Editor’s note: This author has chosen to remain anonymous due to the personal and sensitive nature of the op-ed. The following deals with an account of sexual assault and may be triggering to some people.
“Don’t drink anything you didn’t see anyone make, make sure someone knows where you are, and don’t walk home alone.” Check, check and check.
It was a poor mix — my exhaustion and intoxication. We were only a couple blocks away from my residence hall, but it was past midnight, and I felt unsafe walking alone. Both my roommates were gone, and I didn’t think twice when he signed himself in and came upstairs. We had hung out before, and people had told me that he liked me. When he started kissing me, I pulled away and asked him to stop; he kept telling me how much he knew I liked him.
You can watch movies and yell at the character to get up, push him off or fight back harder. But nothing can mentally prepare you for the shock of someone forcing him or herself on you. I was calm on the surface, panicking underneath. I managed to get my arm free and hit him in the stomach; when he covered my mouth and started choking me, all I could feel was shock. I couldn’t believe that it was actually happening and couldn’t stop thinking about what I should have done differently.
About a month later, I overcame some of my anxiety and mentioned his name to my roommate. She gushed about how we would make such a cute couple and said we should spend more time together. I remained torn between going to get tested and worrying about what I might be told. I couldn’t eat or focus and would continually wake up feeling like I was going to gag.
The next time I saw him, I started to walk away, but he continued toward me and gave me a hug. He turned to our friend, asking her when she was going to convince me to go to dinner with him. His charisma prevented anyone who knew him from even suspecting that he would neglect the consent and emotional wellbeing of someone he claimed to care about.
His passive interactions made me feel progressively worse; he would attend events where he knew I would be, always making his presence known by drawing me into a conversation with someone else. I began to bury my recollection as deep as I could, almost to the point that I could see him and believe that nothing had happened. It allowed me to cope with the fact that he would continue to be around me until graduation.
Over time, things became easier. It wasn’t something that I thought about often, and I had many uninterrupted weeks of happiness. After a summer of internships, traveling and time with family, I returned to campus full of optimism. I dedicated my time and energy to helping others speak out and began working with the ASUC to change campus policies. I identified myself solely as an ally and insisted I was trying to change things because this was something that should never happen to anyone — myself not included. I was convinced that if I objectively worked on these campaigns, it would undo what had happened to me.
It wasn’t until recently that I came to terms with the fact that I could no longer ask others to seek help if I could not do so myself. I met with a freshman grappling with whether she should report her incident. It was unfortunately very similar to mine — she kept emphasizing that she couldn’t avoid seeing him, that she didn’t want her parents to find out, and that she “wasn’t the type of person this would happen to.” I found myself at a loss for words, because many of the same thoughts had gone through my own head.
It becomes too much after a while, hearing stories I believe many people would find disturbing and difficult to believe. I have spoken to and heard of girls who “blacked out” and then were found left in closets or under beds, bystanders who walked by and did nothing, victims who experienced seizures as the result of drugs that they unknowingly consumed, naked photos that were taken and used as blackmail and even stalking after the incident.
We often find safety and justification in separating ourselves from “the other.” We see survivors and mentally take note of what makes us different from them, because this is what we have always been shown. I was carelessly taught that smart, studious and reserved girls who aren’t wearing short skirts and lots of makeup are safe; I assumed no one would try to take advantage of me, and that if they did, I would be able to get away.
According to a report from the White House, nationally, one in five women are survivors of a sexual assault that occurred when they were in college. What were the odds that one of them wouldn’t be me?
My story is not unique, nor does it represent the collective voice of all survivors on campus. But it is my hope that by writing this piece, fewer young women will accept the false notions that only certain types of circumstances result in sexual assault and that their stories are not worth sharing.