I’m strong, independent, and rarely rely on others for my own safety. I’m competent and have a good head on my shoulders. I have common sense and know right from wrong. I am a victim of sexual assault.
Sexual violence. Molestation. Assault. Abuse. Rape.
We hear these words far too often but think of them far too little. Yes, sexual violence happens, you know that, and I know that. But sexual violence isn’t something we choose to talk about. Most students my age have to sit in on a seminar or read about the realities of sexual violence on college campuses, as a requirement by the university. I took two of these. I sat through them, I listened or read, I didn’t care that much. I would never be in that type of situation, and if I was, I could handle myself.
One in four women will be sexually assaulted during their post-secondary academic careers. Look around you. Think about your friends and family. The reality is that twenty-five percent of women who attend college in the U.S. will be sexually assaulted, a majority of which the perpetrators are friends or acquaintances of the victim. Your sister, friend, cousin, or even you could be the victim of sexual assault.
There are one thousand excuses and questions people will try to throw on you. “Did you know him?” “Did you go to his house?” “Maybe he didn’t know you wanted to stop.” “What were you wearing?” “Did you say anything that might have led him on?” “Perhaps he thought you were asking for more.” “Were you flirting?” “Were you already engaging in sexual activities?” “Kissing and touching usually leads to more…you know that.”
I want to tell you this: sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. None of the excuses or questions listed above are relevant, ever. Sexual assault is not the result of a short skirt, a revealing top, or touching. Sexual assault is not the result of flirting or being nice to men. Sexual assault is any kind of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.
Victims of sexual assault do not ask for it. The ones who perpetrate are to blame. They are disgusting, manipulative, forceful, criminals.
I didn’t think I’d find myself in this situation. Never in a million years. I’ve always taken care of myself. I wasn’t vulnerable, in its most literal sense; I’m not weak or afraid of much. I was wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants. I didn’t kiss him. I did everything “by the textbook.” It still happened. I wasn’t strong enough to force him off. I was too afraid to scream. My mind shut off and I couldn’t think. I knew I couldn’t grab my stuff fast enough and get out of there before he could stop me. I was trapped in the locked room.
You never hear the side of the abuser. He’ll never tell you that he could hear me crying or that he couldn’t tell I wasn’t into it. You’ll never hear him say that he felt bad about it because he doesn’t. Does he know he sexually assaulted me? Yes. Does he care? Not in the least.
Sexual assault can happen to anyone. You are not excluded from the numbers. One in four women on college campuses will be sexually assaulted. I hope to God that no one has to go through this and carry this with them every day. This is an everyday battle. This is not reminiscing or holding onto the past. This is not feeling bad for myself. This is an attack that I will carry in my mind every day for the rest of my life.
Sexual assault is not only physical but psychological. The physical scars and pain will fade and go away. The psychological scars are permanent. It is a battle that I need to fight every day. It’s walking down the street at night and passing a stranger and being worried about my safety. It’s going to a friend’s house and avoiding men. It’s sitting around a table while some idiot makes a joke about rape and not knowing whether to tell them to shut up or sit quietly so I don’t cry. It’s deciding who to tell and when, if anyone ever. It’s the nights where a sound or a smell reminds me of that night. It’s crying alone because I don’t know what else to do. It’s hyperventilating in my car. It’s walking around the following days, knowing that everyone around me, strangers and friends, can tell what’s happened. It’s feeling unworthy of anything but mistreatment. It’s carrying all these feelings and thoughts every single day, and not being able to escape. It’s being courageous every day. It’s not giving up. It’s making my voice heard. It’s making my experience real and relevant. You are not alone. I am not alone.
The sexual assault 24/7 hotline is available. Use them. I wish I would have.