I am doing a two sided post. I’m sharing some facts, I’m sharing a story. And I am doing so, so that perhaps, it will be made clear why I am so vehemently passionate about my life choice of pursuing law school. I’ve been pretty vocal about my stances for a while, but in light of recent events (and verdicts) I want to make my voice heard. Please stick around for the whole story, it is long, but maybe it will shine some lights on something very important.
No one asks to be sexually assaulted. No one. And from the numbers, it looks like people are just trying to live their lives-not being “promiscuous” or “engaging in binge-drinking”.
No gender is safe. No orientation is safe. No age is safe. It doesn’t matter how you’re dressed, what you’re doing, where you are. No one asks for it. No one.
Ages 18-34 are the highest at-risk group. Of any gender.
And how many of those victims do you think internalized the guilt?
Moderate to severe distress. And I wonder if that accounts for the people who experience that distress later-perhaps decades later-after the event.
I wasn’t sure I was ever going to make this information public. It is something I have struggled with mostly in silence, and just as I originally felt about my mental health diagnosis, I thought that it was a source of great shame. But as I listened to Kesha’s statement those couple months ago and as I cried over the statement of the Stanford victim, I knew that there was no shame in my story. And I knew that just as with my stance on mental health, if I do not take the time to let people see, there will never be any change. Let me be perfectly clear: I do not wish to take away from either of those cases or people-or the millions of others which are similar. I just want to present a different side of the struggle, to shine a light on a social issue.
I got a phone call when I was a child (maybe around 11) in the middle of the night. There was a man on the other end, asking me where I lived, what I was doing-very personal information. I was awake in an instant and told him nothing. The next morning I had my mother take me to the police department, told them everything and they called the number back, giving the caller a warning that I was a minor and that they’d come for him if he called again.
I was babysitting at the age of 14 or so and the mother was driving me home. She got a call from her boyfriend and he asked to talk to me. He then asked me if I was dating anyone, if I was having sex, if I’d been “fondled” yet and so on. I said I had a boyfriend, and that was all I said (I was lying). I quit the next day. I never told anyone why-not even my parents.
As a young teen looking into colleges for the first time, I remember being told about how since I’d grown up in a small town, I needed to be more aware that there was a greatly increased risk of sexual assault on college campuses. I brushed the idea off-I was responsible, I was modestly dressed (always), I’d only casually dated people in high school and at the time, was with a guy who respected me. What did I possibly have to worry about? I knew the “risk” factors: late nights, walking alone, dawdling, dressing a certain way. I figured I’d be fine. Of course, I would still be safe, make sure that I always let people know where I was going and the like. I was sure I would be fine and that everyone was over reacting. I wasn’t a child. I could handle college.
Turns out, I wasn’t ready for the big city just yet. I figured I’d go to a smaller campus, I’d get back on my feet and get a job, which I did-somewhere with a uniform. I wore a polo, dress pants and tennis shoes every day. Let me reiterate that. I wore a polo, full length pants and tennis shoes EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Everyone I worked with was a woman. I could not be more safe, right?
My parents, from a young age, told me that I should be nice to the elderly. They were alive much longer than me, they deserved respect. So I did my best to implement this at my job. There was a man, who I will not be naming, who was completely alone, retired and quite old. I was kind each time he came in-because I was being respectful. One day though, I was busy and someone else was helping him. He asked me if he could give me a piece of wrapped candy and I said yes. He told me he didn’t see any pockets on my pants (I was in dress pants, my back facing him) and he reached around, under my apron and placed the candy in my hip pocket, with lingering hands. I backed away, didn’t eat the candy and waited for him to leave.
It was December that year that he was talking to me about my grades in school and asked to see them. I (not being completely naive) cropped the part of the page that had my address, phone number and other pertinent information. He congratulated me but immediately noticed that none of my information was present and commented about it. I told him that that was just the way the picture had been taken, but that those were my grades. He tried to give my $2o, which I refused. He did put $5 in the tip jar though.
The January following, he came into my workplace with a small bag. He asked to see me and I walked out from behind the counter. He told me that he felt that he should get me a present because I’d been so nice to him. He’d positioned himself back far enough that no one from the front end could see us, but no one from the back end could either (a detail I noticed only later). I opened the present right there, to find a datebook/organizer. I thanked him and he reached in his pocket. It was a small patchwork heart, which he held up and pressed to my chest (without asking me first) and said that I would always be in his heart. He asked if he could hug me (I said yes). He proceeded to grope me and kiss my neck-from collarbone to cheek before I struggled away-and ran into the back of the building, through the doors and into the back office.
Immediately I called my boss and told her what had happened. She agreed that whenever he came in, I could go to the back and not have to be around him. It was only in the days following that the real devastation began. As it would turn out, not only had the old man sexually assaulted me, he’d also been stalking me. He knew my schedule, what car I drove and I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew where I lived and all the information I’d tried to hide from everyone except my boss and school. Without fail, he came in and asked for me each day I was there. Each day my coworkers denied me being there, or told him that I was busy and couldn’t be bothered. Some days he would wait to see if that was true. Some days he wouldn’t.
I remember getting laughed at and blamed for the situation that I had “gotten myself into”. I remember taking 3 showers a day for several days in a row because I felt dirty.
The thing is, that before I’d even begun to deal with what had happened, my brain decided I couldn’t take it and hid it away. What I didn’t understand immediately was why I felt so connected to the Ke$ha case, which you can read my thoughts on here. I mean, I didn’t know her, I didn’t have anything in common with her. Why was I so devastated?
I mentioned several times over many blog posts that my brain was breaking apart barriers that I hadn’t realized were there. This is what I meant. The reactions from people since remembering all this have been pretty polarizing. (Up until now I’ve told less than 5 people.) I either got the “how can I help?” question or I got the “it must not have been that traumatizing if you’re only now talking about it” or the “you weren’t raped, you’ll be fine” speech.
Let me break it down for you.
I am the survivor of harassing phone calls which happened as a minor. I do not answer phone calls to this day because of them. It’s been like that for years-you just didn’t see it. That was the first time, at age 11 that I realized I wasn’t safe.
I was NOT raped. I know that. And that makes me “lucky”. But that doesn’t mean that my experiences aren’t worth noting and taking seriously.
I WAS sexually assaulted. I WAS stalked. I WAS vulnerable. And you not being able to understand that only reflects on you. I was 20 at the time I was assaulted. And because the justice system in my state states that I (the victim) must prove that it was unwanted and there wasn’t any physical evidence, I know that I must live with that. (This is how the law was explained to me, anyway.)
Of course there wasn’t any physical evidence. That doesn’t mean that sexual assault shouldn’t be paid attention to though. Here’s the textbook definitions of sexual assault and rape. They’re both criminal offenses. As you can see, rape is the forced penetration. Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact/behavior.
We all experience trauma in different ways. I wasn’t able to connect mine to past events at first-I just assumed it was part of my bipolar diagnosis. The signs were there from day one-but I didn’t have anyone to properly put them in place. But let me list the symptoms which have been present for years:
-I cannot go into new places alone
-I cannot “do” large crowds
-Sometimes I cannot go into restaurants and order food, especially if I haven’t been there before
-I will not use the restroom if it looks too close to a group of men
-I do not pick up phone calls. Even from people I know. Unless I know you’re calling me. And even then, I get a mini-panic attack when I do. EVEN FROM PEOPLE I KNOW
-I do not do well with the elderly. I panic
-I refuse to be alone with anyone I do not know
-I am polite and courteous, but I will rarely go out of my way to talk to strangers
-I do not share personal information which may allow someone to find me
-I vary my schedules
-My nightmares (if I dream at all) are often reminiscent of SVU episodes
-It takes me hours to get to sleep
-I let someone know where I am at all times-even going to the rest room
-I scout out everywhere I am for lines of sight
-I have been known to barricade myself in
-I do not smile at strangers (followed by periods of uncomfortable laughing and panicked smiles to prevent strangers from murdering me or worse)
Those of you with a mental health diagnosis may understand why I assumed this was all part of my disorder-at a depressive point, it’s classic isolation, at a manic point it’s classic avoidance and paranoia. But the thing is, it was so much more than that. A quick Google search will show you that these behaviors also sound a little too much like a different diagnosis: PTSD. I’ll go ahead and include a screenshot for you.
So no. I wasn’t raped. I don’t know what that does to your mind. But I am 1 in 6-I am a survivor of sexual assault and I am devoting my life to protecting other victims. No one should have to feel like they aren’t safe. No one should have to defend the right to their own body. No one should have to defend their right to say no.