When my Editor-in-Chief pitched the idea of a sexual assault special edition last semester I was immediately on board. I had written about sexual assault in my columns before. I knew it was an epidemic and wanted to contribute in any way I could.
Then she said she wanted to have people share their personal sexual assault experiences.
That was me. My stomach turned. I am a sexual assault victim, just like so many others. I would not be writing as an observer, reporting on faceless statistics. I would be telling my own story of being raped as a 13 year old.
I nonchalantly told her I would do it. But something in the back of my mind shuddered. Could I actually write this?
For the next few months, I went back and forth with about writing it.
I didn’t have to write it.
Why reopen that memory?
It happened so long ago, but it is something I live with daily. I think about it every time I smell clove cigarettes. I remember it whenever someone does something as innocent as a surprise hug. I remember it when I play fight with my partners. And I especially remember it when someone tells me things were okay when I am angry or emotional. It is not something I have to dig up, because 10 years later I’m still healing.
It would be so much easier to just not talk about it.
But it could help someone if I did talk about it. It might even help me. Perhaps it could be something therapeutic.
Since my assault I had grown strong. I became someone who speaks her mind. I would not let him stifle my voice again. I was going to do it.
I was going to finally face what had happened to me. I was going to tell the world when I had not even told my parents. I had only told a few people. I had not told my partner of more than a year. As I sat staring at my computer screen, though, anxiety crept over me.
What if they did not believe me?
My parents have always been supportive of me, but I have seen these conversations go bad before. I have watched as women I knew came out with their story and heard the snide reactions. Friends and family would not believe them. She was only being “dramatic,” “it wasn’t really rape,” and “she’s just trying to cover the fact that she slept with him.”
There may be people who read the article that will not believe me. But the thought of the people who matter most to me — my family, closest friends and partner — not believing me scared me.
I could have fought harder.
I remember watching CNN reporter Don Lemon smile at a woman he was interviewing about being forced to perform oral sex on her assailant.
“There are ways of not performing oral sex on someone if you don’t want to,” he said on national television, “meaning the using of the teeth.”
In that moment, Lemon had stifled so many victims from telling their story and he planted doubt in my head.
Don Lemon is not the only person to make these kinds of insensitive statements. Victims of sexual assault get hit with stupid questions like, “Why didn’t you scream or run or fight?”
For me, the answer is simple. I was scared and did not think about it.
Sure, in hindsight fighting sounds like an option. But during the rape my mind could not even process what was happening, let alone conjure an effective defense.
Why did I not tell anyone?
There are several reasons I never reported him. The main reason is, at the time, I was not sure what exactly had happened to me. I was not sure if it qualified as rape because he was my boyfriend, not some stranger. In my 13-year-old mind I thought rape only happened to girls who were pulled into dark alleys or accosted at parties.
My sexual education had not informed me about consent. I did not know rape could happen when the assailant was your boyfriend. He had not bound me and beat me like in the movies.
All I knew was that it felt wrong and I did not want to engage with him.
As my education in sexuality widened, I realized that I had actually been raped. It was years later. Who would believe me now?
As all of these things came to mind, I realized I was no different from many of the women I had written about in this column.
Victims of sexual assault often do not report because they are afraid no one will believe them. They are afraid their credibility will be attacked and police and peers will write it off as nothing more than a “he said, she said.”
A disturbing 35 percent of victims do not understand that rape does not need to be violent or done by a stranger to be considered rape, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
I looked at the statistics reported by The National Sexual Violence Research Center and realized that I, too, am a statistic.
I am the one in five American women who would be sexually assaulted.
I am the eight out of ten victims who knew their assailant.
I am a part of the 63 percent of women who did not report their assault.
I am, however, one of the fortunate women in America with a column in a highly-respected newspaper. Today I shed the fear, stigma and embarrassing cultural norms. I am telling the world what happened to me. I hope other women will do the same.