On December 5, 2015, I was sexually assaulted.
I stayed in to study for an exam. He had gone out. He staggered through the hall, a little queasy and smelling of liquor. I gave him a trash can and a glass of water. He cornered me, pressing himself against me, holding up a condom. He went to bed forgetting. I couldn’t.
The next morning, I told one person and made them swear to secrecy. I was so wary to disclose. I didn’t want to force others to choose between him or me. I wanted a semblance of normalcy. I didn’t want a reason for my mother across the country to worry about me.
After a week, I had mustered the courage to talk to him about it, but he had no recollection. It pained me to have to recount the events to him. I tried to explain how he had made me feel disgusted with my own body. How I was nervous to walk down my own hallway. He was immediately defensive. He reminded me that he was drunk and didn’t remember. He dismissed me and that was the end of the exchange.
I hated how much power he had over me. I hated how he belittled our relationship by reducing me to a sexual object. I hated how I had to endure his smiling face immortalized on the wall in Smith. I hated how passive I was in abiding the side hugs and polite conversation with him. I hated how much I protected him.
While he inundated my thoughts, he was able to live unfazed. Yet, I didn’t report the assault to anyone. I didn’t want to “ruin his life.” I didn’t want to be seen as over-reacting. I didn’t want my assault to be invalidated because it wasn’t rape. We live in a rape culture, and these internalized ideas permeated my thoughts. It felt like it would be my fault if he lost social capital if I told. I carried the burden for both of us while he took no accountability for his actions.
As a society, we often shift the blame from the perpetrator to the survivor. What were they wearing? How much did they drink? Why weren’t they more careful? This language blames the victim and supports the notion that women aren’t to be trusted at face value. The patriarchy paints women as untrustworthy, while, in reality, the FBI reports that false sexual assault claims only make up 2 percent of all reported cases, on par with all other felonies. This statistic, of course, does not factor in unreported instances, like my own.
Rape culture made me feel at fault. My parents raised me to be vigilant. Never take a drink from a stranger. Don’t walk alone after dark. Call security if you feel unsafe. They didn’t prepare me for the threat in my own dorm. I felt like there had to be something that I could have done to prevent my assault. Maybe if I wasn’t so maternal and helped him. Maybe if I hadn’t been wearing pajamas. Maybe if I wasn’t so tired. Maybe if he hadn’t been such a selfish and manipulative abuser.
The way the media consumes the assault narrative is perplexing. With high profile rape cases and a constant influx of new assault allegations, it’s nearly impossible to escape coverage, regardless of how problematic the coverage can be. It’s easy to dismiss this as an industry problem. It feels safer to think that assault is confined to the hills of Hollywood, but sexual assault is disgustingly permeated and normalized in our culture. In the era of #MeToo, it’s hard to live without knowing someone who has been affected by sexual assault. After nearly two years, I am coming forward with my story. Social media usage has changed the way we interact with and consume information. Although it seemed as if women and their allegations against heinous acts were finally being taken seriously, the same hashtag that has given women a sense of agency and solidarity has also provided a platform to perform their “allyship.”
Earlier this week my assailant shared an article from the New York Times on Facebook about the “Unexamined Brutality of the Male Libido” and how important it is to recognize women’s pain. Let’s take a moment to relish in the tragic, yet delicious irony. In a moment of unbridled rage spiraled by his gall and the sheer hypocrisy, I did the wildest thing I could imagine. I left a comment asking him to reflect on his own actions before sharing an article to keep a persona intact. Leaving this comment was the first time I took agency over my assault. It was a small, personal act of defiance against his dominance over my life. Although the article was about acknowledging the voice of assaulted women, he immediately deflected and said I was belittling him and any potential discourse on the matter. He has since deleted the post, unfortunately squandering the excellent discussion he wanted to promote, and while this is just speculation, it was probably in an attempt at preserving his online image. If he hadn’t produced these layers and layers of misguided nonsense, I honestly may have repressed what he did and the pain he caused me indefinitely. So, thank you for finally giving me the courage to speak out against you.