You never forget the feeling of having someone enter your space uninvited. It’s not one of those things that gets easier to manage the more often you deal with it. Chances are, if you’ve experienced the pain of sexual assault once, you’ll experience it again — and it will cause the same feeling of terror and discomfort.
The headlines associated with Brett Kavanagh’s confirmation hearing remind me of that discomfort and send me back in time. While the media is dissecting the validity of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford‘s trauma, I’m revisiting mine. I feel eerily connected to her story, and I share her trauma. We are both women who were assaulted in high school, neither of us pressed charges, and neither of us wants to allow the pain to hold us back forever.
But unlike Blasey Ford, the nation didn’t force me to discuss mine on a national stage.
Unfortunately, the pain of sexual assault never leaves you. It can resurface uninvited, just like the assaulter’s touch or stalking, at any moment. I’ve lived a life filled with males making executive decisions about how much access they get to my body. But two of the most painful experiences that I had happened in high school. Both of which happened with me giving absolutely no indication that I was interested in sexual contact. None. And both left me fearing that I was seconds away from being raped.
Through the years, I’ve tried to move past these events without fully processing them. After all, women, particularly Black women, are unfortunately accustomed to living a life with limited body autonomy. I thought I would be fine if I kept moving through life.
But I was wrong.
The experiences of my past have left me feeling like my body doesn’t belong to me.
The pain of my past makes consensual sex difficult. From time to time, I have literally disassociated during sex because the memory of losing control of my body weighs heavily on my thoughts. I know I’m not alone because I’ve read too many stories like mine.
In the era of the #MeToo movement, millions of women are standing up and speaking out about the way society removes women of their power by grooming us for sexual assault and abuse. But I don’t think we have spent enough time discussing the long-term impact of these events.
I’m not the only woman who spaces out to make sense of painful memories — an occurrence that happens more frequently as we are repeatedly exposed to triggering headlines.
One of the most sickening aspects of what’s taking place is the number of men who use their power to denounce our experiences and stand unwaveringly by the accused.
Even our president, who has a history littered with questionable acts himself, has used his platform to make light of Blasey Ford’s accusations.
In response, women all over social media are sharing their #WhyIDidntReport stories in solidarity with Dr. Blasey Ford. And the posts have been illuminating. A myriad of factors, ranging from a lack of support to fear of revenge or retribution, prevent women from speaking out.
Sexual assault survivors are often left feeling completely hopeless when faced with the decision of whether or not to report sexual abuse. Many of us decide not to report because a system that is set up to protect men seldom deals out consequences for the perpetrator.
A recent example of this is Justin Schneider, who pled guilty to kidnapping, strangling and assaulting an Alaskan woman in 2017. His consequence? Well, according to the prosecutor, he was given a pass.
The number of Justins, Brocks, and Harveys in the world send a message to women and sexual assault victims that our experiences don’t matter.
The few men who do speak up about the importance of addressing sexual assault, like Terry Crews, are often ridiculed as well. Sexual assault victims belong to all genders, but the preparators are overwhelmingly male. We will all benefit from removing those who misuse their power for coercing others into nonconsensual acts.
Women like Anita Hill, Dr. Blasey Ford, and Recey Taylor are my heroes. They refused to be silenced by rape or assault. Instead, they held that power even when painful and spoke out about their experiences. I hope that all victims of sexual assault, including myself, will find the courage and the peace for that source of confidence, one day. But until then, I can only write.
I will never forget the fear I felt when I had to force either of those guys off of me. I don’t know what it will take for society to acknowledge and prevent sexual assault. Each denial of the long-term impact of sexual assault hurts past and future survivors.
But I do know we can’t allow the flame of this movement to extinguish. We needed to follow each other’s light to healing.
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