Dedicated to all the survivors of sexual assault in my life who have inspired me to be an advocate and a voice.
It was her freshman year. Jodi was sexually involved with a boy, but knowing the nature of those “it’s just sex” situations, it did not last long and ended on a bad note. In efforts to clear her conscious and let negative energy go, she reached out to the guy to clean up the mess.
They agreed to meet up and talk, not have sex. Jodi entered the living room and sat on the couch with all intentions of having the conversation and leaving immediately after. They began to talk things out and when they were done, Jodi got up to leave. The guy was not ready for her to go as he had other plans.
There was no implied innuendo that alluded to sexual contact. Jodi was very strong in her intentions of just talking, but the guy was very strong in his intentions to disregard her wishes of leaving the house. There was no consent as he dragged her against her will to the bathroom. There was no consent as she cried out “you are hurting me!”. Consent was never present in that room, instead violation mixed with a loss of power filled the air, making it hard to breathe or think clearly.
“I just froze, I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t make noise. I tried to fight back but I was pushed up against the wall in this tiny ass harbors bathroom” – Jodi told me as she rubbed her hands on her knees, rocking back and forth.
“Do you wanna come inside and look at my plants?”, he said to Breanna as she did her RA duties of unlocking his room. Breanna and this boy had been in a group together for a project and she saw him around campus often. She thought he was a cutie and his love for plants was icing on the cake. They exchanged numbers and began to text for the next few weeks.
On February 11, 2017, Breanna finally climbed out of a funk that caused her to not want to do much of anything. She woke up to a text from plant boy asking if she wanted to come over to his place and hang out. Perfect timing. They cuddled while watching Bob’s Burgers and sipped on pink Moscato. Yet, Breanna sensed that he wanted to do more than just cuddle. Telling him that she had previous shady experiences with guys and would prefer if they only continued to cuddle, she thought he would respect her wishes.
They began to make out and it was obvious that he had a serious issue following instructions. He would place his hands in an area that Breanna made uncomfortable, so she moved them only for him to return to that area a minute later. She desperately wanted to leave but she was a mile off campus and he was her ride back. 10 minutes later from this thought, Breanna was on her back as he proceeded to enter her without consent. She stared at the ceiling in shock and upset at herself because she told herself the next time something shady happened, she would say something. But she couldn’t. “I was looking at the ceiling and the plants, they were blooming and looked great”, Breanna told me as she wiped away tears that fell from her eyes while recounting her story.
After so bravely telling their stories, I asked these young ladies about their healing process. “First off, no one wants to admit they have been raped” Jodi said. When talking to other survivors, they all say that they never thought this would happen to them. We all watch Law & Order SVU or the nightly news and see stories of girls getting raped, yet we convince ourselves that we are immune from the evils of this world and that this crime will not happen to us. “I shoved it in the back of my mind, I was in denial” told Breanna. Most survivors slip into denial after rape occurs and society is largely to blame. Society has created a complex that women must not be sexual beings and if they are raped, they were doing something wrong and now are “damaged goods”. Mindsets like these make women feel ashamed to come to terms with the situation and speak out.
We must also understand that the healing process is different for everyone. “I didn’t want a huge scene or confrontation; the way I need to deal with it is through myself” – Breanna. In any situation where a person feels pain, I firmly believe in allowing that person to truly feel the pain because it helps the healing process. Acknowledging what happened and coming to terms with the situation is step one. This does not mean making excuses for your attacker or placing the blame on yourself, but understanding that this happened and you will move forward. This is the beginning of gaining power back.
However, if people understood the definition of consent and how to respect another’s wishes to not engage in sexual activity, there would be no need to gain power back. Being under the influence of drugs and alcohol, can make consenting very difficult. As we tackled the drugs and alcohol debate, Jodi brought up an excellent point, “Just because you didn’t say no, doesn’t mean you said yes”. If you know that someone has had too much to drink, it might be in your best interest to not pursue any sexual activity with them because they are not coherent enough to make a sound decision. If someone is actively telling you “no” or pushing away, they do not want to have sex. If they agreed to kissing and oral sex, but say no to actual intercourse, you must stop. At any point, if you hear the word “no”, stop immediately.
As we discussed the ends and outs of consent, it became clear that people need to be more educated on this topic. Parents should include the topic of consent when they sit their children down to discuss sex, puberty, and all that stuff that made us squirm in middle school. The sooner someone learns what is consent and how to consent, the better. Colleges also have a responsibility, especially when cases of rape begin to run wild on their campuses. Insert consent and sexual assault awareness into the freshman curriculum. Most universities have a mandatory introductory to the campus course for freshmen. Use this class to teach students what it means to say no and allow them to discuss the topic. The more we talk about this, the closer we become to ending this heinous crime.
Lastly, hold your friends accountable or as Jodi said “check your mans, because guys are not holding other guys accountable”. Speak up! We must hold everyone accountable. Parents, teach your children. Friends, tell your friend it was wrong what they did. Title IX offices, do all that you can do to help survivors get justice. Professors, stop asking what she was wearing or why she attended the party. College administration, listen to your students and believe their stories. University police, take action and turn your attention to sexual assault instead of chasing down students for parking violations. We need to keep the same energy as Hollywood did in lieu of the #MeToo movement and shedding light on those guilty of sexual assault.
The time is up for us to sit idle and do nothing. The time is up for us to remain silent and hope it will not happen again. The time is now for us to stand up for survivors, educate the masses on sexual assault, and work diligently to make sure students can enjoy their college careers without carrying the pain of sexual assault.
(all names have been changed to protect the identity of the survivors)