With Lady Gaga’s emotional performance of If It Happens To You at the 2016 Oscars, Kesha’s very publicized trial against Dr. Luke, and a series of ‘Speechless’ commercials from the NoMore campaign – sexual assault is no longer something that can be ignored or looked past.
Statistics say 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls will be sexually assaulted before age 18. Statistics go on to say that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men will be sexually assaulted on college campuses per year. Unfortunately, only 5% of those crimes are reported. This makes rape one of the most underreported crimes committed amongst young adults; and certainly one of the most harmful – not just short, but long term.
The reasons victims don’t report their crimes range from shame to fear and everything in between. Even five years ago, sexual assault was something rarely discussed, and even though it’s still something people look away from – it’s becoming harder to do, and with good reason.
Victims of sexual assault are never to blame, it is always the fault of the abuser, and it is time to start the conversation. For us; the conversation starts with a party and a guy who wasn’t quite a stranger.
My friends and I had decided, sort of last minute, to attend a party. We only knew a few of the people that were going to be there – but the bash was promised to be huge and we were looking forward to having a few drinks together. Upon arriving, we realized that the number of people we didn’t know drastically outweighed the number of people we did; but everyone seemed to be really cool and the atmosphere was nice enough.
About an hour in I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see a guy I’d gone to my first high school with. When I was a freshman, he was a senior but we had some friends in common so we ended up in the same place a few times. I considered him more of an acquaintance than a friend but it was nice to see him nonetheless. He immediately began chatting me up, talking about some of our old pals, where he’d been, what I’d been up to, and offering me a drink. At first I declined because I’d already had two but he talked me in to one of his favorites and smiled at me as I began to drink it.
I thought the drink must have been really strong because about half way through I felt really off; the rest of the night goes blank quickly up until a moment I remember more clear than any other in my entire life. I ‘came to’ in the middle of my assault and remember trying to make it stop, unsuccessfully. After realizing that I was putting up a fight I wasn’t winning, I just waited for it to be over. I remember him saying ‘I know you want this’ over and over again, and I still don’t know who he was trying to convince more, him or myself.
After everything, I weighed my options – I could go to the hospital or police and report him (keeping in mind his threat to harm me if I ever told) or keep quiet because he was a man, I was a woman – and his word would win over mine.
I wasn’t even out of high school and I’d already been ‘taught’ to know that an abuser’s word against a victim’s usually ended bad for the victim. I’d grown up being told what not to wear at a party – unless you wanted to be ‘asking for it’ – and not to take drinks from strangers instead of feeling safe because people were taught simply not to be rapists. I knew that being raped at a party was looked at with side eyes because some people think no means maybe and even yes and sometimes people feel entitled to things, and people, that aren’t theirs.
I didn’t tell anyone about my assault for over a year; I couldn’t, but it ate me up every day inside. I became a different person, I was afraid to say no to anyone because I didn’t want something taken from me again. There were weeks where I didn’t want to see anyone – times I spent looking up stories of others who’d been in my situation, and realizing that there was an entire culture of people who’d been sexually assaulted and then been shamed for where/when it happened to them.
I’d finally had enough.
When I told my parents they cried, my friends cried too and wanted to fix the world for me but I felt undeserving; and for years that feeling didn’t go away. Even though I’d finally said the words out loud, I still hadn’t accepted that I wasn’t responsible for what happened to me, that it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t until last summer – 8 years after my assault – that I finally felt like I’d survive.
I finally came to terms with the fact that I never asked for it. I didn’t ask for it by wearing my ripped jeans and a black tank top. I didn’t ask for it by trusting a man not to drug my drink. I certainly didn’t ask for it as I told him no and tried to fight him off. I didn’t ask for the shame that followed for years after that, for the pain that I felt anytime I saw his younger brother around town, or heard his name come up in conversation because we traveled in the same circles. I didn’t ask to feel unsafe when I saw his car drive around town when he came back to visit. I didn’t ask to have something taken from me that I’ll never get back. I didn’t ask to feel unsafe alone, even to this day, and to always hold my head down when I walk by men. I didn’t ask for the unrest in my heart – but I got it.
And I know I’m not the only one.
Sexual assault can no longer be seen as a victimless crime, and if it’s happened to you, you’re not alone. There is no easy way to start the discussion; but there are ways you can find help for yourself, a family member, or a friend.
In the US you can go to rain for ways to get help, in the UK you can visit links at the NHS website for sexual assault – you are not alone, to blame, or undeserving of help, love, and compassion after you’ve been victimized.
If you’ve been a victim and want to speak out, you can tweet us at @CelebMixCares and share your story of hope and survival.