I recently replied to a tweet about the reluctance of sexual assault victims to make police reports. In my reply, I mentioned that I’d been sexually assaulted three times in my lifetime, and that I had never reported any of my attackers.
I felt no unease or discomfort in disclosing the fact that I’ve been assaulted, mostly because it is just that – a fact.
My hair is brown, my eyes are green, I’ve been sexually assaulted. How about you?
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t always able to speak so candidly. In fact, I wasn’t able to talk about the second assault I suffered until almost three years after the fact. Between the act itself and my eventual, tearful confession, three years later, I didn’t breathe a word of it to anyone. Not even the attacker himself, with whom I’d been in a relationship.
Why the silence? Why the lack of reports? Maybe that’s best suited for another essay entirely. I wouldn’t dare speak to the experiences of others, but for me, I found myself consistently silenced by one stark and persistent thought:
Was it really that bad?
When, at 19, a boy pinned me to the floor of a darkened bedroom, one-handedly unbuckling his belt while I threatened to scream – was it really that bad?
When, on the cusp of 20, my boyfriend pushed his fingers into me, biting my face, his own face slick with my tears – was it really that bad?
When, 25-years-old, a man I’d just met crawled into bed beside poor old unconscious me, and woke me by running his hands beneath my shirt, groping my breasts – was it really that bad?
If I couldn’t prove to myself that what happened was really that bad, how could I prove it to the police?
How could I prove it to my family? My partner? If I was questioning myself, why shouldn’t they question me too? It seemed like a better and safer option to just move on. Cry, shake yourself off, and keep going. Was it really that bad?
It was only when people close to me coaxed the words out of my mouth, that I realized, “Wait a minute…maybe it was really that bad.”
Each time I would open up in coy, apologetic admission – “Oh well, it was my fault I guess…I was drunk…It could have been worse…I guess I was lucky…” – I could see them grimace and shift uncomfortably. Then would come the million dollar question, “Did you ever report it?”
Was it really that bad?
That question kept my mouth shut. So much so, that when I replied to that tweet, a friend of mine immediately messaged me on Facebook to express his shock and sadness. I reassured him that I was fine – and I am.
Was it really that bad? Yes, it was. It was frightening, and painful, and that was enough.
It was enough that each time it happened, I lay there, heart pounding, thinking, “This isn’t happening. This sort of thing doesn’t happen to me.”
It was enough that I felt unsafe and utterly alone with the experience.
It was enough that in each case I had explicitly and emphatically said “NO.”, and was roundly ignored.
It was really that bad because it felt that bad to me.
Today, I have no problem talking about it. Sure, it’s not a fun topic. It’s not exactly something I’d say in a job interview or anything.
But it happened, and happens far too often to other people, and that’s enough reason to speak frankly about it.
I have brown hair, I have green eyes, I was sexually assaulted. How about you?