About one out of three women will be a victim of sexual assault in her lifetime. I’m one of them. I’m not telling you this to shock you. I’m telling you this because every 2 minutes, before you even finish reading this article, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. Most go unreported. Only 3 out of 100 rapists will serve jail time, while victims are in their own prison, according to Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network.
Contrary to popular belief, the guys don’t pop out of the bushes. Among 10 college women who reported rape or attempted rape, nine of them knew their attacker well, also according to RAINN. More than 25 percent of reported rapes occur from women between the ages of 18 and 24. For college students, these numbers are staggering. In American culture, we are quick to ask victims questions and even quicker to point fingers. We say she was “asking for it” because she enjoyed sex or had too much to drink. We make rape jokes and Facebook pages because a 21-year-old girl who wore a mini skirt to a party and was penetrated by two men with a beer bottle while she was passed out is hysterically funny.
To be a survivor is a lonely, dangerous road. Some people never tell anyone for fear that they won’t be believed, won’t be loved by their partner anymore, won’t be a part of their family or for fear of their very lives. I’ve tried that. Fear ate me for six years. The burn’s too delicate to ever see daylight.
I put my heart into feminist organizations to help others. In college, at least one out of four women will be a victim of sexual assault before she graduates. More than 75 percent of reported rapes occurred among women under the age of 25, according to RAINN.
In my personal experience, FGCU lacks resources. I was in Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) for two years and placed on medication. The drugs made me numb, instead of dealing with the real issue. According to an email exchange I had with University Chief of Police Steven Moore a few months ago, on campus, first a woman would go to the police. The police would hand her paperwork and pamphlets then send her to Health and Wellness. Wellness would send her to CAPS, which would send her back to Wellness with some more pamphlets. We hand survivors papers and send them on a scavenger hunt when what they really need is someone to sit down with them and just listen.
I chose to tell my boyfriend, the journalist. He was the journalist I met at a writer’s conference. He gave me his business card and a ride home, and I gave him chapters of my novel. Unlike past relationships, the journalist and I didn’t have sex all the time, and it was fantastic. We laughed, and we wrote bad poems. For the first time during sex, I did not feel dirty or detatched. I felt closer. One night, I told him we needed to talk. The whole day, I felt sick. I thought he would never want to touch me again. I asked him if I was too heavy. I’m telling you this because some people won’t be able to hold you.
I’m telling you this because there are men who feel threatened just listening and women who will begin crying because they know the story all too well.
The journalist threw me on his lap and laughed at me. I told him I was wearing a red T-shirt and jeans the summer night of the assault just in case he dared to ask. I told him about the way I kicked and how big my assaulter was. I told him I was 14, overweight and insecure. I told him I blamed myself because I liked it. I told him how the idea of being with a man made me nauseous for years and simply going to the dentist gave me panic attacks. I told him how my assaulter threatened me and laughed. I told him how I cut off my hair because my assaulter said it was beautiful, and I never wanted to be beautiful again.
The journalist kissed me all over my face and whispered, “You are so pretty.”
It was then I started crying.
I’m telling you this because being a survivor is an isolated existence. We are hushed down, covered up and worse, completely ignored. The moment we get support is incredibly unexpected and completely overwhelming. It is necessary. A survivor needs friends who find her recovery as bittersweet as she does, and who care as much about her safety, happiness and wishes as a fairy godmother. A survivor also needs a lover strong enough to hold her and kind enough to give her the space she needs to feel safe. She needs lots of them.
Slowly, over time, I began to realize that my body was my own. I began to dress in clothes that made me feel hot. I began to discover who I really was. I would always be shattered in a million pieces, but whether I have a boyfriend, girlfriend or just a friend, I have chosen to make a mosaic out of the glass.
I’m telling you this because healing is a gradual process that starts by telling someone and getting help. CAPS offers counseling once a week for 50 minutes, but you probably are going to need more than that. Abuse Counseling Treatment offers free counseling. They do not release their address for confidentiality reasons. You need to call first. Project Help offers services for any type of crisis, whether it be rape or domestic violence. Both of these facilities also do volunteer training three times a month.
I’m telling you this because telling is releasing and restorative. Telling is sorting through your feelings and acknowledging what happened. Telling is taking your power back. I’m not saying you need to tell the barista at Starbucks. I don’t know what you need or the circumstances in your life. Writing this article means facing judgment and backlash. I’m not going to be quiet anymore. It also means giving the gift of hope. If all survivors used their voices, the world would open up in a red song. I’m telling you this because in my opinion, we live in a country where women are seen as objects. We are not prizes. We are your sisters, mothers, best friends and wives.
I’m not telling you this because I think you will be a victim of sexual assault one day. I’m telling you this because sexual assault is common. It is a terrible reality which, sadly, most college students go months without even thinking about. If you aren’t a survivor, there will be a day when a girl tells you her story in tears. I’m asking you to fold her in your arms and tell her she’s going to be okay.