Trigger Warning: sexual assault, rape, abuse, trauma, ptsd
When the thing drowning out this world’s usual noise is the sound of thousands upon thousands of women fiercely admitting, yeah, #metoo, it gets harder to piece the words together, harder to separate memories of abuse from what’s happening right now.
I’ve been crawling through the past week or so, gasping for air, red-faced and trembling, as though my own assault is happening all over again. I’ve struggled to take care of my body, to feed it and clean it. My clothes are getting baggier with each day that passes. At the coffee shop, I sit where I can see the door, the people who come in, and everything happening around me. Of course, I survived the initial assault, but no one prepares you for having to survive it again, every day after the fact. No one takes the time to explain how our brains cannot tell the difference between memories and what is actively happening. If you suddenly remember the details of a traumatic event, your brain responds by telling the body you are in danger, all over again, right now. Never mind you know you’re technically safe, and never mind your current environment. When the flashbacks come, you are suddenly a time traveler; stuck returning to the most horrifying moments of your life, again and again and again.
I think the solidarity surrounding this online campaign is meant to be, on some level, comforting to the fellow survivor. I think many contributing allies are trying to remind us we are safe with them. Take heart, I hear them saying. You are not alone.
But I am not comforted. I am distraught.
I am exhausted.
I am angry.
I have been sexually assaulted multiple times, by multiple men. I have been sexually harassed by countless more; groped, catcalled, and touched inappropriately by strangers; I have been told by people who do not know me they hope I’ll be raped and killed after shutting down their advancements. I have been followed by men out of malls, in parking lots and garages, in bars, and in random stores. I have hidden in movie theater bathroom stalls, petrified the person following me will risk coming into the bathroom and being seen just to get to me. Someone once tried breaking into my apartment while I was home alone, and now I cannot go to sleep at night unless I know the front door has been dead-bolted. I’m scared of simply showering unless I know my husband is also home with me.
And now, here we are, amid another campaign led by sexual assault survivors, for sexual assault survivors. Here we are, bringing awareness to an issue as old as mankind. And here I am, infuriated, because I don’t see anything changing.
My own experiences with being sexually assaulted have made me cynical, to be fair. I don’t particularly trust men or their intentions anymore. I have learned not to, for my safety. Men I have deeply loved, men who claimed to deeply love me, have used my body as a means for control and instant gratification. These men have listened to me beg for mercy and decided not to give it. These men have abused me, manipulated me, and forced me into situations in which I became a shell of a woman, a thing from which to steal. It has been years, and I still struggle to remember what it felt like before everything was taken from me.
When the Harvey Weinstein story initially broke, I took to Twitter to participate with other survivors coming forward with their own stories of being assaulted. If nothing else, we were being heard by one another, believed by one another. I neither named or revealed the location of my abusers, because that was not the point and I had no interest in ever hearing from either one of them ever again. Not only this, but years have come and gone; the seasons have changed again and again since each event. I waited too long to speak up, and, as most cases of sexual assault do, the instances happened while we were alone. It is the survivor’s word against his, and I was not interested in having to convince anyone of the truth.
But life is not easy, nor is life fair, and I found myself receiving messages from both my (second) assaulter and his partner this week after being sent screenshots of my tweets by a mean-spirited third party.
I was told to take down the details of the assault. I was accused of being attention-starved and a liar; a cyber-bully. My husband was warned by each of them that I was mentally-unstable and not to be believed. I was told to be quiet.
I’ve since gone through a painstaking process to ensure my assaulter and his partner have absolutely no way of contacting me again, including blocking any and all people who might be mutual friends or acquaintances. But, it’s too late. He still managed to take away my sense of security, one last time.
And now, I feel like that shell all over again. The flashbacks aren’t just more frequent: they are unrelenting. Every detail I’ve repressed, every detail I’ve fought to move past, are playing in my head like a movie stuck on loop. I’ve tried distracting myself, but the masses of victims are speaking up everywhere I look. Details of assaults, grief, and voices crying out to be heard, everywhere. Perhaps you are not, but sexual assault survivors are trapped in a world full of rapists, abusers, and harassers. I am not comforted by the show of solidarity and unity. I am simply reminded that things have not changed and every new day brings us another group of victims. And then the PTSD swallows me whole.
The burden of justice should not be on the shoulders of victims, but it is. It is rare to be given the gift of advocacy in the country being lead by a serial sexual assaulter, so we are left to be our own advocates. And I am tired. I am so, so tired.
Men, I see your public displays of outrage and your opportunistic #IWill posts, and I am not convinced. Because I also see your jokes about the friend-zone, your ability to remain friends with people despite knowing they’ve harassed or assaulted someone; I see you laughing along with others to jokes founded in sexism and gender stereotypes, and I see your precious, toxic masculinity rise up in the face of rejection. I see you witness harassment and keep walking; I see you eye that woman like a piece of meat when she passes you. Men, I see you protecting the assaulters and not the victims. So, unless you’re willing to actually make the changes necessary to prevent sexual assault, save your breath, and know you’re a part of the problem, too.