When I was a 17 year-old college freshman, I went to a party and I drank too much.
I woke up bruised, bloody, and naked next to one of the two men who had abused my body while I was too inebriated to resist. I could have easily woken up strapped to a gurney, or not at all. My last semi-coherent memory of the night, I’m stumbling up the stairs. I’m standing in the dark entryway of the warehouse on the outskirts of town where a friend’s boyfriend practices with his band. I’m grabbing a girl I don’t know by both hands. I’m begging her to take me with her. She shakes her head. She smiles, just a little, looking sad. She leaves with her boyfriend.
After that, only flashes. Darkness, and bare skin (mine, theirs). An overwhelming desire to sleep. Laughing, and bro talk, and animal grunting sounds. Pain, but somewhere distant, my body blessedly numbed by alcohol and cold and shock.
In the morning I’ll discover the bruises. A bootheel mid-spine, the tender goose egg on the back of my skull. Thumbprints and thumbprints. A gnash of teeth around my inner thighs. Abrasions along my low back and shoulders.
In the morning I’ll retrieve my pile of clothes from a corner of the room where somebody has soaked them in beer and potentially urine. Stooping to pick them up makes my ribs scream.
In the morning I’ll find my missing purse and emptied wallet, and laugh that somebody stole the prescription bottle full of thumbtacks I had borrowed from a dormmate, likely thinking they were Adderall.
Shivering in my damp clothes, I’ll accept a ride from the man it will take me years to label “sexual assailant”. He will laugh about a wild night, and sing along to the radio, and I will make myself small and smaller in the passenger seat of his car. I will find my way back to the dorms where I will crawl into a friend’s bed without explanation, reeking of beer (and potentially urine), and cry myself back to sleep in her arms. A week later, I’ll realize he programmed his number into my phone when I get a text from “Rockstar Mike” asking if I want to “hang out again”. Those words on a screen like a kick in the stomach; a bootheel mid-spine. I block his number without replying.
This autumn marks 10 years since a 17 year-old girl was sexually assaulted by two men in their late 20s. This morning I used the word rape and felt it sink cold into the pit of my stomach. Heavy like shame. The shame that kept me from calling the cops. The shame that kept me from turning to my parents. The shame that made me block his number without replying instead of raging. Instead of telling him my age. Instead of pushing back. Instead of coming forward.
I wanted to make him sweat. I wanted to do damage. The truth is I was afraid of the backlash.
The truth is I’m still afraid of the backlash.
This week, reading the accounts of Brock Allen Turner’s sexual violence and lenient sentencing by Judge Aaron Persky, I have felt heartsick and angry. Because entitled pieces of shit like Brock exist in the world. Because a “young man’s promising future” is valued over a woman’s emotional and physical personhood. Because victim-shaming/blaming. Because we exist in a broken and dishonest system. Because 20-25% of women will be raped during their college career, and this is only one of thousands of instances receiving media coverage. Because only 5% of attempted or completed rapes will be reported to law enforcement. Because even when we do report rape, assailants are rarely convicted or punished.
But this week, I also saw something else. I saw women getting angry. I saw women sharing their stories of abuse, from daily microaggressions to rape and survival stories. I saw men and women alike coming together to rage against the broken and dishonest system. I saw an opportunity to share my own story, hoping it will fuel the fire. Hoping it will chip away at the shame that keeps so many assault survivors bound in silence.
Rape affects the people we know and love. I repeat, rape affects the people we know and love. It is not a statistic to gloss over. It is not a dark alley aberrant behavior by a few violent offenders. It is never something the victim was "asking for".
Each and every one of us are surrounded by rape survivors.
We can drag the Brock Allen Turners of the world through the mud (only figuratively, unfortunately). But until we begin to dismantle the system and society that created him and men like him, we will not enact real change. Until we begin to acknowledge and validate the lived experiences of women, we will not enact real change. Luckily, you can start today by signing this petition to remove Judge Aaron Persky from his ELECTED position of power. Luckily, you can share your story; join your voice to the collective until we’re too loud to be ignored. I stand in solidarity with the woman who wrote this letter. Will you stand with me?
All my love, dearhearts.
P.S. Male survivors of sexual assault. I see you, I promise I do. I acknowledge you. I know you exist. I know you hurt too.