned 14, I was travelling to a Halloween party dressed as a dead 1940s housewife when an old man ran his hand up my thigh. His hand slipped under my dress and so close to my genitals that I felt shame and embarrassment. He was the one touching me and yet I was the one feeling shame.

-At 14 a doctor groped my breasts during a routine check up. I said nothing.

-At 15 a shop owner sent staff out of the shop so he could assault me. He forced me to try on corsets, pulling the strings tighter to accentuate my newly acquired breasts. As I stood in front of him, he talked about my breasts. How he loved that they were still not quite developed. How I must be getting so much attention from men now. He pulled me onto his lap, and asked me if I would model for him. I was so beautiful. He would love to take some pictures. I tried to change the subject. “How much are the corsets?” I asked. He said a price that was beyond what I had.
“Sorry, I don’t have that much money”.
“That’s ok. I’ll be nice to you if you’ll be nice to me, if you know what I mean…”
His hand slid a little higher up my thigh. I burned with embarrassment and fear.
One of the shop assistants returned. He let me go. I tried to tell the police but they said that because I didn’t know the name of the shop, there was nothing they could do.

When most people think of Lolita, they think of the sexually precocious and seductive character from Nabokov’s book. How did she become that girl?

Perhaps she shared a similar path to me.

“Why was she unhappy there?” “Oh,” said Haze, “poor me should know, I went through that when I was a kid: boys twisting one’s arm, banging into one with loads of books, pulling one’s hair, hurting one’s breasts, flipping one’s skirt. Of course, moodiness is a common concomitant of growing up, but Lo exaggerates.2

The hashtag #WhenIWas exploded yesterday. It was heartbreaking to read so many people’s stories of sexual abuse and harassment, but seeing the sheer number of tweets made me realise my experiences were not mine alone. They were “just part of me being a girl”. They shouldn’t be.

The silenced children are speaking out now and if we shout loud enough, perhaps there won’t another generation of silent children.

11 Corinthians 13:11
2Vladimir Nabokov (1996) Lolita, : Penguin UK. Page 46

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