There has been a lot of discussion lately about sexual harassment and assault. With each story, I have felt both saddened by their experience and elated that their story is finally being heard.
However, I’ve also heard opinions that are not so favorable. At work, on social media, in public, I read/hear: ‘Why are they just now coming forward? Why did they choose to be around those types of people? They just want attention.’ Statements like this infuriate me. First off- who wants this kind of attention? They want to be hated and discredited? Perhaps this is why it took them so long to tell the truth.
But instead of being angry and quiet, I’ve decided to share my story, in the hopes that it could be met with compassion and understanding.
Why do we act like all abusers are wearing a warning sign?
I was assaulted by a ‘friend’ in high school. It happened during a sleepover at a mutual friend’s house. We all hung out for a while, it got late and we called it a night. He was supposed to go home. I went down the hall to an empty room to sleep. But he didn’t leave. He came in the room, where I was in bed.
If the first stage of grief is denial, then why are we so confused that victims don’t immediately come forward?
The obvious first question is, why didn’t you scream for your friends down the hall? The answer is, I don’t have a logical reason for you. I can tell you that I felt awkward, ashamed, and embarrassed that I was in this situation at all, let alone with a friend. If you are not attacked in an alley by a stranger, people will have a 100 questions for you. The bottom line is, I said no and told him to stop for what felt like an eternity.
If we are going to blame someone in an abusive situation, why don’t we always blame the abuser?
When I finally admitted to myself what happened, I began to tell people. I started with my best friend who cried and consoled me. I told my friend from the sleepover, she was torn because she was friends with both of us. I told my boyfriend at the time who accused me of cheating on him. I told my sister who said this too had happened to her, and it wasn’t my fault – a sensitive fact she had not shared with anyone.
Slowly, my words began circulating around school. Many deemed me a liar and a slut who was ashamed of cheating on her boyfriend. While this was going on, I also had a class with him, where we sat next to each other. Having to share a space with someone who abused you is hard. Sharing your truth and being discounted as a liar is excruciating.
The underwear I wore that night sat in the back of my drawer for months because I didn’t want to see them. One day I blindly pulled them out while getting dressed and began crying. I threw them away, along with all the clothes I wore that night.
Are we so horrified to believe that someone we know is capable of sexual assault that the only choice is to discredit the victim?
I stopped talking about it altogether. I wished I had never said a word. I felt like everyone was staring at me; judging. My personality changed, my grades slipped, I had lost my joy, and my spirit was broken.
Until one day, Luke, someone I had recently become friends with, asked me what was wrong. He noticed I wasn’t the same lately. I broke down and told him what happened. He was kind and urged me to tell my parents.
You know many more victims than you think: 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men.
I eventually did tell my parents, who put me in therapy. I graduated high school, and was happy to leave and start anew; thinking that this was behind me. However, the reality is, this will never be behind me. I did not actually come to terms with what happened for several years. The sting of finally telling the truth and having people discredit your character is long lasting, and it’s the reason I am hesitant to talk about this now. But I am attempting to explain my own story in the optimistic hope that someone will read it and connect with my words. Maybe when you hear another story of assault you won’t discredit the survivor, but thank them for being honest and brave.
Survivors of sexual assault live with the real knowledge that their words are not enough, not when they say no, and not when they come forward. I hope that this changes.
After the dust settled:
I don’t have nightmares about being assaulted. After nine years, I have nightmares of being back in high school, screaming the truth and everyone turning their backs on me.
My friend that didn’t want to take sides has apologized to me several times over the years. She didn’t want it to be real. She felt guilty that it happened in her house, with a friend that she introduced me to.
Therapy was my turning point, and I urge anyone with a similar experience to seek help.
Over the years I’ve told close friends about what happened, both men and women have confided in me that they have also been assaulted.
Luke was there for me through the worst of it. We began dating the following year, and we are now engaged.
The main lesson I have learned from this experience is that there is nothing worse than being silent.
Each time I tell my story I feel better. I claim what happened to me and I let go of self-guilt and blame.