Sexual Assault and the Courage to Speak Up

It takes courage to come forward. How do I know? Because I have been paralyzed in fear about speaking up.

For many of you this subject may make you feel uncomfortable or even make you cringe that I would share so openly and honestly. I get it. If that’s you and if this is as far as you read, know that’s OK.

But this is something I can’t stay silent about anymore. With all the recent women coming forward I have felt this internal nudge. Even with all the light being shone it is still hard to speak out about, especially knowing that family members, friends, and even acquaintances will read this. It sometimes can seem like it’s easier for others to share, because we don’t know or see how it personally affects them. But let me just say, each and every women who has come forward has had immense courage, and I can’t even tell you how many women have sat in my chair and said the same thing. It’s not easy - there is judgement and victim blaming, and so often that starts before even hearing one’s story.

Almost every women who has sat in my chair and spoke on this subject with me has been assaulted. And I don’t know if one has told me they’ve ever reported it.  And it’s not the lack of reporting that makes me sad. It’s the reasons why. Many don’t believe what happened was bad enough, or they think it’s been too long, or that somehow they asked for or deserved it. They’ve also all seen how other women have been treated, or rather mistreated, when standing up.  

Once coming to terms with my assault I feared people would blame me (and to be honest, I still do). I did in fact walk into the situation willingly.  

You see, I walked into a sexual encounter with consent. But once things started to shift I tried to stop it. So many times I hear people say that the victim could have just got up and left, and I wish it were that easy.  After verbally saying “no” and giving multiple signals that I was not OK with how things were unfolding, I quit. I gave up.

Did he not understand what I was telling him?
Was this a game?
How does he not understand what I’m telling him?
I should just stop fighting it.
If I don’t do anything maybe this will all be over faster.

These are the thoughts that raced through my head while being assaulted.

Once I started to open up about this with other women I was shocked at how many have had similar experiences. So often saying “no” repeatedly doesn’t work. Why is it that so many of us think that giving up and trying to dissociate and wait until it’s over seems like the best option? Because it feels like the only option.  

And let me just go on a tangent for a sec: Saying “no” can be hard for a lot of us, especially when you have grown up being taught to be polite and put others first. It’s not as simple as you would think. Learning to have a voice for myself that I feel is heard and respected has been a long process. It’s one I am still working on.

But being pressured, intimidated, and coerced can leave you feeling powerless and without choice. What happened during that encounter I did not give consent to. And at that time it didn’t register. I had in fact given the OK in the beginning.  Even though I said “no”, I didn’t leave. I have since questioned myself with, “Did I try hard enough to make it stop?” What I had been taught about rape and assault made me confused. This wasn’t some stranger dragging me into a dark alley somewhere. That’s what rape and sexual assault is right? That’s what I had always thought. I had been attracted to this guy and had even flirted with him, and I believed that meant that what he did wasn’t assault. I was following through on my word, that’s what a good person does isn’t it? It makes me sick to think about this now. Girls have been programmed to think that they need to abandon themselves in order to make men comfortable. It sickens me to hear people talk about how women dress and act, as if that has anything to do with men having control over themselves.

It’s funny how your mind and body will react. My mind didn’t allow the assault to register. I remember making jokes about parts that happened with a close friend, attempting to minimize it as much as possible and turn it into something else so I wouldn’t have to face it.

It wasn’t until years later that I even realized that what happened was assault.  While being intimate with my boyfriend I was triggered. In a millisecond what I hadn’t even realized I had blocked out all came flooding back.  I fell into the fetal position terrified and began to weep. My body reacted before my mind could catch up. I was shaking uncontrollably and crying. My boyfriend looked at me with shock and confusion. What was going on? It was as if I had travelled back in time to the moment I had, for some time, successfully forgotten. The missing pieces were found, and I linked the story back together. Before that moment I had never fully let myself acknowledge what had happened to me. My boyfriend tried to hug me but I couldn’t be touched. What was happening was something I had never experienced before. I wanted to escape my body. For weeks I wouldn’t let him touch me. Not even a hug. The thought of feeling someone’s touch on my skin would make my stomach turn and cause every muscle in my body to tense up. I feared getting close. I feared the pain, and I’m not just speaking physical pain, but the mental and emotional pain that haunts these experiences. I desperately wanted to tell my boyfriend what had happened but every time I went to open my mouth I froze. I had a million thoughts rushing through my mind. I judged, shamed, and blamed myself. And yet I knew deep down that wasn’t the truth.

Never before had I ever not be able to speak. After some time, I don’t even know if it was the same day or week, I was eventually able to muster out one word “assault”. That’s all I could do. That’s still all I can say. The shame of saying what happened was and is so strong the words still have not been able to come out.

How is it that I feel shame for something that was done to me?

Why couldn’t I speak up?

These are still some questions I’m trying to answer. Not being able to even speak the words of my assault to the person closest to me makes me appreciate the courage of the women who have been able face the shame, judgement, and fear to speak publicly. I also understand why women have chosen to remain silent.

So why have I shared all of this with you?

I want you to know that whether you have shared your story or not, you are not alone, and you are not what has happened to you and it’s not your fault.