Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, Suicidal Thoughts
Disclaimer: This isn’t an article criticizing the University I study at, Minerva Schools at KGI. This is an article criticizing and condemning sexual assault and rape culture on campus. I’m writing this article with the support and permission of my University, however, expressing opinions that are entirely my own.
I usually pen everything down the evening it happens, over several cups of coffee, onto too many crisp pages. I usually tell people what I’m thinking the moment I think it, unabashedly and confidently. I seem to know most of the time, that what I say, matters.
This time, however, something happened that put me in a frenzy. It threw me into sleepless nights, days where I couldn’t stand without my legs giving way from panic attacks and weeks of staying (mentally) paralyzed in bed. It made me give up on opportunities to live in Europe and Latin America, travel like I used to in my dreams, it made me come running home. It made me suicidal.
It made me feel, even realize, over and over again that what I had to say – may have mattered – but it wasn’t going to fall on listening ears. It wasn’t allowed to.
Exactly a year ago, I was sexually assaulted on campus. By someone I knew. This is my story.
Mama, Papa and I have always been able to talk about anything at the dinner table. Well, almost anything.
I told Mama the first time I was sexually assaulted, I was a four-year-old caught alone in an elevator with a predator for several minutes. Mama and Papa told me they would take care of it then, comforted me. Next time it happened, when I was seven, I told Mama again. She told me “these things happen,” so every time it happened after that, it didn’t make sense to me, to tell her anymore.
These things kept happening. And they only got more painful to forget every time.
When I first found my advocating voice, my voice of dissent, I tried broaching the topic of sexual assault with them again. With friends, with extended family. Impersonally, of course. Statistics and all that jazz. Those conversations rarely ever went smoothly either. Amidst uncomfortable pauses, blank stares or averted gazes it always ended abruptly with, “Well, it’s not us. Let’s not think about it now.”
The hypocrites that we are, don’t we know it is us indeed? Are you really telling me, we don’t know that every woman in our family has been catcalled at least once, uninvited hands have gone up their skirts and blouses at least once?
The pain that we seem to think disappears conveniently if we don’t talk about it or pretend like it doesn’t exist, that we think doesn’t happen to us; happens to us. And it doesn’t disappear; it boils, froths and becomes a common, normalized sight.
Something to live with, until we die and the next generation of women have to live with it all over again. It happens, you know. Being ashamed and pained is normal. It happens.
I’ve never gotten a formal sexual education, I mean, how many of us have, really? Sex and sexuality, fundamentally human tendencies and if done right, frankly, beautiful aspects of being human – are myths to us.
They’re dirty and murky subject matters, never to be broached – no curious questions to be asked, no learning to be done. Ignorance isn’t simply bliss, it is also apparently moral.
If Mama and Papa hadn’t heard me out even the first time, I wouldn’t have the courage to speak out now. If they’d heard me out every time after, answered the million questions brewing in me, I wouldn’t have been too afraid to say no. I wouldn’t have turned suicidal, I wouldn’t have had to speak out now.
Confused and broken as we are, a semi-real world at college awaits us. Hundreds (if not thousands) of young people, men and women, that don’t understand healthy sexuality or consent. Men and women that are afraid to ask, compulsively eager to try or peer-pressured into opening their sexuality for the world to take a bite off of. Lines of consent are crossed, unknowingly sometimes. Maliciously sometimes when we don’t know how to say no or are afraid of being further hurt because of saying no. Or ashamed because “Why ever did we put ourselves in compromising situations, to begin with? Is this our own faults?”
Lines of consent are crossed again, because when he crosses them and you don’t raze him to the ground, when you don’t even question him, he thinks he can get away the next time. And the ones after that.
I was violated. Early last year, and it took me six months of struggling to come to terms with the fact that it had happened.
And that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t my fault. I needed validation, I needed support so I sought out other women in my community and asked them, “Was I alone in what had happened?”
In all kinds of ways; messages, comments, hushed words exchanged in the corridors and teary conversations, too many people came forward.
I don’t know the numbers, I don’t want to know but for a few weeks, each day, at least one new person came forward with their story of being assaulted by a different someone they knew on campus.
No one reported any of these, officially.
It began with one conversation, a shaky one, with an official of my University that I was meant to lodge an official complaint with. The conversation was a scary list of consequences that I would face, were I to do this. The more afraid I got, astonishingly (and thankfully) the more strong my resolve to report this got. With all due respect, I was being read my consequences to report sexual assault. Where did these consequences go when he assaulted me?
Even as I didn’t understand whether I right or at fault, even as I didn’t know how to not hate myself or hate my body. Even as I couldn’t talk to myself about it, think it without breaking down, I had to relive my nightmare over and over again, I had to spend five whole minutes explaining to someone about one part of me that he had touched without consent, how he had touched me, for how long, and why I didn’t say no clearly enough? Over. And. Over. Again.
And yet the one thing I had, my voice, was being taken away from me. The case lasted for months, during which, by law, both parties had the right to complete privacy. Breaking this would result in the same severity of punishment as committing sexual assault itself. So, I was reminded time and again, that I could no longer speak to anyone about the details of the case. That I couldn’t name my assailant, to anybody that may know him, in this light (in a batch size of 300, anyone at all).
Until the case concluded, I couldn’t say a word. Several months later, after I was suffering in silence and both simultaneously wanting to scream out and die while screaming it out, the case concluded (hey Bhagwan), and a certain degree of punishment was granted. Quickly in the next week or two, these punishments were reduced and sliced to nearly nothing. I wasn’t allowed to know why, and questioning it further or talking about it outside closed doors with officials, could make the case reopen to take a nastier turn. Against me.
These weren’t executed as loopholes to the law, these weren’t conveniently executable within the law and neither were they illegal. They were precisely and narrowly the only way investigation and penalty proceedings could be conducted; by shielding the victim from further abuse by the law or assailant.
I will try this one more time. This was the maximum any well-intentioned, fully supportive university could do because their hands are tied: young victims representing themselves in a system inherently stacked up against them, without the liberty to seek any external emotional support, but medical.
I can’t write about what happened to me, where he touched me, how I cowered in fear and never wore those clothes again. I can’t tell you his name, I can’t tell you what happened to him or how I fought him feeling like I was losing every step of the way, while never being able to tell anyone a word. I have to use the carefully legally crafted phrase; sexual assault and no other word. I have to run my writing through scrutinizing eyes for damaging or revealing language, be impossibly vague and feed you crumbs of my entire story.
I am now home, too exhausted from the last year and unwilling to continue traveling with my college anymore.
As a victim, a proven victim that stood her ground, I’ve had to be more cautious about what I say and do, than he had to be, about assaulting me and getting away with it.
As a victim, I had to face my fears and fight a fiercer battle than he had to when he pinned my defenses down and got away with it.
As a victim, I have seen my confidence and self-esteem plummet to levels despicably lower than his were, to be able to assault me and get away with it.
However, as survivors, as proven survivors that stood our ground, we know that our voices, unheard or not, matter and we’re going to make sure they’re heard.
As survivors, we have rallied voices across our University to speak about sex and consent, assault and abuse. We have advocated and moved towards institutionalizing a more victim-accommodating investigative proceeding and consent education across the University.
As survivors, we are going to tell ourselves and everyone else, if we refuse to speak up against sexual assault or harassment, we are very much also the problem.