speaking up about sexual assualt
As a woman in America, the past weeks have been heavy and tiring. Some days, it feels like our own government, supposedly based in ideals of equality and opportunity for all, repeatedly tells specific groups of people that their basic rights, self-worth, and even survival do not matter. Governmental policies have shown blatant, even forceful disregard for citizens, especially in their policing of women’s bodies. However, to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, a man accused on multiple accounts of sexual assault, to the Supreme Court, the highest and most influential of all decision-making platforms, crosses a new line.
Surprise was not my first reaction to the confirmation. Disgust? Disillusionment? Yes. But surprise? No. This gut-punch feeling is nothing new to marginalized groups of Americans. However, this one did hit me harder than most. As a female college student determined to earn an education and reach my goals, it makes my skin crawl to think that any student should have to deal with the burden of sexually assault, only to be ignored in a very public manner when trying to speak their truth later in life.
Last fall, I came to Brown University as a transfer student from a school I won’t name. I quickly realized that my old school wasn’t right for me. Among other factors like closed-minded people and those with conservative beliefs, sexual assault and rape culture were my biggest motivators for leaving. That’s a truth I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to admit to myself, never mind articulate aloud. Coming to Brown was an opportunity for a new start that I’m forever grateful for.
I’ve witnessed firsthand and through the perspectives of my friends what sexual assault can do to a college student, especially one trying to adjust to what feels like a new and overwhelming world. It’s easy to get lost. You’re out one night, and everyone’s drinking. You, maybe a little too much to compensate for the way your knees are shaking and your hands are sweating from nerves. Degrading song lyrics blaring through the speakers overwhelm you, but you try not to show it. You came out with some friends, or people you guess you would call friends after knowing them for three weeks, but you didn’t think they’d leave you alone here… You look around. Where’d they go? Where are the few familiar faces in this massive crowd?
Then, someone taps your shoulder, a guy. Cute. Friendly. He offers you a drink and a dance. You accept because maybe it’ll help you relax. But from that point on, your recollection gets fuzzier. Maybe you stayed at that party longer. Maybe your friends watched you leave with him. Maybe you just sat in his room, watched a movie, ate some food. Maybe. You hope. But as you wake up the next day, confused about how you even made it back to your room and whose t-shirt you’re wearing, something deep inside you says it was much more.
As soon as alcohol enters the equation, some college kids seem to think they’re invincible. Anything goes. It’s all in good fun. He hopes. She hopes… But when she wakes up in the morning, she hurts. She looks at herself in the mirror and feels that the reflection staring back at her is unrecognizable.
The experience and events leading up to my sexual assault robbed me of autonomy. My actions were not of my own volition, but the trauma is now mine—my reality to live with. The impacts of it will never leave me; the hurt doesn’t go away and hide even when I try to have a loving relationship with someone who really cares about me, and it rears its ugly head at the most inconvenient times. In many ways, it’s robbed me of the ability to see a positive future for myself, in which I’m truly loved and feel like I have a purpose. Trust is something that will never come easily to me again, and this severely hurts the people I care about most. Sometimes it feels like I’ll always carry this guilt, heavy and impossible for anyone else to understand.
It’s so easy to feel helpless, especially as a college student just trying to gain social and academic footing. The process of turning to authorities or campus resources can be scary and emotionally draining, but it’s important not to let social stigma keep one from healing however one must.
There is no guarantee that justice or speaking out will make things feel okay or end your cycle of self-doubt, but it’s bold to be brave enough to try. As Dr. Christine Ford demonstrated, you never know who it could help.
America has told its people, its sexual assault victims and survivors, and anyone who’s been threatened by the power dynamics that make such assaults possible, that his word, his life, is more important than hers. Even though it hurts like a blow to the face, we can’t let it silence us. The dialogue and resources around sexual assault must be made more accessible. I’ve gone too long without the words to speak about such a thing, without a space to feel comfortable sharing it. Maybe we can’t change the final say that stands this time, but I, for one, know that I won’t stop talking until I’m heard.