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When I decided to write this article, I wanted to put my name on it. But I hadn’t thought about my perpetrator reading it. I hadn’t thought about people Googling my name and finding out about my sexual assault in an article. Besides, at the end of the day, this isn’t about me. It’s about the way society treats victims of sexual assault. It’s about the way society normalizes rape. So I’ve decided to remain anonymous because sharing my story gives me a voice, with my name on it or not.
*Names have been changed.
I always thought about sexual assault like I did natural disasters; it happened, but rarely and not to me.
And then it did.
Two years ago this Friday, an acquaintance tried to rape me.
*Chris lived in my apartment complex, and he had flirted with one of my friends, *Jane, a few weeks before. He hadn’t taken her rejection well.
So a few weeks later, he pinned me down, took my clothes off and looked for a condom so he could rape me.
Trying to get him to stop, I told him, “Please don’t. I don’t want you.”
“I don’t want you either. I want Jane Doe.”
You are not a human being. You are worthless. You are interchangeable.
When someone sexually assaults you, you lose your voice. Nothing you do or say can convince the person hurting you that you are, in fact, a human being with thoughts and feelings and the right to your own body. You have no control over what they’re about to do.
And even after the assault, that voice is kept from you. You want to press charges? Too bad, it was only an “incident.” You want the people around you to understand the pain that comes with having someone treat you like an object, like you’re worth less than dirt? Too bad, nobody wants to hear about it; you just need to get over it. You want society to acknowledge what a huge problem sexual assault is? Too bad, those with the privilege not to think about it every day are not going to.
The day after he tried to rape me, Chris messaged me on Facebook:
“I want my pocket knife. It’s silver please. Just slide it under my door sometime.”
After the assault, I thought it would be like “Law & Order SVU.” I thought I would report it to the police, and I thought they would take care of it. I thought people would be shocked but supportive when I told them. I thought everything would be OK.
That’s the story people tell. But it’s just a story.
My roommate pushed me to go to the Office of Victim Assistance, but I convinced myself I could manage without it.
When I tried to better explain what happened – “He sexually assaulted me” – to one of the friends that had interrupted him from raping me, that friend said, “I don’t know why you’re upset. That’ll probably happen again. That’s college.”
A few days after the assault, one of Chris’s friends messaged me on Facebook while I was in class. I had hung out with this girl and liked her. She told me that he had told everyone everything that happened, including me crying and telling him to stop. After I told her again that I had asked him to stop repeatedly and hadn’t wanted to do anything with him, she said:
“it’s ok just try to forget about it, we all make horrible drunk mistakes you know that.”
Later I found out that she and his other friends nicknamed him “The Rapist.”
That message changed my entire worldview. Maybe he was right. Maybe I was worthless. Maybe I was interchangeable. Maybe what happened was normal.
I packed up my backpack in the middle of class, cried for 20 minutes in the bathroom and went to the Office of Victim Assistance.
With support from the Office of Victim Assistance, I reported the assault to Boulder PD. I was nervous even before I met with the police officer, but going to the police was what everyone had said to do. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to press charges or not, but I wanted to make sure the assault was on file, just in case.
When the police officer showed up, she gave me a form and asked me to write down everything that happened in as much detail as possible. She asked for the contact information for him, for the friends that had interrupted him, for my roommate who took care of me afterward. She told me she wouldn’t contact any of them unless it turned into a full investigation.
And then she told me what happened to me wasn’t an assault. She said it was an “incident” and that it would be put on file, but nothing would ever happen with it. She twisted my words and said it was consensual, because apparently coercion equals consent. She said it was probably just a misunderstanding, even though I told her I cried and asked him to stop. She said I had been leading him on because I had been drinking and because I let him in my apartment, where Chris, my friends and I had been hanging out earlier in the night.
Was leaving a room because my friends were making out and I was uncomfortable “leading him on”?
She asked if I wanted her to go to my apartment complex and “scare him,” like I was trying to get back at an ex-boyfriend instead of filing a sexual assault claim against a man that lived 100 feet from me.
When I cried about it in public, one of my friends grabbed me by the shoulders, shook me and said, “I was raped, too. You just need to get over it.”
When I cried at a frat party because a guy who had grabbed my ass mocked me for having been sexually assaulted, a group of guys got in my face, laughing and yelling lovely things like “Oh, yeah, I’ll go get raped.”
Seeing that I was being cornered and yelled at by a group of guys, two of my sorority sisters came over, screaming at me to “stop making it the fraternity’s problem” and to “shut the fuck up.”
The sorority’s philanthropy was raising money to prevent domestic violence, so I naively thought they would take the attempted physical assault seriously. When I explained my sexual assault and the way those two sisters acted, the sorority’s Chapter Relation and Standards board ignored me and told me I couldn’t get early alumna status, meaning I would have to spend another year seeing those girls at least once a week. Only one member of the board spoke to me when I met with them, and two members left the room during my meeting.
I went to the sorority’s headquarters to get early alumna status, and they granted it in a form letter.
Both sisters are still active in the chapter.
Sexual assault isn’t about sex. It’s about power.
And we’re the problem. We allow sexual assault to happen and discourage women and men from reporting it.
It’s easy to understand why people are uncomfortable hearing about it. Acknowledging it means exposing yourself to the idea that you could be a victim of sexual assault. Acknowledging that what happened to me isn’t OK means looking into times in your own sexual history that might not have been consensual.
But hiding behind “it won’t happen to me” and “she shouldn’t have been wearing that dress” only perpetuates the problem.
If we don’t see it as a problem, it’s normal. It’s part of society. It just happens.
But it’s not normal, it shouldn’t be a part of society and it doesn’t “just happen.”
I don’t want this culture to take away any of the blame from Chris. He made the conscious choice to sexually assault and attempt to rape me. He knew what he was doing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he would never classify what happened as sexual assault.
I lost my voice when he told me, “I don’t want you either. I want Jane Doe.” I lost my voice when my friend told me that I would probably be sexually assaulted again because “that’s college.” I lost my voice when a mutual friend told me to forget about it because “we all make stupid drunken mistakes.” I lost my voice when the police officer told me I led him on and that she could go scare him if I wanted to, as if that would solve the problem. I lost my voice when a sorority sister told me to “shut the fuck up” about being assaulted. I lost my voice when my sorority, which raises money to prevent domestic violence, told me they would take care of it and did nothing. I lost my voice when a friend told me I needed to just “get over it.”
So I’m taking it back. What he did was wrong. I deserve better than the way he treated me, and I deserve better than the way society has reacted. I am a human, and I have worth.
Sexual assault is hard to think about unless it personally affects you, but I can almost guarantee it does, whether you know it or not. One in six women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. I could be your sister, your mom, your best friend, your girlfriend, your future wife.
After the assault, I expected support and apologies from the people around me, but I know now that I should have expected skepticism, insults and objectification.
I’m not a different person than I was before the assault. I just live in a different world.
Office of Victim Assistance (http://cuvictimassistance.com/) at CU Boulder: 303-492-8855
Moving to End Sexual Assault (http://www.movingtoendsexualassault.org/) 24-Hour Hotline: 303-443-7300