Opinion | Op-eds

Finding wholeness after assault

Two weeks before I began college, I lost myself and I’m still trying to find all the pieces of the girl I once was. She disappeared between the seat cushions of a black leather couch on a late-summer night. She was scared and alone, with someone who was supposed to be a friend on top of a body that should have been hers.

Two years later, and I am only just beginning to use the word “rape” to describe the night I vanished. For only four letters, it’s such a frightening word. I had always known that what had happened to me had been wrong. I had said no. He had been my friend. But “assault” was so much easier to say.

But to be honest, nothing about what happened to me was easy. I remember going to my car at 4 a.m. the night it happened and sobbing before the short drive home. I remember crying any moment I had alone during NSOP. I remember the days of sophomore year—15 months after the incident—blurring together, barely having the motivation to get out of bed on Fridays. Even now, I have trouble getting through the days. But I’m sick of pretending that there is something to be ashamed of. Even if you don’t know who I am, you should all know there is nothing that happened to me that I shouldn’t be afraid to shout from the mountaintops. I am strong, and this was not my fault.

Assault often comes down to numbers. Every two minutes, someone in the United States is assaulted. One in six American women is a survivor of completed or attempted rape. The numbers are scary. But numbers aren’t enough. Especially on this campus.

Today marks the first day of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. To mark the start of the month and raise awareness, Alpha Chi Omega will have a weeklong series of events, including a panel happening tonight that has representatives from GlobeMed, Men’s Peer Education, and the Rape Crisis Center. People often forget that sexual violence is a part of the complicated issue that is domestic violence. As a campus, we like to think of ourselves as well-informed. But we aren’t. Sure, we think we are. Most of us can cite the above statistics easily. We know rape is wrong. We’re supposed to know what consent is.

But rape jokes are still painfully common on this campus. And if you talk back about them, you’re told to lighten up. It’s just a joke, after all. Because we all know how bad rape is in reality. I mean, just look—we can all recite those statistics.

We hide behind these numbers. They don’t tell the whole story. They don’t describe the girl who, deep down, didn’t quite trust a male friend, and so she made sure her best friend was safely asleep and away from him before leaving a party. Only for her to get raped by the friend herself, in a dark basement on a sticky leather couch. They don’t tell about the pain, sorrow, and humiliation that come with losing complete control over your body.

I am not ashamed of what happened to me. It was not my fault. And I am also not alone. Although it might not be obvious while sitting on the steps on a beautiful, sunny afternoon, there are many of us on this campus who have been assaulted.

One could be sitting next to you in CC. She could be the face you vaguely recognize every Tuesday and Thursday when you hurry to class in IAB. He could be that familiar figure you see at the Diana, Butler, or NoCo. The point is this—you don’t know. And chances are, someone you love knows exactly what I’m talking about: The pain. The hurt. The need to hide it. And the slow recovery process.

Everyone deals with their own pain. But I want to make you aware of how common this type of pain is. I want other men and women on this campus to know that I am with them, and I know what they’re going through. I know how hard it is to piece yourself slowly back together.

And I’m here to say to everyone else, you never know what a little bit of kindness can do—the light it can cast on a dark day or the hope it can bring to a desperate moment. And maybe, just maybe, you can help a girl like me find lost parts of herself. And to help her become whole again.

The author has been granted anonymity due to the sensitive and personal nature of this piece.

To respond to this, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com

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