Trigger warning: rape.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7: 1-800-656-4673
I think I’ve known for a while that this piece was coming. It seems inevitable. It’s too important.
Things are hard, but they are too important to avoid. This is a resounding cry in my life right now.
This is hard. Writing this is hard. But it is too important not to.
I was assaulted the second week of my freshman year of college.
I remember it.
I was sober. I remember what I was wearing. I remember where I was. I remember being carried by a man I didn’t know into a room. I remember saying no. I remember checking out. Counting to 50 and then counting down. Please make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop.
I remember the door opening:
“What the fuck man? What are you doing to her?”
I remember pulling myself off the bed and dragging myself out the door. I remember helping my friends into the car. I remember getting back to my dorm.
At some point I realized I was crying on the floor in the shared bathroom of my dorm hall. I picked myself up and walked down the hall.
Lock the door.
Get in bed.
Take two Benadryl.
Hope for sleep.
I remember everything.
I wish I didn’t.
Waking up the next day felt like death. Breathing felt like too much work.
No one tells you how to survive life after rape.
There’s no roadmap for this.
I went to therapy that semester. I only told my counselor what happened. Then I came home for winter break. I decided in the middle of break that I wasn’t going back. I remember driving to San Diego to get all of my stuff.
I remember feeling like a failure.
A drop out.
No one tells you how much shame you experience after assault. People who are educated about assault and sexual abuse know this is common. But no one told me.
No one told me because no one talked to me about assault.
I went to church almost every week growing up. I learned a lot about how dangerous my body is. I learned a lot about how to cover it. How to help my “brothers in Christ” avoid “stumbling.” I learned how to treat myself like an object. I learned about sinful sex. They told me the wrong sex was the kind before marriage or the kind that gay people have.
I never learned about consent.
So I didn’t know anything about rape or abuse or assault until I experienced it. And then it was too late.
Shame is some powerful shit. It messes with your mind. Shame tricks you into believing you are too broken, too dirty, too terrible to be loved. Shame tells you that you are not allowed to have needs. It gags you then blames you for passing out.
Shame wins by isolating you. It’s really hard to reach out when you feel ashamed. It’s really hard to ask for help.
I used to practice asking for help in counseling. We practiced using feeling words. I learned to be ashamed of feelings. I learned that I didn’t deserve to have them. I certainly didn’t deserve to have them about rape.
Why would I care about rape when no one else does? Why does no one care about rape?
Why does no one care about me?
Being a woman is hard.
I wonder why we care so little about sexual violence.
I guess I don’t wonder. I think I know.
I transferred schools.
My life did not get easier after I transferred. Different faculty and staff at my university have communicated to me for three years that I ought to be ashamed of myself. They would like me to be less honest. Less real. Less woman.
They would like me to be smaller and quieter.
My second semester after transferring, I pointed out rape and racism in a novel in a class. I was shut down. I was mocked. I was told after class that I needed to be less assertive. I was singled out in class. My life was hell every class after that.
I didn’t know very much about systems back then. I blamed myself. I went back to counseling. I skipped a lot of class.
I talked about rape in my final paper. I was forced to read the paper to the entire class. The class was made up of 14 men and 2 women, including myself.
After I read the paper, the professor told me that I was the low point of his semester. He told me that he is a safe person. He told me that if I didn’t feel safe in the program, I probably shouldn’t be in it.
I told other faculty about this experience. Nobody told me it was wrong. Nobody told me it wasn’t my fault.
I cried and cried and cried.
And then I stopped crying and started reading. Knowledge is power and I was done feeling powerless.
I didn’t start studying gender and sexuality and queer theory because I am good at it or because it is fun (though I am good at it, and it is fun).
I started studying it because it makes sense of my life. Because it helps me stay sane. Because it helps me navigate a system that tells me I don’t deserve to exist.
Too many people are abused and assaulted. These people are disproportionately women. Rape and assault affect women of color at even higher rates.
Why don’t you care?
The first semester of my final year of college I took a stand against a speaker my university decided to bring to campus to talk about rape. I was supposed to promote the speaker at the chapel elective I was coordinating. This speaker does not talk about consent. He does not talk about rape culture. He is problematic.
So I said no. I said no for myself. I said no for my friends. I said no for my family. I said no for the people who did not get to say no. I said no because one very important time I said no, a man tried to teach me that I didn’t get to have a say.
But I am still saying no. No to rape. No to rape culture. No to injustice. No to silencing myself.
I tried to make it real for the people I worked for. I tried to help them understand that rape happens because we live in a culture that normalizes rape. I tried to help them see how my experiences have taught me to normalize rape. I told them I am not the only one.
The people I worked for told me I was too broken to coordinate the event. That I couldn’t be trusted. One day, maybe, but not right now.
They told me I was fighting too hard. They wanted to know why I didn’t love them. They told me to stop saying no.
Do you know what it’s like to have a pastor communicate to you that you are broken because you have experienced assault?
I am not sharing this to shame my university or the people who communicated these messages to me. If you are one of these people reading this, please listen.
Rape and sexual assault are not isolated incidents. The way we talk about or don’t talk about rape communicates a message to men and women about what is important.
When you ask survivors of assault to be quiet, you harm them.
In some ways, it is more difficult for me to understand the people telling me to care less than it is for me to understand the man who assaulted me.
I know this is hard to hear. Please, hear it anyway. You know someone who has experienced assault. It is very likely you know someone who hasn’t told you. How do you make room for these stories? How do you center people who are being silenced? How are you silencing survivors of assault?
Don’t wait for someone to make it real for you. It’s already real.
Ultimately, this isn’t for the people who don’t understand.
This is for people like me. This is for people who feel invalidated. Who feel unseen, unheard, ignored, discarded, used, rejected.
I wish someone had shared their story with me back then. Because it’s important. It’s important to know you aren’t alone. It’s so important.
I bet someone would have shared their story with me had I asked for help. But sometimes it’s too hard to ask for help when you need it. Sometimes shame is winning. So I’m offering this now.
You’re not alone. What happened was wrong. It’s not your fault. You aren’t crazy.
Your clothes don’t communicate consent. The amount of alcohol you have consumed doesn’t communicate consent.
Dating doesn’t imply consent. Marriage doesn’t imply consent. Prior sex doesn’t imply consent.
Bystander intervention doesn’t fix the problem. I’m sorry the problem exists at all. I’m sorry people think they can use you. I’m outraged. I’m sad. I’m confused.
I’m sorry that people talk about rape in your classes like it doesn’t really happen. I’m sorry that your pastors might have failed you here. I’m sorry that you might have learned your body is sinful. I’m sorry that you didn’t learn that wrong sex is sex without consent.
I’m sorry that you might feel ashamed. I’m sorry that you might feel like you have to keep this a secret. I’ve felt that way too. I feel that as I write this – that this puts some sort of unfair burden on others.
But it doesn’t. The burden to care is always there. And it should always be there. I shouldn’t have to make it real. You shouldn’t either.
I’m sorry that this isn’t real for people. I’m sorry that you might feel like you have to make it real.
You aren’t obligated to do that. You don’t owe people.
You own your body.
I’m sorry someone tried to tell you otherwise.
I’m so sorry. I’m fighting for you. I’m fighting for me. I’m fighting for us.
If you have experienced sexual violence or are unsure if you have experienced sexual violence, please reach out. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-656-4673. You can also find information and help at https://www.rainn.org/. If calling someone feels too overwhelming, you can also use the online hotline, available 24/7, at https://hotline.rainn.org/online/terms-of-service.jsp.