Everyone loves the Oscars. Tanner and I made a night out of it, got our snacks ready and sat down on the couch as the actors were making their entrances and being interviewed on the Red Carpet. When Lady GaGa approached one of the entertainment reporters, she spoke about her performance that would be happening later in the night. She continued on about her song “Til It Happens to You” and the sobering statistic that 1 in 5 women will be sexually abused/assaulted by the time they graduate college, 1 in 20 for men. Tanner was surprised by these numbers. Sadly, I was not. I am a part of that statistic.
As I am writing this, my heart is beating fast, hard against my chest, almost irregularly. I’ve only shared my story with but a few, not even my family knows. But when I saw GaGa fill the whole room with emotion as she sang with conviction and urgency, as I saw survivors of sexual assault bravely stand up there showing the world that what happened to them does matter, tears streamed down my face. Finally the message of “Do not tell me to act strong, do not tell me it will get better, do not pacify me. Until it happens to you, do not tell me how to feel or how to cope. And most importantly, do not try to make me feel insignificant. I am not invisible.” All things I thought I had to do. I have always had a fear of being a burden to people, of being too much.
The movie The Hunting Ground features stories of sexual assault in college, but I think high school can be just as dangerous. I was raped just shy of my 17th birthday. My high school years were very hard for me, I had a lot of problems at home; and the way I tried to be normal and forget about my life was to party with my friends. Even though drinking seemed to make my problems go away temporarily, it was never the solution. One night I was at a party with some friends and they ended up leaving without me. They shouldn’t have seemed worried, they left me with a group of guys we were all friends with. I remember going with them to one of the guys’ parents’ house, we had hung out in his basement with friends several times before, so it seemed perfectly normal.
I’m not going to go into detail, but I remember it getting late and I needed to be home for my curfew. I remember one guy holding me down while another got on top of me. I remember them driving me home and my parents were gone, driving around town looking for me. When my parents got home, my dad said he found me in my room on the floor in my underwear, mumbling to him I wasn’t innocent anymore. I was a virgin.
The next morning was confusing. I found my jeans with blood spots all the way down a pant leg, and I was bruised black and sore. I called one of the guys, he denied anything happened. The other guy I couldn’t even face, I was very close to him and was afraid to confront him with the truth. I never opened up to my parents about what happened, I was afraid of what they would think of me— or worse, that they wouldn’t care at all. My family was really good at sweeping issues under the rug.
I convinced myself I must have deserved it. That this bad thing happened to me because of something I had done. That I wasn’t worth being loved. That I wasn’t worth having sex for the first time with someone who cared about me. All the hurt and the anger I had towards the boys that assaulted me, I took out on myself. I destroyed myself with harmful words and internalized all my emotions. I became depressed, anxious, and self loathing. I contemplated hurting myself several times. I learned to bury everything so I could try and move on.
It has been a long road to healing for me. There’s still a long way to go. I didn’t watch The Hunting Ground, I don’t know the exact goal they had in mind creating the documentary. I do know the song embodies someone being told “hold your head up, pull it together, you’ll be fine” with the reply of “what the hell do you know, how could you know until it happens to you.” I felt this way, which is why I stayed silent. Now, which is exactly why I am writing this. If one of the causes behind this song was to give girls and women the courage to have a voice, they’ve succeeded. Sharing my story sheds a little more light in a very dark part inside of me. I am not chained to this experience, it doesn’t have to control my life. I am unafraid of the feedback anymore. This happened to me and it matters. I matter. And I am worthy of love. The Lady GaGa performance gave me the courage to speak about my story, a story that’s been trapped inside me for over 12 years. I hope that sharing my experience will help girls and women know that they are not alone. And that you have to voice things in order for things to change. And always always always: You matter.