The hashtag #metoo has gone viral this week, with women posting their experiences with unwanted sexual advances and sexual assault publicly on Facebook in hopes that men will begin to see the magnitude of the problem. We’ve been told our whole lives that 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted or raped, which is too high of a number regardless, but doesn’t even begin to explain the myriad of things that we experience as women on a day to day basis.
In light of this I feel inspired to tell a story that changed my life. That changed absolutely everything I believed about myself, my autonomy and my body. A story that has been told many times, that resonated with every woman I know and one that ended and started my life again.
I was drugged and raped at my own house when I was 17. My parents were out of town and I had friends over which led to other people being invited that I didn’t know very well. Same old story. I remember having 2 drinks and then completely blacking out. I remember him on top of me and being completely aware of it all and not being able to move. I remember wanting to fight with everything in me but being absolutely helpless. The next day I cried to my friends and they told me I was raped. I was too scared to call a spade a spade. A girlfriend of mine brought me into Planned Parenthood for a rape kit and called my parents because I was too ashamed to do it on my own. I called a guy I was dating at the time and he immediately told me it was my fault because I was drinking. I felt all of the shame immediately and tried to hide the evidence and clean myself up for fear of being judged or labeled.
Although 1 in 4 women are raped in their lifetime only 1 in 10 actually report it. I reported it. It went no where. Another “victim” lost in the system. My word against his, no evidence because I showered, did the dishes, and deleted his text messages that said, “you’re not going to tell people I like, raped you, are you?” In full on survival mode, I did what I needed to do to try to feel normal again. I remember walking into school on the first day of senior year and his locker was next to mine. I requested a change. Entering the cafeteria one day he held the door open for me from across the parking lot, staring me down, making my skin crawl and bringing back all of the same feelings and emotions. I went to counseling because my parents thought I needed it and sat there with my arms crossed, refusing to talk about it, insisting I was fine for 6 months.
It carried into University where I went from straight A’s and dance captain, studious, barely drinking- to partying to forget, denying myself the right to feel any emotions, blaming myself for what happened because maybe I shouldn’t have had that party, had that drink, trusted those people. I was a bad kid, that’s what I thought. It ruined my relationships because I didn’t enjoy sex and felt shame during sexual intimacy. My high school boyfriend held me down the first time while I cried and refused to stop. He kept covering my mouth and telling me to “relax”. These stories are normal! My experience isn’t unique! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to women I know and love share their experiences and heard everyone in the room say, “me too”. Me too. You too. Her too.
By 19 I was struggling with a drug addiction and a partying lifestyle. I was completely out of control. Because in the back of my head, not dealing with the root of the problem became the way I was dealing. I refused to talk about it or even admit the experience to anyone except the police, who were no help. I began to hate myself. I felt disgust with my body. I hated and didn’t trust men. I spiraled and forgetting became my solution. I found myself in rehab after my freshman year of college. It was the first time that I saw the strength, beauty and healing power of talking about things. I got to share my story and listen to others and it changed me. I was told that I needed to try to control my drinking, because it was obvious to my counselors that I didn’t try to control it because I wanted to be out of control. They told me to spend 6 months in counseling afterwards, sober. I thought at the time that after 6 months I’d be excited to get back to partying, but surprisingly 6 months came, then 9, then 1 year and finally after 2 years on my 21st birthday I had my first drink again.
Being sober changed my life and saved me. I changed my major to Women’s Studies because I remember the women that held my hand while I had the rape kit done. They told me that they could stand outside or stand next to me but either way they weren’t leaving. I yelled at one of them and said, “you don’t understand” and I remember the way that she looked at me and said that she did. After that I realized I now had a power to share my story and be there for someone else that experienced what I did, knowing that I understood. I worked for a sexual assault clinic, I volunteered on campus for a non profit called WATCH. We took notes during sexual assault and domestic violence cases, at the court house, documenting and making public whether or not the victim was re-victimized during the trial. Did they ask her what she was wearing, how much she had to drink, how many previous sexual partners she’d had- like any of those things matter in that moment.
Finding my voice allowed me to help others. Sharing my story and allowing myself to talk openly about it became the catalyst for the rest of my life. It changed my lifestyle, my mentality and my college major. It made me strong. But first, it made me hard. I tried to fight it, I tried to blame myself, I tried to be quiet. But in the end, all of those things only hurt me. #metoo is the catalyst for awareness surrounding sexual assault. I hope that it softens men when they understand that it’s their mothers, daughters, sisters. I’m not saying this is isolated only to women because I’ve seen many posts from men in my life that have been assaulted by women. This is the catalyst, this is the conversation we need to start having so that we can start raising men right and stop saying things like, “boys will be boys”. Your gender is no longer an excuse for your behavior.
The world needs more men with gentleness on their lips, flowers in their hair. Not balled up fists and denial of their emotions. I don’t blame the men that have hurt me because I know this is a bigger conversation about the way that society teaches men to be men. Although they’re taught to protect us, they aren’t taught softness. Although I’m incredibly happy to hear women so openly sharing their stories I want to know what’s next? The dialogue is our catalyst but what now? How do we make the world a safer place for women AND men? How do we learn to balance our masculine and feminine within ourselves and the wider world?
I want to see solutions and action. Raise your boys to play with dolls and teach your daughter’s to stand up for themselves. If you son is bossy you say he’ll be a leader, if your daughter is bossy you tell her to be quiet. Women are sick of being catcalled EVERY DAY. We’re sick of our bodies being policed without our input, your laws all over our bodies, men determining the future of birth control and abortion without the opinions of women. Where does this end? When can we start telling these stories and be taken seriously by our bosses, our partners, and especially other women?
It’s 2017 and it’s time to wake up! So ladies, keep sharing these stories! And men, start listening to your women with more softness, more love. Maybe you don’t understand, you probably don’t, but all we need is to be listened to, believed. It starts here.