You Are Not Alone

Editor’s note: The author of this op-ed has since asked her name be removed from this piece. The Campus has a strict policy that it does not retroactively remove names from stories, but given extenuating circumstances has agreed to do so for this piece.

CW: Sexual assault

Why is it so important for me to hear? Why do I need to be told that I am not the only survivor of sexual violence? Obviously I would not wish what happened to me on anyone. I still need those four words, though. You are not alone.

Growing up, I would listen to the news, hear stories about women in college I had some vague connection to, and watch “Law and Order: SVU.” I thought I understood what sexual assault was. I thought it would never happen to me. I thought that, if it did, I would go straight to the police.

Sexual violence is so much more complicated than that. It is more complicated than paying attention to your drink at a party. It is more complicated than having any signs of physical aggression documented by a hospital. It is more complicated than Olivia Benson slapping handcuffs on the wrists of a perpetrator.

It is my life, and it is the life of everyone else who has experienced sexual violence.

It is very hard for others to understand why it takes so long for survivors to come forward, if at all. People often ask, why did you let it happen to you? Why did you not scream or fight? Then, when the survivor does come forward and say something, they ask, why did you keep it a secret for so long?

I cannot answer these questions on behalf of every survivor, but I can give anyone who is reading this now a glimpse of understanding.

The first time was in the middle of May. I told him not to come over; he did anyway. The second time was in the middle of September. I wanted to go back to sleep after having been woken up by him banging on my door; he did not let me. The third time was Oct. 6th. I said stop; he did not.

Each time I knew something was wrong. Each time I felt gross afterward. Each time I regretted it. I thought everything was my fault. I was the one who must have done something wrong. I was the one who must be weird because I could not get pleasure from sex. I was the one who must have the issues because I did not want him to touch me. I blamed myself for everything.

Would you tell anyone something like that? Something that brings you shame. Something that sexualizes you. Something that can label you for the rest of your life.

It is very common for survivors to not understand what is happening in the moment and then gain a clearer comprehension with the distance of time. Why do you think it takes so long for people to tell their story? Maybe they did not even realize they had one. I sure didn’t.

As time went by, I began to realize how problematic everything that had happened between him and me was. At that time it was my normal. Now I know it should not be.

To this day, I continue to discover more and more violence that existed throughout my “relationship” with him, and that is okay. I do not have to figure out everything all at once, and neither do you. It is a process. The only thing I can do is be patient with myself, and I hope you do the same.

I have realized that a part of my healing process is being vocal. I have to tell people my story because then he loses power. He loses bits of his presence in my being.

However, today he is still here in my soul. Trying to take control. Crawling up toward my throat to choke the words before they even leave my mouth.

I still walk around campus, searching for him. I still ask who is knocking at my door. I still scream when someone unexpectedly touches me. He is always with me, even if not physically.

Using my words to describe my experience is the only way to loosen his grip. Today is not the day when he lets go; tomorrow will not be either. I do not know how long it will take, but I cannot wait for the day when I can look at him, holding on for dear life, and finally say: I am not scared.

Until that day comes, the only thing that brings me comfort is four simple words: you are not alone.

You are not alone.