By MARY BURGETT
Let’s talk about blame. It sounds awful to say that I blamed myself for being sexually assaulted, but I did. No matter how often my friends and family told me it was not my fault, I couldn’t believe it.
I felt that since he didn’t hit me, it wasn’t assault. I felt that since we didn’t have vaginal sex, it wasn’t assault. I felt that since I just froze and didn’t fight or flee, it wasn’t assault. I had myself convinced that it was me — that it was all my fault. In my mind it “wasn’t that bad,” so I couldn’t say it was assault.
I didn’t want to press charges because I told myself I must have been asking for something to happen. I must have done something to encourage him. I was at fault because I was too nice to him. I was at fault because maybe my shirt was too low. I was at fault because if I had really said no, if I had really put my clothes back on, if I had really tried to leave, he should have stopped. I wasn’t told any of this. I was supported, but this is what I thought after everything happened.
At the time it was difficult for me to even report what happened, let alone even consider pressing charges because I was victim-blaming myself. One of the questions I was asked was: what were you wearing? I can describe my outfit to this day without hesitation: denim capris, ankle socks with Converse, striped underwear with a bow, a blue bra with white polka dots that had a front clasp and a green V-neck. THIS SHOULD NOT MATTER. No means no. I shouldn’t be treated any differently because of what I was wearing and neither should anyone else. You have a choice and if you choose to say no, that should be respected no matter what you are wearing.
It. Was. NOT. My. Fault. I said no. I did try to flee and fight, I just never realized it. I told him I had a paper to finish that was due the next day. When we were in one of the libraries, he tried to put his hand down my pants, but I pushed him away and said no. When we were riding an elevator and he point blank told me “We should fuck” and I said no. When he followed me back to my room, I told him that I would see him at our next meeting. I told him that I was getting dinner with friends. Do I really need to keep listing the multiple ways I said no to him and tried to get away?
It took me two years to stop blaming myself. It was something that was holding me back from healing. Some of the choices I made definitely reflected the fact that I still blamed myself. This was an internal battle no one could solve for me; it was a battle that I had to overcome. One that left its mark physically and mentally.
My story matters, but it is not the only one. Every story matters even though it shouldn’t. It shouldn’t matter because sexual assault/rape shouldn’t happen in the first place, but it does. You cannot save everyone from this horror. You cannot save everyone from this pain. What you can do is educate yourself on the issue. What you can do is TRY. What you can do is give your support, your understanding and attempt to prevent. What you can do is never give up.