I attended my first ever rally demonstration yesterday. I was getting really excited earlier when I realized it was my first, and it also happened to be a feminist rally against sexual violence, particularly against victim-blaming, called SlutWalk.
SlutWalk came to be when a police officer made a statement that a woman who had been sexually assaulted could have prevented her situation if she “hadn’t dressed like a slut” in the first place. This sparked a lot of anger in some people’s hearts, as it should for all of us but we will get there in a minute, and thus came about SlutWalk.
I was there at the Capitol Building steps in sunny Austin, TX, alongside one of my favorite people on the planet, my best friend Gina. We were thinking about all of the people we knew in common who we wished could have joined us – former college peers, one of our professors, and several of our friends outside of the small, liberal arts college we attended – and I believe that we carried those absent people with us on our march.
Before taking off, there were several speakers from different walks of life, including a very loud gentleman that made me think of my good friend Rob, and some of them really spoke to me in light of my experience with sexual violence. They shared facts, statistics, and personal experiences, most of which were incredibly heartbreaking like the fact that 2 women are sexually assaulted/raped every day in Texas (maybe she even said Austin more specifically) and the sexual assault victims in Austin have ranged from 6 months old (SIX MONTHS.) to 80 years old. Also, it was stated that about 95% of sexual violence victims have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I seriously do not doubt that.
When Dr. Kyle spoke about how victims often feel embarrassed, ashamed, and depressed after an attack, that’s the part that made my heart rip in half. I stood there in a crowd of amazingly strong, wonderful men and women, and felt that most of us there had experienced the things she spoke about and had the same reactions afterward. Dr. Kyle and the other speakers encouraged victims to speak about their experiences and I felt ready.
When I was 17, I was sexually assaulted by a former friend. He wasn’t someone I knew very well or spent a lot of time with, but he was close enough for me to feel comfortable inviting him to my hotel room where I was staying alone.
“Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes, no means no!” was the first chant of the rally yesterday. I couldn’t join in the chant. I couldn’t even speak. My eyes welled up with tears, I covered my mouth, and I began to cry as I recalled that it was what I was wearing that changed the mood of that night.
I had bought a dress that I adored at the mall earlier that day. I was pretty well known for wearing low cut halter dresses, and this was by far the most revealing garment I’d ever purchased. He wanted to see it on me, so I changed in the bathroom and then came out to reveal my new favorite dress. His face, his composure, the air in the room changed dramatically when I came out. Knowing this, I decided to change back into my pajamas where I was more comfortable and then, hang out with my friend without him looking at me in such a manner that was foreign to our seemingly platonic relationship.
“When women’s bodies are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” was the first chant I recall truly participating in, trying to muster up some strength for my teenage self.
He wanted to make out with me, so I figured, why not? I don’t go any further than that. Plus, he had a curfew he wasn’t supposed to break. I turned on the tv to hopefully distract him a little bit, but he was forceful and I felt his hand going down my pants.
“I really don’t want to do this,” I said to him, pleading for him to stop.
“It won’t hurt. You’ll like it!” he replied, as he began to thrust his hand into me. I've never heard anyone more wrong in my entire life, and it was unfolding right before my eyes, inside my very own body.
His face – I remember it so vividly I could paint it – was so cold and unfamiliar. I literally felt like I was with a total stranger. I felt alone and violated. I tried to say no a few more times but it was as if he couldn’t hear me. I felt so numb and out of place that I didn’t know what to do. I was just barely 17. The most I’d done was get topless for some guy. Was this the way it was supposed to happen? It didn’t feel right.
Finally, it was as if he snapped back into reality and realized what he was doing. He stopped abruptly and went to the bathroom to wash his hands. While he was away, I hugged my knees on the hotel bed and just cried. He ran back into the room in a panic, saying, “Oh, God! I’m sorry! I don’t… I… I’m sorry! I have to go!” and ran out.
Shocked and confused by what had transpired, I froze for as long as I can remember. When I finally collected myself, I phoned my closest guy friend and tearfully told him what went down. His response: I shouldn’t have been alone with the guy like that. What did I expect?
“My little black dress does not mean yes!” read a sign at the rally. The rally was an attempt to end slut-shaming and victim-blaming. I wouldn’t identify my 17-year-old self as a slut, but a victim, yes, and in no way were his actions against me my fault.
I called my best girl friend after the first phone call, feeling more alone than ever. She offered me sympathy and her voice was what enabled me to sleep a little that night.
It has taken me over 8 years to speak about this incident, and part of me believes some of that is the shame that I felt when I was told I was to blame. The dress I wore did turn him on. I will agree to that, but I can confidently say that I am in no way to blame for his actions that violated my body after I said no.
When the rally was approaching the capitol steps, our chant was waning, but at some moment, I felt empowered enough to take the lead on the last chant. With all of my breath and vocal strength, I yelled, “Whatever we wear, wherever we go-“ and was followed by, “Yes means yes, no means no!”
I’ve never felt more powerful in my entire life.
I have forgiven my assailant. I honestly hope that was the only time he had ever done that, realizing it was a huge mistake. Everyone makes bad choices and I am a firm believer that each person is worthy of forgiveness. I wish him the best on his journey.
As for mine, I will continue to educate others about victim-blaming and how to fight back when he/she may be in a similar situation. I will share my story as often as I need to, and I will listen to anyone who needs to talk.
Silence is not the answer. Share your story – when you are ready.
Thank you for reading.