There’s really no sense in beating around the bush here, so let’s just dive right in. When I was 16, I was raped. It’s one of the reasons I struggle with depression today. It’s one of the reasons I go to therapy once a week. And it’s the reason I’m writing this blog today.
When I was 16, I was raped in the back of a van in my high school parking lot. We had just wrapped the annual talent show, and my “friend” offered me a ride home. I said yes. And that’s when the world as I knew it stopped.
As we approached his car, he went to open the passenger door for me. He then pulled out a knife and told me not to scream. The next 20 minutes were the longest and most grueling of my life. I can vividly remember the pain—the searing, unfathomable physical pain. I remember staring at the blinding green light of the digital clock, Three Doors Down blaring through the speakers. I remember the smell of his shirt. His breath. I remember the taste of the seat cushion as I bit down, trying to quell my sobs. I remember the taste of blood in my mouth. The blood running down my legs. I remember his laugh as he finished. Opening the car door, throwing me out with my clothes in tow. “Call me if you can’t find another ride,” he spewed out as he sped off. I remember standing there, naked from the waist down. Unable to move. Unable to speak. Shaking.
I’m not telling you this because it’s fun (I can assure you, it is not). I’m not telling you this because I need the attention. I’m not telling you this because it’s far-fetched or uncommon. I’m telling you this because it’s not. I’m telling you this because thousands, if not millions, of women have recently come forward sharing their own stories on social media with the hashtag “#MeToo” in response to recent allegations made against Harvey Weinstein, along with the unconscionable prevalence of sexual assault in today’s national and global societies. They’re not telling you their stories because it’s fun. They’re not telling you their stories because they need the attention. And they’re not telling you their stories because they are far-fetched or uncommon. Again, they’re telling you their stories because they’re not. Sexual assault is not uncommon. Not at all.
It happens all the time. Every day. It happens to one in four women, and that’s shooting low, I promise you that. I need more Counting Appendages than the four I currently have (two hands, two feet, standard number of fingers and toes) to count how many women I personally know who’ve been sexually assaulted. And you know what? I don’t really know that many people. Since my freshman year of college, I’ve taken five women to the hospital to undergo a rape kit. FIVE. I am 25-years-old. Are you kidding me?
These numbers are astounding, there’s really no debating that. But what’s more astounding is the response to them—or, rather, the lack of response. The nothingness. The absolute shit being done about it. In fact, the backwards motion we’ve taken. Did you know that Betsy DeVos recently reversed an Obama-era policy aimed at more effectively protecting the victims of sexual assault on college campuses? Well, you’re about to!
President Obama enacted a government policy requiring colleges to evaluate campus assaults more closely, utilizing a “preponderance of the evidence” course of action. But Dear ‘Ol Betsy just wasn’t having any of that nonsense. No, no. She thought it put The Accused in an unfair position. And we couldn’t have that, now could we? In response to Betsy’s move, Janet Politano, the president of the University of California system and a former Homeland Security secretary during the previous administration, released a statement stating the Education Department’s policy would, “in effect weaken sexual violence protections, prompt confusion among campuses about how to best respond to reports of sexual violence and harassment, and unravel the process that so many schools have made.” Splendid!
I’m not writing this to share a highly-detailed rape anecdote. I’m not here to belabor the endless string of faults with our current administration as it relates to women’s health and safety (but, believe me, I could). That’s not what this is about. I’m here to ask for your help. I’m here because we need you. Women, men—especially men—we need you. We need you to listen to our stories. We need you to believe us. We need you to try–to try and understand. We need you to be there.
After I was attacked, I told you how I responded. I was paralyzed. Unable to speak. Shaking—uncontrollably. But I didn’t tell you about Gus. And I think it’s time I do.
There I was, naked in an alarmingly dark parking lot. I blindly looked for my sweatpants. My underwear. When I reached down to grab them, I saw the blood. So much blood. And I started to panic. But then I heard it—a distant but audible gasp. I looked up about 50 feet ahead and saw a homeless man passing through. He started walking towards me. Slowly, then with a little pep. I didn’t run. I didn’t scream. I just stood there. At that point, what more harm could be done, you know? So, there we stood. A 16-year-old suburban white girl and a homeless middle-aged black man, five feet between us.
He looked down at my legs and slowly shook his head. And then he took his shirt off. He gently grabbed my forearm and placed his white tank top in my left hand. He put his hand on my cheek, paused for a brief moment, and then walked away.
He literally gave me the shirt off of his back. To wipe off the blood running down my inner thighs.
For the next couple of weeks, he’d walk by my high school’s entrance at 7:45am on the dot. Just to check on me. That’s how I learned his name is Gus. How his mother and sister had been raped repeatedly by his grandfather. How he wished every day he could go back and do something. For them. For me.
He taught me more than I could ever begin to tell you. He showed me the good. He taught me that some men aren’t like the ones in the back of that van. How most men aren’t. Some are kind. Some are respectful and loving and downright beautiful. Some can even change a life—because he did. He changed mine.
So, this message is for you guys. You men out there. The ones who are kind. The ones who are respectful and loving and beautiful. The ones who have the ability to change a life—maybe a lot of them. This is a plea. To listen. To understand. To give a shit.
When you hear a friend talking about women like objects, like bodies designed solely for fucking, say something. When you see a guy crossing the line (we all know it) with a girl, say something. When you hear about shitbags like Harvey Weinstein and countless others—say something. Do something. Speak up. Because it’s certainly not just me experiencing the effects of this recent media shitstorm. It’s all of us. Every woman who’s ever been a victim of sexual assault or violence. Every mother, father, brother, sister, friend who’s watched her try and cope with the pain. It not just me. It’s you, too. So, step up. Women are powerful and badass and we can handle our shit. But we need your help. We need everyone’s help. So be there. Step up and be there.
Because, I promise you one thing. If you’re sick of hearing about this—day after day, week after week—let me assure you of something: