Some words sizzle on our eardrums, pop in our brains, make everything shut down and the body hardens into a shield.
Your disregard for my safety is an act of violence.
Trigger Warning: Rape, Sexual Assault
Emily Doe– the survivor of the Stanford Rapist, Brock Turner, is everywhere. Facebook, Huffington Post, CNN– news outlets and social media are abuzz with her trauma. I’ve read her incredibly courageous and intense letter. Her words illuminate so many stories not routinely told. Not all of us wound up in hospitals or on the news, but victims and survivors inhabit more of this earth than we’d like to admit. I am one of them. Though I publicly owned my survivorhood, I put verbs to the act. I never felt compelled to illustrate why I am a survivor. My story is not a democracy. No part of me is public property, especially after choice was ripped from me. Moreover, I am worried that by writing this, friends, family and strangers will only be able to see trauma when they look at me. I don’t want to be “the girl someone tried to rape”. It’s not my identifier. Emily Doe does not have this choice. Her narrative is out there, and in solidarity with her and countless others like us, I am sharing my assault.
There is a large part of her testimony that resonates with me, with the boy who assaulted me. He was an engineering major. He was in a frat. He had blue eyes, and I thought he was cute. I wanted him to kiss me. I never wanted him to try and rape me, but the same night we met, that’s what happened.
It was the last Spring Quarter Ohio State would ever have– morphing into semesters that fall. Campus became a scarlet and gray Narnia. The weather was warm. Everyone was happy. April was blooming into May, and I was attending a sorority event. In a haze of neon drinks and desperation, he was a magnet to my freshman self. He was older. His age feigned a sophistication he lacked. I thought I was the object of affection rather than prey to his predatory entitlement. I stayed with him for the rest of the evening, even after my memory called it a night.
No recollections led me from the event ending to his bedroom. Awareness returned on him ripping my clothes. I asked him what was going on and where we were. He told me we were going to fuck. He told me I wanted it. No. No. No, I wanted to make out with you at the social. I didn’t want to be here, in this gross room, where my clothes are your wrapping paper. I didn’t want to believe the cute boy was about to rape me. I did not know how to reconcile being attracted to the guy who was now assaulting me. I just knew I didn’t want him inside of me. I couldn’t live in a body someone had broken into yet again– in a variety of ways with different tools. When I begged and prodded and wore him down, he settled for dry humping me throughout the whole night as I, under the haze of too many Natty Lites, prayed for daylight to come. His hands clawed at my crotch in what I assume was supposed to be fingering me.
Sunlight arrived. When I stood to leave, he grabbed me again ,and with morning breath mouth, he kissed me and railed into me one last time. I shuffled into the grossest bathroom I’ve ever taken refuge in. Paper towels and lukewarm water erased him from my legs. I left. I showered in my dorm, attended a sorority retreat, and moved on with my life like a Band-Aid covering a bullet hole.
His name is an echo I can’t outrun. Meanwhile, he couldn’t pick me out of a lineup. I am a nameless body briefly held in his captivity. No bruises or dried blood mark where he trespassed. I was sore between my legs for days after him– something no one could see, but a sensation to remind myself where unwanted hands had made themselves known. It wasn’t brutal. He didn’t penetrate me. I’ve spent years asking myself if this night “counts”– if my trauma is valid. If the ways I fell apart were warranted. I repeatedly said no as a man attempted to have sex with me. I said it loud and with everything I had only for it to fall on deaf ears. This is assault, and of all people, I shouldn’t have to explain it to myself. Sometimes, I still do.
There’s nothing special or, frankly, significant about my assault besides the fact that it happened to me. When I had an opportunity to speak publicly about it three years later, my words were met with an overwhelming response by the OSU community. Women, men, parents, freshmen with narratives of pain and heartbreak and abuse by loved ones, authority figures, peers, strangers appeared in my inbox, phone, face to face. The sum of these admissions amounts to what a toxic right of passage sexual assault and abuse is. It is pervasive. It lurks in so many of our stories, but it doesn’t define us.
The reason people cringe at open letters isn’t due to them inundating your newsfeed. It’s that we are uncomfortable with inner dialogues summoning a voice. They aren’t annoying. They’re radically candid. The reason women rarely utter their assailant’s name after being attacked is because: what about him? You’re going to ruin HIS life! Never mind how my life has been affected. We are instructed to consider our abusers before honoring our own wellness. So… what about me? What about the fact that I am the collateral damage for his anonymity? I can’t help but notice that when I post about assault– when I posted the article about this case– it is only women who responded to it. Where are the “nice guys? The “good guys”? False accusations happen. We’ve all seen the 30 for 30 titled: “Fantastic Lies”. It’s not ok that the Duke Lacrosse players were accused of rape when they did not rape her. My sentiments don’t discount those events.
Yet, the fear of a false accusation doesn’t absolve rape. False accusations don’t mute the agony of experiencing rape. Excuse my language (or don’t, I am not here for excuses or apologies): I am so fucking tired of false accusations being a viable consideration in the face of sexual violence. The fate of my assailant is not a priority in my recovery.
I’m not trying to be a part of the zeitgeist by stating my story. This admission is not for attention. It’s for anyone who doesn’t believe they know a survivor or victim. You do now. You always have, and it isn’t the responsibility of victims to educate those in their lives on the after of sexual violence. It is everyone’s responsibility irradiate rape culture: whether it’s holding the media accountable for reporting Mr. Turner’s swim times and publicizing articles with a respectable picture of him. It means checking Turner’s father, who felt the court was being too hard on his son. It mean holding the Judge accountable for his part in this, and most importantly, all of this amounts to: What will we do so this doesn’t happen again. How many times can we say, “Oh, what a tragedy!” before it matters?
And for anyone reading this who has weathered assault: this does not define you. This does not reduce you. You don’t owe it to anyone to “heal” or comfort others in the face of your pain. You don’t owe your story to anyone or have to behave in a way that warrants sympathy after the attack. I hope that when you feel like it, you search for and cling to all the people and things that make you feel whole. You are incendiary because, despite their best efforts, you are still here. You are breathtaking and strong and worthy. Please remember that.