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If you're like me, you've heard so many stories about sexual assault lately. It seems like we can't open up Facebook or a news app without seeing a headline containing those two words. Honestly, it's scary how often it happens. We never think that it could happen to us, then it does. We never think that it could happen to one of our friends, then it does. We never think that it could happen to one of our family members, then it does.
The sad truth is that sexual assault doesn't discriminate. It can happen to anyone: any gender, any sexual orientation, any ethnicity, any age. Sexual assault is almost like a disease; it just seems to spread.
Lately, in response to the Me Too Movement, survivors have been opening up about their experiences all over the globe. Some of these experiences happened several years ago and some of them have happened very recently. Either way, no matter when it happened, it takes a lot of courage for these survivors to open up about what happened to them. Most victims of sexual assault are too scared or too embarrassed to talk about it. That's why you hear about so many sexual assaults going unreported. To them, being assaulted is something to be ashamed of. They look at it like they did something wrong, like they "asked for it" somehow. This is never true.
Unfortunately, our culture and some of our own peers enforce this thinking. It's too often that we hear someone say something like this:
"She probably deserved it. Look at the way she dresses."
"Why did they wait so long to tell someone? I doubt it even happened."
"He/she is just looking for attention."
"He/she is just looking for money."
Yes, there have been times when people cried wolf about sexual assault. But, most likely, if someone reports the assault to the authorities or talks to a loved one about it, they're not lying. According to ourresilience.org, only 2-8 percent of rapes are falsely reported, which is the same as other felonies.
So, if someone tells you that they have been assaulted, you need to take them seriously. NEVER ignore someone who tells you that they are a victim of sexual assault. Do what you can to help, even if it is just convincing them to go to the police. Be there for them even if they decide not to go to the police. Offer a shoulder to cry on, offer your listening ears, offer advice. Most of the time, the strongest thing they feel is that they are alone.
Now, you're probably wondering how I seem to know what victims feel and think. Yes, most of them have given this information during interviews or written stories. Yes, a lot of what I've said seems to be common knowledge obtained from TV shows like Law and Order: SVU. But I actually know all of this because I am one of them.
The influx of survivors telling their story has inspired me to tell my own.
I was in high school when I was assaulted. It was in the middle of my junior year and it was done by someone that I considered one of my best friends. He and I had known each other for years, since elementary school when he moved to our small town. I thought I knew him. I never imagined that he was capable of hurting me, much less anyone else.
As you may have already guessed, I had a tiny crush on him. However, he was dating another one of my good friends and I wasn't about to tell him or anyone else about the way I felt. I was content just being friends.
I ask myself now if maybe I had flirted more than I thought I did, or if maybe I had given him signals.
It happened one day while there was a pep rally going on. I had felt pretty bad that day, but I can't remember exactly what had been wrong with me. I just remember feeling like my head would explode if I went to the pep rally and listened to kids screaming and stomping their feet.
I had asked my teacher if I could stay behind and lay on the couch in the room adjacent to her classroom. She was kind of partial to me, so she agreed as long as I didn't tell anyone. So I swore to secrecy and when everyone else left to go to the gym, I laid down on that couch.
I had been laying there for a few minutes and I felt myself drifting off to sleep. I remember that the sound of the door knob turning woke me up. At first, I was afraid that it was the principal, who would no doubt get on to me for skipping the stupid pep rally. (At times, it seemed like he cared more about that school than anything else, which I guess goes along with being a principal.) I had an excuse already formed in my mind in case it was.
But it was my friend who poked his head inside, followed by the rest of his body.
I can't recall if I noticed him lock the door when he shut it behind him. I just know that it was locked when he went to leave.
Anyway, he asked me what I was doing in there. He explained that he had hidden in the bathroom so he wouldn't have to go to the gym with everyone else. In fact, he had planned to take a nap on the couch I was currently laying on. I said something about not feeling good.
That's when he said this:
"I know something that would make you feel better."
In that small amount of time, which seemed to be hours instead of minutes, he shoved one hand under my bra and the other down my pants. He used his arm to cover my mouth. He pinned my legs down with his. He told me to "stop moving around so much." He told me that he "knew I liked it" and that he "knew I wanted him." He crushed his lips against mine so hard that I knew I would have bruises.
My first kiss was during my assault.
Finally, he paused to look at the clock on the wall.
"We'll have to finish this later," he said, biting my bottom lip.
I tasted blood.
I didn't move.
I didn't speak.
I didn't even adjust my clothes until he was out of the room.
When I was sure that he was gone, I got up, walked to my car, and drove home. I didn't care that I still had one more class to go to that day. I didn't care that my dad would be home and would ask why I was early. All I cared about was the shower in my bathroom.
It's odd that taking a shower is the first thing you want to do when something like that happens. You feel like if you take a shower, you can wash away the memory and the feeling of them touching you.
I wanted to scrub my skin off completely, just start over and let all of the skin cells grow back. That way, there would be no part of me that he had touched.
My assault happened over six years ago. I have told one person.
And no, that person was not a cop.
Want to know why? Because I was ashamed. Because I felt like I asked for it. Because I felt like I did something wrong. Because I was afraid that he would deny it and everyone would believe him over me.
Because, later, he told me that he would hurt me if I ever told anyone, especially the police.
Luckily, my attacker has moved away and, as far as I know, has forgotten I exist. He has no idea where I live. He has no idea where I work. He can't even look at my social media to see what I had for dinner last night.
Although I don't see him trying anything again and I don't see him holding a grudge against me, I'm still glad to be nothing but a ghost to him.
My life went downhill after the assault. I had to go to the doctor to be put on antidepressants (that I still take today) after I started slicing my arms with a pocket knife. I stopped talking to everyone, stopped eating, stopped sleeping. I had to completely upturn my world to stay away from him.
He took a part of me that I won't ever get back. He took my innocence. Up until that day, I only had one steady boyfriend and holding hands was as far as we had gone. I had wanted my first experience with intimacy to be with someone special, not with some guy who decided to attack me just because he could. But, as I learned the hard way, you can't turn back time and change things.
I hope that my story encourages more to speak out about their own experience. I hope that I have convinced my readers that sexual assault is a serious subject. I hope that there is a change in the near future. I hope that if you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, you or that person will seek help.
I tried to fight off my demons alone and it didn't turn out well. I almost acted on the urge to take my own life. Now, I look back and I'm so thankful that I didn't. I have a good life. I have a bright future ahead of me.
And so do you.