The news on the Internet this week has made me feel many emotions. So much, almost all, of the news that has made its way onto my Facebook newsfeed this week has been in regards to Trump and his history of sexual assault.
Following all of it — from Trump’s own boasts to Michelle Obama’s incredible speech and so many women’s personal accounts of their sexual assault experiences — has made me feel infuriated, affronted, offended, insulted, upset, and exhausted.
And yet, as I sit here, trying to put my thoughts down, there’s still a part of me that wonders if writing about and sharing my experience is even worthwhile. So much has already been said, so many people more important and with larger voices have already spoken on platforms with greater presence than my blog.
What do I have to add that hasn’t already been expressed?
One of my former teachers shared an article from the Huffington Post just as I sat down to write this blog post. The opening lines made me laugh, dryly.
There’s this thing that happens whenever I speak about or write about women’s issues. Things like dress codes, rape culture and sexism. I get the comments: Aren’t there more important things to worry about? Is this really that big of a deal? Aren’t you being overly sensitive? Are you sure you’re being rational about this?
Every. Single. Time.
It’s telling that women need to be reminded that their experiences of sexism, of sexual assault, harassment, or violence are considered “valid” and worthy of being heard. That we’re not being “overly sensitive” by sharing our experiences.
I think I’d already known this for a while — that every woman’s experience is valid and worth hearing — but it was only after I read this headline on Cosmopolitan that this realization finally began to sink in.
Before clicking on the article, I’d thought it would describe the after effects of a woman who’d internalized the memories and trauma of a rape.
I couldn’t have been more off-base.
And yet because I have never been raped, never had someone force me to have sex, never been subjected to physical injury by way of sexual assault, I have never identified as a survivor. I have never told my stories or felt that they merited attention. But I now affirm that they do – all of these personal truths do.
(Again, because this writer’s experience — as summarized by this quote — matches mine perfectly on paper, I still feel disinclined to share my own experience.)
As I wrote a few weeks ago, I haven’t experienced sexual assault that I have considered significant enough to warrant seeking external help. And because I was able to internalize, “de-escalat[e],” and “minimize” these experiences, I didn’t view them as sexual assault.
By definition, “sexual assault” is any “type of forced or coerced sexual contact or behavior that happens without consent.” And from that standpoint, yes, I — like many other women in the world — am also a survivor of sexual assault.
I have been touched and “convinced” to engage in sexual activity after I explicitly said “no.” I have been asked to share telling details about my previous sexual encounters, for the purpose of avoiding repeat incidents in the future, but the repeat incidents and other instances of sexual assault happened all the same.
After Michelle Obama’s speech, women took to Twitter to share their experiences on #WhyWomenDontReport. I didn’t share mine then because I only watched the speech today, but if I had, it wouldn’t have fit into 140 characters:
“Because when it happened with a significant other, I didn’t think it was assault. Because I was afraid of being judged by others when I would have to, inevitably, explain the situation I’d been in when the assault happened. Because I was ashamed. Because I didn’t see the value in doing so.”
It bothers me that it has taken a scandal in the presidential election, a speech by the First Lady, and so many other articles for me to realize that what I went through were, yes, forms of sexual assault.
And even now, after having dug through the discomfort that I tried to shrug away over the years to write this post, I still have trouble acknowledging the facts head-on.
I don’t think I’d ever voluntarily call myself a victim of sexual assault, even if it might be true, because there is a part of my brain that is somehow embarrassed and afraid to admit this as a truth about myself.
This doesn’t sit well with me.
Over time, as I’ve internalized my own experiences, I’ve also become relatively vocal about sexual activity — and not just on the level of pleasure. I don’t personally recall going through a proper sexual education course during my time as a student. It has taken years of personal research to make up for this.
But because I realize that this lack of sexual education isn’t unique to me, it matters even more to me now that these types of conversations and this discourse can still take place. It matters to me that sex is done safely and with consent. It matters to me that people don’t feel ashamed of themselves, and that I can at least provide them a safe space in which they feel comfortable “being vulnerable.”
I am grateful that my experiences have only given me more reason to fight back, to get stronger, to become more confident in myself and my body, and to “roll up [my] sleeves and get to work.”
This isn’t about politics. It’s about basic human decency. It’s about right and wrong … Now is the time for all of us to stand up and say “enough is enough.” This has got to stop right now.