My Take Back the Night speech:
My story, like many others, is filled with ups and downs. While I consider myself lucky in many ways, my life has not been free of struggle.
I grew up hearing about the line of strong women that I come from. I was determined to continue this line and had no doubt I could do so.
But I also grew up hearing the intense fights between my parents. I heard words like “stupid, lazy, ugly, unworthy of respect” thrown around regularly by my father. Some of my most vivid memories of my childhood were of hiding in the back of a cluttered closet and crying until the fights were over. This continued until I was in middle school.
In high school I wanted to make sense of what was happening and found a word for it: domestic abuse. I began to use social justice as an outlet.
But I was afraid to speak out about it most of the time because of a crippling fear of the misconceptions surrounding the issue and not wanting to “out” the family secret.
I became well educated about domestic abuse and its symptoms and supported my mom as she broke off that toxic marriage of nearly thirty years.
But I failed to pick up on a different type of disrespect that came from my next boyfriend who in retrospect clearly only wanted a body. My boundaries were always clear, but he was relentless in trying to change them. Growing up in a society where men are stereotyped as being pushy and always wanting more, I thought this was completely normal. It took me a couple months to realize that it wasn’t, and that he wasn’t truly sorry when he stepped over my boundaries multiple times. When I broke up with him and cited his lack of respect as one of the reasons he said “This isn’t my fault.”
Fast forward one year and I was dating a different guy who respected my boundaries.
But he was uncomfortable asking for consent. It’s “awkward.” And so I was sexually assaulted. Again.
Six months later, I was halfway through my first year of college, single and ready to mingle.
But the night of an unofficial date a third guy touched me without my permission.
I forgave him. I forgave the guy before him too. Both of them immediately showed remorse and learned from their mistakes.
But that’s when the triggers really started to kick in. A backrub or a side hug could make me cringe if their fingertips touched the side of my ribs. It got worse and worse until one time I got a panic attack. To this day it’s still hard to remain calm when someone touches me there.
My sophomore year I started going to counseling. At first my therapist didn’t understand what I needed help with because I was already doing so well.
But I was afraid to tell my story for fear that people would tell me that boyfriends with wandering hands isn’t that big of a deal. I should just get over it.
Only once has someone ever said that to me.
I joined a student organization for prevention sexual assault where I learned more about this issue and what I could do about it. Becoming an activist and being in a community of people who deeply care about this issue has been huge in helping me work through what’s happened to me. It gives me hope that someday people like me will be rare.
I became less afraid to tell my story, seeing it as an opportunity to inform rather than being afraid of the inevitable misunderstandings.
I started dating a boy who actually knows how to respect my boundaries, cheers me on and supports me as I heal and is a feminist. Score!
But there will always be marks from the past. I feel small when people raise their voices. Certain things that remind me of my assaults will put me in a bad mood for the rest of the day. When people touch my ribs my knee jerk response to this day is to be afraid. That association hasn’t faded much. The effects come and go in waves and I don’t think I’ll never be entirely free of them.
However, my victories will always outweigh the challenges I’ve faced.
I’ve learned to control my triggers to some extent when they do happen.
I also strive to help others understand sexual assault and domestic abuse, and try to be a resource for those who are survivors.
I’ve expanded my support system and have finally gotten better at asking for help when I need it.
And most importantly, I am stronger than my memories.
Thank you for reading this article. You can find my full backstory here.