Truth: since college, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy making smart decisions so that I can avoid being the 1 in 5 women raped during her lifetime. Theoretically, I have been successful except I didn’t consider the threat of sexual assault, which includes far more than rape.
As 2015 began, I was working on a community theatre musical and met a young, cute pianist who seemed too good to be true. He was well-educated, well-spoken and charming. We bonded over our mutual love of travel and musical theatre, and we talked for hours after rehearsal ended. When the show was over, we began to date.
Shortly thereafter, we shared a hotel in New York City one night after attending a concert together. Despite expressing my lack of sexual experience and making clear that I had no desire for “things” to escalate too far that evening, he continued to persist. A line was clearly crossed when he slid his hands underneath my panties, and I made sure he knew I was not okay with it. However, he continued and replied, “Just lay back and enjoy it.”
Logically, anyone who hasn’t been through this probably thinks I would never see him again. No woman should ever accept that behavior from a man, and I firmly agree. Nonetheless, feelings complicate everything, and this was a guy I’d already fallen for. He’s literally in the news speaking out AGAINST sexual assault. He certainly couldn’t have done this. I made myself believe that it was my fault and that I had somehow allowed him to touch me that night. We continued to date for a couple of months.
For a whole year thereafter, I beat myself up over my stupidity for allowing our relationship to escalate that night in New York. The depression and anxiety from that experience followed me around like a dark shadow. Eventually, I began to realize that I had done nothing wrong. I didn’t mislead him; he didn’t care about what I was saying or doing. I didn’t allow it; I felt threatened having a man nearly twice my body weight on top of me. Most importantly, I never consented.
Ultimately, I confronted him about the incident, and I reported it to the police. I learned a lot about the unsatisfying nature of the criminal justice system in incidents of sexual abuse, aggression and coercion. While I lost the girl I used to be, he can continue to live his life like nothing happened, and while he can have a meaningful relationship, dating for me is more unfulfilling than ever and mostly just serves as a painful reminder of the worst experience of my life.
As I’ve come forward and shared the story of my assault, I’ve realized that most people have no idea how to respond. I’d like you to know that you don’t need to respond, you just need to listen. I don’t need looks of pity, supportive expressions of how proud you are of me, or offers to help in any way you can. All I and many other survivors need are open ears. We need a captive audience to listen to our story so that our voice can be heard and others can realize how many people, especially women, are victims of sexual assault. We need to believe that someone might hear our story and that it will help them.