When I was a freshman in college, I had an experience with sexual assault. I never thought I would be sharing this, for various reasons. I think one of the main reasons I couldn’t see myself sharing this trauma is because I couldn’t admit it happened.
I was not raped, beaten, bleeding, or severely injured. Oh yeah, and it happened the night before my 19th birthday, so there was too much celebrating with too much alcohol. See how easy it is to make excuses? I’ve seen Law and Order: SVU, and I’m aware the victim sometimes blames themselves. But I did not see myself this way.
On a Monday or Tuesday night, my girlfriends and I were the few who attended a pledge party. A guy from my hometown was in this fraternity, and it was nice to have a male figure who looked out for me. We went to a few houses with some friends and were having a great time. We danced, they sang “Happy Birthday,” and I was with a lot of my girlfriends. Everything was okay. Then it wasn’t.
I was in the bathroom and a guy came in there. He tried to force himself on me, begging me to kiss him. I was pushed up against the wall as I tried to wriggle away. He powerfully grabbed my arms and tried to mess with my clothes. Somehow I broke free and ran down the hall sobbing. I had been bruised and had visible hand print bruises around my arms. He denied everything. Celebrating quickly turned to sobering fear. Sleep was near impossible that night as I tossed and turned.
The next days I remember sleeping a lot, crying, having panic attacks, and only wanted to stay in bed. I was embarrassed and blamed myself for drinking too much and allowing myself to be in that position. My best friend (who I had barely known at that point) and I went to tell our sorority president. We were warned of things like this, but I was mortified and could not believe it occurred. The bruises were still there, but my spirit was the main thing that was injured. My sister was a junior and encouraged me to go to the police and to therapy on campus.
I made so many excuses, but I never sought professional help. Brushing it under the rug was easier. The guy had been kicked out of his fraternity (I think?), and I did not want everyone mad at me for causing a rift. Telling myself it “wasn’t that bad” seemed to be the only option.
The truth is I was terrified. One moment, I’m having a great night out with my close friends. The next moment, I was being taken advantage of and left hurt. Why did this happen?
Eating disorder tendencies came back, and I was very unhappy with myself. I continued to make bad decisions, and believe deep down I lost my self-worth. It was stolen from me. Maybe I was trying to mask the pain from the situation; perhaps I did not want to embarrass him or his friends; whatever the many reasons, I became a little lost and very depressed. As a 19-year-old girl, I was still not aware of all the darkness in the world. I turned all this confusion inward, and began to harm myself with the best way I knew: controlling food.
Until very recently, I thought the whole incident was my fault. I even felt guilty for reporting him (when I probably should have reported him to authorities). In the past few years, I was able to finally see it clearly, “I had been assaulted.” It was NOT my fault. I did not invite him into the bathroom with me; I did not give him permission to be forceful and bruise me; I did not know this boy who thought he could take advantage of me. It was not my fault.
This is why I share my experience: to help others. ANYTIME someone touches you, calls you names, or makes any unwanted advances, THAT IS ASSAULT. It is NOT okay, and should be reported! I regret not going to the police because it could happen to someone else. One of the saddest things is, situations are worse for so many others. If you know someone who has been abused (mentally, emotionally, physically), encourage them to seek help. It is therapeutic speaking to others, especially professionals, about the incident to reduce self-blame, self-pity, depression, addiction, and on and on. We have to stand up to these bullies and shed Light on our rights as humans.
I no longer blame myself or self-medicate with eating disorders, but the incident still haunts me. I pray for peace, guidance, and courage as I shed light on this massive issue and continue healing from the trauma.
Resources to help you comprehend this act of violence: