TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual Assault
This is not a standard post that falls into what I have written about previously. Science communication also involves discussing controversial and difficult topics…and incorporating what science/studies have found. Sometimes to communicate this, we need a human face…in this case, it is mine.
I have recently had to defend certain positions on various ways to speak about difficult topics. I have had to defend why I am uncomfortable engaging in discussion with a man who claims to be a reformed incel. Let me start by saying, I do not need to discuss anything with a person who is potentially harmful in order to understand why they do particular things. I can research on my own as I know how. It is true that a large portion of America does not think critically and we have the troubling statistics on science literacy through NSF to reinforce this. We also have the last election where proganda was promoted through online means validating biases and leading to the current administration. There are media studies which support the need for generating a caring media environment in order to have people understand how problematic ideas affect others…not just themselves.
This is my account for my first sexual assault not my rape. I am not certain I will ever feel comfortable sharing that story. I am writing this to raise awareness that we need better communication about sexual assault, self blame, victim blaming, and why women do not report.
Let’s start with this…sexual assault victims never are “asking for it” by wearing heels or suggestive clothing. My assault? I was wearing jean shorts, a tank top, and sneakers….Here is my story…
It was summertime…I was 19 and a virgin…
I worked at a shopping mall at a formal wear store. I enjoyed my job. I steadily became familiar with other people in the mall and the stores where they worked. There was a clothing store 2 doors down from me that sold stylish clothing of the current styles. Some were “night club” style clothes. I would frequent this store and buy nice work clothes there. From time to time I’d play around with trying on the sexier night club style outfits. A boy (appx. 21) worked there and would help me coordinate my wardrobe. Sometimes he would pick out a sexier dress and ask me to try it on to see if I liked it. I was 19, a virgin, shy and quite naive. However, I suspected what was doing. He made me feel uncomfortable. I would smile and decline. I was a bit flattered at his attention, but I was still uncomfortable. I would then leave the store… I did not know if this attention was what all women go through and this was part of being a woman. I was young and inexperienced.
I never spoke to this boy outside of the store where he worked. I would sometimes see him at the food court but we would just smile…nothing more.
I enjoyed going to nightclubs. My mother did not like me going. I would often lie to her saying that I was just staying with a friend and going to the movies. She was afraid that I would experience that sexual assault scene at a night club from the film THELMA AND LOUISE. She made this plain to me on a regular basis. She felt that nightclubs were meat markets and I would get preyed upon and hurt. To be fair, my mother was always over protective of me. I did not understand the full capacity of what my mother had gone through in her life as a woman. I did not truly understand what we now call “rape culture” and that she had been teaching me for most of my life on “how to not get raped”. I felt she was over reacting. I saw this as another example of her being over protective.
I frequented a local club because usually I could just go to dance and most of the time people left me alone. Being a dancer, this was really the main reason I went to dance clubs. I never went alone and was always with a friend. This evening was no exception.
I arrive to the club. The boy from the store was there chatting up a girl and he starts to watch me dance.
I paid him no attention…
He came up to me when I left the dance floor to get a soda. He said hello and asked if he could talk to me. I agreed. He said that the club was too loud and he knew of a place in the club that would be a bit quieter.
I follow him to a room that had been raided by police earlier for people smoking illegal substances. He said it would be ok to chat for a few minutes. I agreed and went with him into the room.
This moment…here…is where I blamed myself in all of this…I should have never been alone with him…I felt I should have known better.
I had no clue that he was dangerous. I worked 2 doors down from him in the same mall. I went to High School with his Assistant Manager…
We go into the room and sit on the couch on the far wall. There are 2 couches. One is on the back wall and the other is on the wall by the door. He tells me he is interested in me and likes me. I was young and inexperienced. I was flattered and suffered a bit of low self esteem.
He kissed me. I kissed him back. He started to grope my body. I pushed away. I said that I didn’t know him that well and this was moving a bit fast for me. He persisted and started to kiss me again and continued to grope me. I pushed away, got up and started to head for the door.
He had locked the door…
Albeit it was locked from the inside, but it was a bit dark and I struggled with the lock…I failed to get it open in time…
He grabbed me and slammed me up against the wall. I struggled to get away from him, but he was far stronger than me. The music outside the room was so loud, no one could hear our struggle.
He started to kiss me with more ferocity. His hands were now going under my shirt and into my shorts. I pushed and tried to force him off of me to no avail. I was not going to break away from him.
My body felt cold. I was going into some kind of trauma induced shock. It was like I was leaving my body.
I defaulted to a calmer state and began to talk to him.
I said, “I’m a good girl. Please…this is all going a bit too fast for me. Maybe we could go out for coffee and a movie sometime. I know you like me. I like you. Let’s go out and see where things go.”
I say all this while he is trying to remove my clothes. He takes a step back for a second seemingly surprised by what I have said. I take this moment to race to the door.
He is fast and grabs me again…
This time he throws me onto the couch by the door with my legs draped over the arm rest pinning me down. He had not managed to remove my clothes yet, but had managed to thoroughly grope me.
I continued to calmly plead with him saying, “Please. This is too fast. I really like you, but this isn’t how I do things. I don’t think this is how you do things. You seem nice. I only know you from work. I’d to get to know you better before we go this far. Let’s go out and see what happens…please.”
He stops trying to remove my clothing and looks at me. He says, “Hurry up and go before I change my mind!”
He takes his weight off of me and I race to the door. I immediately find my friend. I watch him as he leaves that private room and hurries out of the club…I am still in shock as to what has happened to me. I am shaken, cold, and feeling out of my own body.
We leave the club and I tell her what happens. She asks if I should phone the police. I declined…
I did not report this because I was afraid…
I was afraid my mother would be upset. I was afraid no one would believe me. It was my word against his. I felt it was my fault because I went with him into that room alone. I was still in shock. I did not believe what happened actually happened to me…did this really just happen? Am I over reacting? What do I do? Is this how boys show that they like girls? Did I give him mixed signals? I said NO…was I not loud enough? Was this my fault?
While I did not report it, I did speak with the manager at his store. I had gone to High School with him and told him what had happened. I told him what he had done when I shopped there. Whether or not he was fired, I’ve no clue…but the boy was no longer working there shortly thereafter.
That boy started stalking me. He would show up to places where I was. He would watch me work at the mall. I moved to another store at a different mall. A month later he started trying to get work in the same shopping mall at various clothing stores. I had already befriended many of the managers there and discreetly mentioned how he made ladies uncomfortable shopping there because of his suggestive behavior.
He never worked near me and I never saw him again…
I feel some guilt wondering if he has done this to other girls. Ultimately, I was lucky. I talked my way out of my own rape.
Even now all these years later tears well up in my eyes… writing this remembering every moment…every sound…how he smells…the bruises from his hands on my wrists…the disgust of his hands groping my body…feeling utterly helpless as I was pinned down pleading for him to stop…my body going cold…and all the times I felt shaken and disturbed from triggers setting me back to my experience…back to that room.
I did not ask to be assaulted and nearly raped. I was not suggestively dressed. He wanted me. It did not matter what I was wearing. It was not my fault. He had hunted me from the beginning.
Some will blame me for being naive and going into a room alone with him. I had no idea he was dangerous and it would not have been any different with a non-dangerous person having a chat in a quieter room. He worked in the same mall as I did. I knew his boss. While he had made me uncomfortable with advances, I did not think he would assault me. If I thought every man who gives me advances were going to assault me, I would never leave my house. There are greater risks of harm getting behind the wheel of a car than having a quiet chat with an acquaintance.
Final thoughts …
Blaming victims or saying that any woman can avoid being raped is not helpful. We must educate others on consent and what healthy interactions look like. We must teach our boys and girls on enthusiastic consent. Bish training has wonderful content to help teach consent. No one is entitled to anyone on this planet. People do not wear “I Am A Rapist” signs. Furthermore, just because a rapist wasn’t convicted did not mean they are innocent of rape. Here are statistics on how many rapists actually are convicted and go to prison.
I will not blame myself for the actions of others. I will not apologize for putting my welfare, safety, and standards first. I do take care of myself and receive appropriate help when I need it. It is a wonderful thing to be self aware understanding your strengths and limitations.
I am stronger than I have ever been. It is my hope that my story puts a face to what sexual assault can look like. It is also my hope that I raise awareness letting others who have been hurt that they are are not alone.
Let us have the hard conversations but with empathy for others.
If you need help or know someone who does, these links for RAIIN, National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE, National Center for Victims of Crime, and legal help through Victim Rights Law Center.
If you need, reach out to me. I will help if I can.
Thank you for reading.