Two weeks ago, “The New York Times” released the article “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades,” where they exposed a major Hollywood producer of asserting himself sexually on several employees, models and actresses including Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan. Since the article came out and went viral, many A-list actresses have come forward addressing their own accounts.
While reading many of the victims’ stories, I noticed a familiar theme: Many of them were either threatened to not say anything or were too scared to say anything about what they experienced. This reopened my own wounds of my experience with sexual assault where I didn’t feel comfortable coming forward and was threatened to never speak about it. My experience is just one of many. Whether it is a famous Academy Award winner, an average everyday person you know from school, a family member or even yourself, too many are scared to say something about their own assault. When will it come to a point where this is no longer the case?
I’m not a celebrity nor was the person who raped me a powerful man in Hollywood, but I was shamed for what I experienced–maybe it was because of ingrained double standards I’ve come too familiar with or law enforcement didn’t think it was severe enough to handle.
My first experience was at 21. It was any normal night out with my girlfriends in college at a local lounge we frequented. My attacker was the lounge’s bartender that I had grown to have a crush on. After a night of dancing and drinking, the evening became hazier. The next morning, I woke up with my clothes off in the student lounge area in a dorm building I didn’t live in. Not completely sure of my surroundings, I didn’t know what exactly went down the night before, but I was aware that I more than likely had sex. Retracing my tracks, I found out from a friend that I went home with the bartender and she thought I was safe. I played it off that I was completely okay, but the truth was I didn’t know what happened at all. Embarrassed with the fact of what went down, I became angry that I could allow myself to drink so much to get to the point of not knowing what I was doing. The truth of the matter was, I was roofied. It had also been my first sexual “experience” ever. I had buried that entire experience from my memory shortly after. I was also too embarrassed to act on the situation.
My second experience came two years later, after an exhausting walk to the town over to a drug store. I called an ex-boyfriend for a ride back to campus. He agreed, and we had a nice conversation catching up about what we were doing that summer. By the time we reached my house, he believed that he was entitled to have sex with me for the favor of a ride home. I refused. He kept pushing, and I repeatedly stated no. He forced himself onto me and pinned me down so strongly that it was hard for me to fight back. After a few moments and weak attempts to escape, I gave up. In an instant, someone I once trusted was no longer someone I could trust. I felt disgusted, hurt and defeated. After he finished, he said “It wasn’t that bad after all.” I was livid. I was angry.
Shortly after this happened, I disclosed what happened to a close friend, he encouraged me to report him to our local police. I decided to do so with his help. I confessed my story to two male police officers, and this was their response:
“It wasn’t in a dark alley.”
“It could be seen as consensual as you two had dated previously. You’re just trying to get back at him.”
“Do you really want to ruin his entire life?”
“If you go through with this, you’ll have to experience the situation all over again, it’s not fun.”
No, it wasn’t in a dark alley. Yes, we had dated previously, but they didn’t know our relationship history. I didn’t have any hard feelings towards him. But was my life and what I had just experienced not as important as his entire life? Because no matter what, I will always have to remember that entire ordeal.
I felt defeated. I cried in the room. I told the police officers because I didn’t know what else to do. I decided to not press charges and once again suppressed my feelings.
Society has made it known that rape is bad, but only when it’s in an easily explained situation. The victim is always questioned more than the abuser. What was she wearing? Why would she be alone with him if she didn’t want to sleep with him? If she doesn’t come forward as quickly as society believes she should, why did she wait so long? What is she getting out of this? Many of the same questions I saw come across my social media timeline when victims came out to accuse not only Harvey Weinstein, but also Bill Cosby and Stanford student Brock Turner.
Until society changes the way we view rape culture, men will continue to assault women and feel they are entitled to their bodies. A conversation is needed where we stop saying, “boys will be boys” and stop questioning women when they speak out about their experiences. We need to hold men accountable for the way they treat women, whether it’s street harassment, sexual harassment or sexual assault.
It has taken me years to be able to open up about my experiences. I will never forget reading “Sisters Outsider” by Audre Lorde. I came across the line that said, “I feel, therefore I can be free” and I broke down and cried. Basically, until I understand everything I experienced and actually go through those emotions, I cannot be free of everything I’m holding in. No matter what, I will never be the same. Those experiences will always be a part of who I am and the same goes for every victim that has ever experienced any form of sexual assault.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please seek help by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). For more resources on sexual assault, visit RAINN the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.