Each year when Sexual Assault Awareness Month rolls around I tell myself, “This is the year you tell your story.” This year, I’m finally doing it. Here goes nothing.
Every story is different, but there’s value in being heard.
Until recently, I didn’t want to be heard, because saying out loud what I’d been holding deep down for years felt all too real. It made something I thought I could harness, hide, and deny completely tangible. It put the power of my story into the hands of the reader.
And when your story involves feeling completely powerless, power is something you hold with a death grip any chance you get.
But you know what? I’m over hiding. I’m over feeling shameful about something 1 in 5 women and 1 in 75 men in the US will experience. I’m over acting like what I went through was somehow my fault. I’m over running the same questions through my head every time I see his face or hear his name:
“Was it something I wore?”
“Was it something I said?”
“Should I have known?”
“Could I have stopped it?”
I’m not here to drag anyone through the mud. I don’t want to “stir up old drama.” I’m not looking for justice or revenge. I’m here for 3 reasons:
- To tell my story
- To provide support
- To remind everyone that the state of our nation’s sexual assault epidemic isn’t okay, and something needs to change
I was 17. I’d never had sex. In fact, I had no interest in it. Soccer, school, and my friends were top priority.
Sure, I’d spent my fair share of time with boys. I flirted–probably a lot. I’d made out a time or two in the basement hoping I’d hear my parents walking down the stairs before they appeared so I could throw myself across the room and “act casual.” I was a normal high school girl.
But one day, on a bright afternoon, I made my way to someone’s house.
Someone I knew.
Someone I trusted.
Someone I’d spent endless hours with before.
We turned on a movie. We ate snacks. We talked about soccer and our families and school. Everything felt normal. I felt safe.
Quickly, things changed. I had no idea what was going on. I said “no,” before falling silent and realizing what was happening. With horror, I laid there. Heart racing. Tears flowing.
Big Mama’s House was playing in the background. I remember staring at that small TV and wondering how a comedy could be the soundtrack to my situation. How there were thousands of people watching and laughing and their world was still spinning while mine silently shattered.
Within minutes, I was alone. I grabbed my clothes and got dressed as quickly as possible. My hands shook. My knees shook. My entire body shook. My mind couldn’t process what to do next, so I sat at the edge of the bed and waited. I’ll never forget what I heard when he returned.
“Why the f*ck are your clothes on?”
Tears hot as lava flowed down my cheeks as I slapped his face and walked out. I drove straight to my friend’s house and sat on her basement floor without words.
I felt overwhelmed with shame. This wasn’t how I envisioned my “first time.” Though looking back now I realize this wasn’t my first time at all–this was an assault. An abuse of power.
I was 17. I didn’t tell a soul until I was 22. That’s 5 years.
I didn’t tell anyone because I felt like I’d lucked out. My rape wasn’t near as bad as ones I’d seen on TV or ones I’d heard from friends. I also didn’t want people to know I’d put myself in that situation. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. I was scared.
It doesn’t matter how long it’s been. Everyone processes at their own speed. Sometimes it’s easier to heal first and speak second. Don’t let anyone tell you your story, your pain, is invalid because it’s been “too long.” Or you “should’ve said something sooner.”
Sexual assault is terrifying. It paralyzes you. And if you find solace and peace in keeping your story close to your heart instead of sharing it with the world–that’s your choice, and it’s one you deserve to make for yourself.
However, for those of you who do want to be heard, know I hear you. Know I support you. I believe you. I stand with you.
If you relate to my story, know these truths:
- It’s not your fault
- Your story matters
- Your pain is valid
- You are no less of a person now
- It’s not your job to keep these things from happening
- You will heal
- You deserve love and are worthy of happiness
- You are not weird or dirty or anything else the world may want you to think
It’s going to take more than just survivors coming together to make a change.
And please, stop saying “It’s never going away.” With an attitude like that, you’re damn right.
It starts with all of us. It starts with education. With talking to your children, girls AND boys, when they’re young. And continuing the conversation as they grow. It starts with re-defining what it means to “have a crush on someone,” — stop telling little kids “they tease you because they like you.”
Change the conversation. Talk about what you see on TV. Open your ears and open your mind–be willing to LEARN. Don’t shrug off the small stuff. The cat-calling and ass-grabbing. Small things lead to big things.
Stop shaming women. Stop shaming your daughters. Stop shaming your sisters. Stop using religion or “morals” to make women feel as if it’s their job to protect men and protect themselves. You wonder why so many suffer in silence.
Stop focusing on the “false reports.” I’M SERIOUS. The more you perpetuate the lie that it’s a “hard time for men right now” because “women are lying and out for money” the more you become the problem.
Stand up for strangers when you see something happening in public.
Men–speak up! Don’t laugh when your boys are “locker room talking.” Don’t sit idle while they make sexual comments to women online or in-person. Understand that women don’t think all men are bad–but we’re scared, because the ones that are bad, are really bad.
The only way for us to improve as a nation is to educate, communicate, support, and change.
- One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives (a)
- In the U.S., one in three women and one in six men experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime (o)
- 51.1% of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance (a)
- 52.4% of male victims report being raped by an acquaintance and 15.1% by a stranger (a)
- Almost half (49.5%) of multiracial women and over 45% of American Indian/Alaska Native women were subjected to some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime (o)
- 91% of victims of rape and sexual assault are female, and nine percent are male (m)
- In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the perpetrator (j)
- Eight percent of rapes occur while the victim is at work (c)
- The lifetime cost of rape per victim is $122,461 (n)
- Annually, rape costs the U.S. more than any other crime ($127 billion), followed by assault ($93 billion), murder ($71 billion), and drunk driving, including fatalities ($61 billion) (j)
81% of women and 35% of men report significant short- or long-term impacts such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (a)
- Health care is 16% higher for women who were sexually abused as children and 36% higher for women who were physically and sexually abused as children (k)
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. A time when a lot of women and men reflect back on their own experiences with sexual assault and do their best to live life normally.
This month, take some time to educate yourself. Evaluate your own actions and the actions of those around you. Take time to ask tough questions and figure out if you might be part of the problem. Seek to understand that which you don’t personally know.
And remember–asking for consent and clarifying that you’re both on the same page is necessary. If that conversation feels awkward or uncomfortable for you, maybe you shouldn’t be engaging in adult behavior in the first place. Never assume. Never take what’s not yours.
If you find yourself struggling this month, or any month for that matter, please reach out. I’m all ears.