What comes to mind when you hear the words “sexual assault” or “rape?”
Probably something violent or dramatized, paralleling what we see in the movies or on the news. But in reality it is not always this extreme. For me it certainly was not. But does that make my experience any less valid? Apparently to some, yes, it does.
Sexual assault has unfortunately been a part of my life since I was twelve. The experience was not particularly violent — I was pressured to give a hand job to a guy under a blanket in a room full of people, even after I uttered the word “no.” I kept pulling my hand away, but I was too embarrassed to make a scene or speak up. I gave in to his strong hand pulling mine. When I went into a room with another guy to “talk,” he was there waiting. They closed the door and turned off the lights, asking me to give them both blowjobs. I immediately said no and got up to leave but one of them ran to the door and locked it. He told me I could not leave. There were people right outside the door, but again I was too afraid of embarrassing myself or causing a scene.
“Why didn’t you yell if you claim they forced you?” I was asked. I wondered why was my “no” not strong enough to be heard.
A similar incident happened on my 19th birthday. It was the typical story you hear college students talk about: the girl gets really drunk, goes home with a guy and he takes advantage of her in a vulnerable state.
I went out with my friends to a popular club to celebrate my birthday. I was pretty drunk, blacking out from time to time. Next thing I know, a man comes up and starts dancing and making out with me. “It’s my birthday!” I tell myself, “I can have a little fun with a stranger.” What seemed like only minutes later, I was outside with him waiting for an Uber. I turned to my friends and asked if he was cute because I did not remember what his face looked like, but it was too late. I was already in the Uber on my way to his apartment. Friends were texting me telling me to come home and get away from him; it is unfortunate how other people can see things before you can.
In the Uber, he was all over me: kissing, touching, trying to take my shirt off. I told him to stop, but he kept going. I should have known what was to come. We got out of the car and stopped at a CVS to pick up condoms, and then went up to his apartment. By this point it was late, and I was drunk and cold. I wanted to lay down, but that is not what he had planned. I put my phone next to the bed, but he moved it away: “It’s just you and me. No phones allowed."
We started making out and although I was drunk, I was okay with having sex. Despite having just bought condoms he refused to wear one. I kept asking and every time he said, "No." I repeated myself, telling him to stop, but my words were neglected. With nothing left to do, I gave in. Things started to get rougher, which I am okay with normally, but then I felt uncomfortable and degraded. He kept slapping me and hitting me. He even told me that he loved me which was odd given we had just met, but I said it back because I was scared. He finally turned me over and asked me if I wanted to have anal sex. I told him no, but he did it anyway. I was scared of what else he would do to me. It’ll be okay. Act like you’re into it. Just let him get it over with, I tried to console myself, but my body knew better than my mind in that moment.
I had finally had enough of feeling weak. I told him to get off me and that I needed to rest for a minute. He listened — but not for long. When he persisted on grabbing me and touching me I knew I had to get out of there right away. I got up and took my phone, running into the bathroom. The minute I saw myself naked in the mirror I started crying. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me again. Why did I let this happen? I tried calling and texting my friends, but no one was awake. I called an Uber and ran out of the bathroom to try to gather my things. He begged me to stay and kept telling me that he loved me. I was firm in telling him I had to leave, but before I left, he took my phone and put his number in it and called himself off of my phone so he would have my number. “You better text me when you get home. We have unfinished business to take care of.”
The minute he let me leave his apartment I went outside and fell to the ground in hysterics. It was around five o’clock in the morning and there was absolutely no one around, which is strange in New York City. Since it took awhile for him to let me leave, the Uber I called had left already. After what felt like forever, I found a taxi and went back to my apartment. The hysterics only got worse when I tried to lay in my bed. None of my roommates were home; I was alone and vulnerable once again. I immediately took my clothes off and threw them in a bag, hoping the memory of them being taken off by the man who violated me would be thrown away, too. But it did not help. I felt extremely foreign in my own body. I wanted to rip my skin — it felt like it was no longer mine.
My roommate finally came home and called the university's public safety when she saw my state. She could not understand me through my hysterics. All I wanted was to go to the hospital and get an STD test. I asked for no cops because I knew I did not want to press charges. About five different public safety officers came in and asked me the same questions over and over again, making me relive the horror of my night. Their questions made my experience feel invalid.
“Well, did you willingly go home with him?"
“So did you like get raped or something?”
“Is there any physical proof on your body?”
After about an hour of questioning, I left my room to go downstairs where the ambulance was waiting. People on my floor were coming back to their rooms, passing the police and public safety officers on their way. Again, there was the feeling of embarrassment. I felt disrespected once again, this time by the people who were supposed to keep me safe. I was overwhelmed and in shock. I craved some peace. The last thing I needed was a group of people following me outside. I still felt out of control.
I was finally in an ambulance on my way to the hospital and hoped things would calm down from there, but they did not. Many of the police officers followed me to the hospital, even though I said multiple times that I did not want to report what happened. I could not pay attention to the nurse taking my vitals because there were so many people surrounding me. I was given a room and waited a while until the doctor came in. He was extremely nice and one of the few people who made me feel comfortable that night. Between the doctor popping in and out, another cop entered the room and questioned me again. I had finally had enough and did not answer any of his questions. I told him firmly that I specifically asked for no cops. He was shocked. He said no one told him or anyone else that I did not want to report it. I was so angry because it was as if my words did not matter to anyone at all. Could they even hear me?
When we left the hospital the sun was up. My roommate was exhausted, but I was thankful for her presence and support. We both went to bed when we got back to our dorm. My body and mind were exhausted. All I wanted to do was sleep, but whenever I closed my eyes images of my assault flashed through my mind. It was as if I was still there and could not get away. I developed insomnia and my already present depression and anxiety worsened.
Ironically, I used sex as a coping mechanism. I have always been sexually confident, but the assault had stripped me of it. I started to have a lot of random sex just to feel those few moments of validation, but afterwards I would always feel worse. I finally realized how my actions were completely self-deprecating and were only causing me more pain. Just because one man felt entitled to my body does not mean that I had to give it away to everyone else. I learned all over again that sex is special when the people you choose to share your body with respect you. I finally feel respected again, but that took a while to accomplish.
The images we see on TV shows, movies, and the news do not accurately represent sexual assault. I want to share my story to expose the insensitivity that I experienced over and over again from those who were supposed to help me. Our society has a very limited image of what rape or sexual assault looks like and means — I want to demonstrate that not all experiences are the same, but all experiences are valid. My story is real and so are all other victims stories. All we want is to be respected, to be heard, after enduring an experience in which no one heard us.