To say that the world has changed is an understatement.
While my parents raised me to believe that most people are good and that we should be able to trust one another, it seems that this is no longer the way of the world.
Many have criticized my generation for being too soft, too sensitive, and too entitled. We are called “snowflakes” because we believe in the uniqueness of the individual. We are labeled as entitled for believing that we should be able to pay our bills with one job. We are told to sit down and shut up when we choose to stand up for what we believe in.
Too often, I find myself keeping my head down and staying my course to avoid making others uncomfortable. I keep to myself when things bother me, and bite my tongue when I should speak up, to avoid confrontation. The older I get, the more I tell myself to “choose my battles”, even when something is important to me. I kick myself for not speaking up when I had the opportunity and replay various scenarios of how things could have gone over and over in my head until I’m exhausted. I often avoid hurting the feelings of others at the cost of my own feelings. But why? To avoid making waves in hopes of continuing forward.
Let me preface this by saying this post has nothing to do with politics, or any sort of political agenda. This is my story and my way of speaking up.
It took me a long time to finally tell someone my story, and I know I’m not alone. In many ways, I’m still not ready to discuss the full details of what happened to me, and I don’t owe anyone an explanation. We’ve already talked about the #MeToo movement. Again, I generally opt for biting my tongue over making others uncomfortable. I feel it is my duty to protect the feelings of others from the harsh realities of the world. I have read the stories of so many others these past few weeks (my love and support to all of you who have suffered/ are suffering), and I feel it is finally time to shed some light on a piece of my own. So sit down, buckle up, and prepare to get uncomfortable (or feel free to click the “x” in the upper right hand corner).
Should have. I should have reported what happened to me. There you go, I said it. But it doesn’t change anything. I am, myself, a statistic that you see across Facebook this week, one of those human figures in a diagram of women that never reported. As much as I’d like to say I’m a brave person, I was not at this point in my life. You can tell me I should have reported it as soon as it happened (believe me, I hear this all the time), but the fact of the matter is that I didn’t. Why? Because I was scared. Because I still had to face this person in my life on a frequent basis. Because I wasn’t ready to admit to myself that it had happened. Because I was ashamed. There are so many reasons why I didn’t, some of them are still true today.
I was terrified. As if the medical protocol wasn’t horrifying enough, the thought of having to account for every moment, and document every second of what happened chilled me to the bone. Should I have chosen to report, one of the most traumatic moments of my life would have been placed on display in some court room somewhere. The fate of my future, and my abuser’s, would have been held in the hands of a complete stranger. I would be placed on display, my character examined, and my life dug through; just for speaking up.
Could have. I could have drug this disturbing story out before it was too late. I could have spoken up so many times it hurts. But I didn’t. I could have seen a counselor or filed a report. But I didn’t. I could have changed that person’s future. But I didn’t.
I was young and I was embarrassed. I could have told someone. I could have drove myself to the police station the next morning to file a report. I could have been asked a list of questions like what I was wearing, did I give any signs that I was interested, and endless other technicalities. I could have subjected myself to the questioning and humiliation. I could have screamed louder. I could have tried harder to run. I could have fought harder. But would it have made a difference?
Would have. I can’t say if I would have reported it if I knew what I do today. The biggest question lurking in my mind is still the same: would anyone have believed me? Even discussing my story today, I find myself being bombarded with numerous qualifying questions. The ever present “what were you wearing?” is still among my favorites. (Blue jeans and a sweatshirt, if you must know). People are usually quick to accuse and hesitant to believe; demanding some proof of innocence. The fact of the matter is, it didn’t matter what I was wearing, where I was, what time it was, or if I was drinking (I was not, for the record). Regardless of whatever extenuating circumstances you can fathom, it happened and it was not okay.
If I could go back, even for a moment, here’s what I would have done differently: I would have spent more time in support groups. Nothing will change what happened to you, even if you wore baggier clothes or avoided that person entirely. I would remind more people that it isn’t their fault. Women aren’t the only victims here.
Moving forward. This event has shaped my life and how I interact with others. I still look behind me when I walk anywhere alone (even in the broad daylight). I hold my car keys as if I’m going to be attacked, and always check my backseat. I walk my friends to their cars and tell them to text me when they get home. I make sure to dress more conservatively when my fiancé isn’t accompanying me and only take well-lit pathways when I walk anywhere. I avoid conversations with strangers in bars and never let anyone buy me a drink. I am careful not to be too friendly or too polite, for fear of coming across as “interested”. I would tell at least two people when and where I was going on a date, even supplying a photo of the person I was going on a date with. I showed my mom how to locate my cell phone if I went missing and established check-in times during dates. I call someone when I’m walking alone, and relay my exact location. I learned how to defend myself, and to shoot a gun. But I’ll tell you a secret: I’m still scared sometimes.
Don’t feel sorry for me. I am okay, but it took me a long time to get here. Be mindful of your interactions with others and be kind. Someone you know is suffering, you just might not know it.
To all of my friends who have been assaulted, to all of you who are scared: I believe you and I support you. My door is always open and my coffee pot is (almost always) full. Whether you choose to tell your story or not, you are supported and your feelings are valid.
Stay excellent, my friends.