My #MeToo Story: Sexual Assault Awareness Month
When most people think about turning sixteen, they often imagine the start of a movie-worthy coming-of-age story. I know I certainly did. I could not wait to get my driver’s license and have late nights out with my friends, my first taste of independence, and “growing up.” To me, turning sixteen marked the start of an adventure-filled story and the transition from childhood into young adulthood, memories that I would look back on fondly later in my life. However, that is not my story. For me, being sixteen was not characterized by happy, carefree moments. Instead, it was consumed by the most traumatic experience of my life.
At the age of sixteen, I was sexually assaulted, definitively ending my childhood and sending me on a downward spiral that would largely shape the remainder of my high school experience. Now, when I think about my sixteenth year of life, I am instantly back at the night when someone I trusted knowingly and willingly took advantage of my body. I remember feeling like a stranger in my own body. I remember the pervasive shame and self-hatred that ensued. I remember blaming myself for what happened. I remember how every aspect of my life (my health, friendships, and academics) suffered as I grew more and more distant. My story became my biggest secret because I was terrified that people would judge and shun me for having “let someone” do that to me. In seeking to find stability, I developed an unhealthy relationship with food as an attempt to regain control over my body that only left me feeling more broken, weak, and ashamed. This fear and shame led me to isolate myself to the point I almost lost everything and everyone I loved because I thought my experience meant I was no longer deserving of happiness. For nearly two years, I felt like the world around me was moving at a million miles per hour while I was stuck sinking in quicksand, left scrambling trying to pick up the pieces in total secrecy.
Only when I saw opportunities I spent years working towards starting to slip away did I realize that I needed help, so this past fall, I finally confided in my closest friends and family about my experience. I vividly recall feeling like I was suffocating after the words first came out of my mouth; I had never felt so vulnerable and exposed in my entire life. Yet, I quickly realized how telling the people I trust most gave me strength. Instead of carrying this trauma entirely on my own, I now had people I could lean on when I felt weak and scared. It was not easy, and not everyone was as understanding as I wanted, but for the most part, I felt like this weight that had been crushing me for so long had been lifted. Yet, I was still scared. I wondered how others would react because our world is not kind to victims of sexual assault. Our society remains built upon the notion that victims lie, but that alleged assaulters never do, resulting in a toxic culture of victim-blaming that makes coming forward with allegations almost impossible for victims. This dynamic left me living in the shadows for more than two years, and today, I am telling my story because I am done letting my fear dominate my life. Inspired by the stories and acts of countless other survivors, I know that I am finally ready to step into the light and speak my truth in the service of an important goal.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, created to raise awareness and promote a cultural shift away from victim-blaming and rape culture. This month honors the strength of all survivors and emphasizes that there is still so much work to be done. Unfortunately, my story and experience is just one of many. Every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted, and one out of six women, as well as one out of ten men, will be a victim of sexual violence at some point in their life. Behind every statistic are countless names and faces with stories of inexplicable trauma. I say all this because I believe our generation has a unique opportunity to change our cultural norms where past generations have failed. Being immersed in the community at College Prep gives me a lot of hope that cultural and structural shifts are imminent. Every day, I am inspired by my peers as I witness firsthand that our generation does not merely accept the status quo because it is secure. We aspire to fix what we feel is broken in our society, and we refuse to give up or shut up when things do not immediately go our way. I believe this drive is what makes our generation so unique and will be a decisive factor as we continue to fight for a society that honors and respects all of us.
Maybe you and I are close friends, only acquaintances, or perhaps we have never spoken. Regardless, I shared my story with you because I am asking you to stand with me as an ally. Please, take a few moments to consider changes you can make in your personal life to support survivors like myself. Maybe it is something as simple as thinking about how you view consent, or perhaps it is something more drastic like committing to call out peers or friends for making rape jokes. We are in this together, and I am a firm believer that collective, small adjustments eventually add up to substantial and necessary changes. The key to creating a better future lies not just in learning from the past, but also in unifying against social dynamics that divide us. If I have learned anything from the past two years, it is that, together, we rise. The time for change is now, and I hope you will join me in standing on the right side of history.