#ME TOO: My Experience with Sexual Assault
It doesn’t just happen in Hollywood. It doesn’t just happen to actresses. It affects women everywhere. Every age.
I was 17 and a freshman in college.
That day was no different than any other day as we left our psychology class. Students napped on the grass in the commons as a group of us walked across campus together, most likely talking about anything but psychology. One by one students dropped away from our group as they went to their next class until only one other student and I continued on together. What was about to happen was not even on my radar. As we passed between two buildings in a narrow passage, he grabbed me and pinned me up against the brick wall of one of the buildings. The world went black around me as he slobbered all over my face and pressed up against me. I didn’t really think, I just reacted. Somehow I was able to elbow him – hard – in the chest and he backed a way for a second as he sucked in air. I ran. I ran to the women’s locker room (which was nearby). As I crouched down behind some lockers, I realized there was no one in the locker room with me; not even the towel lady. I felt panic. I almost hyperventilated. I was sure he would follow me in there. He didn’t. I suppose he didn’t know there was no one else in the locker room with me. As far as he knew, he couldn’t very well enter a locker room full of women to come after me.
I missed my next class.
When I thought it was safe for me to leave the locker room, I found a guy friend, had him walk me to my car and went home.
Though I felt great anxiety, I came back to classes the next day. I was so afraid that I would have to face him again. He was in my psychology class! I decided to go to my psychology professor before class and tell him what happened. He didn’t tell me to report it. He didn’t ask me if I was OK. He just told me it must have been a misunderstanding. How come it didn’t feel like just a misunderstanding to me? The only thing my professor offered was permission to come to class late and leave early so I wouldn’t have to run into that other student again.
I was afraid to walk alone on campus. I’d miss classes if I didn’t have someone to walk with. I was afraid to go to the parking lot alone. I had guy friends escort me to and from my car every day. I was afraid to change for my gym classes in the locker room. I nervously looked for him in crowds of students, always looking over my shoulder. Something that previously was not on my radar was now all I could think about.
I transferred to another college the following year. I moved on.
Until one night at work.
I worked part time at a women’s clothing store in a strip mall across the road from campus. One evening as I straightened clothing racks, a young man came in the back entrance. He walked up to me and asked what time it was. It was 10 minutes after 8 p.m. The time is burned into my memory. As I looked down at my watch, the young man opened his pants, grabbed me by both arms, and started dragging me out of the store. I was so scared that I couldn’t scream – which made me feel even more panicked. My voice came out in strange, wavy utterances as I tried to call my manager’s name. She saw what was happening and cried out. Startled, my attacker lost his grip enough for me to break free and crawl under one of the clothing racks. He ran out the back door as my manager called the police. The police took my report. I don’t know if they ever caught my attacker. I never heard anything more about it.
I had a hard time going to work after that. I couldn’t help male customers anymore (usually men shopping for their wives or girlfriends). I felt panicked every time a man walked into the store. In fact, I felt panicked around any men I didn’t know, not just in the store. I had panic attacks every time I had to walk to or from my car – at work, at school, at home…anywhere. I was afraid to be alone, ever, but especially at night – which seemed strange since both times I had been assaulted it was broad daylight. I dropped all my night classes. I slept with mace under my pillow. I had nightmares – for twenty years. Even after I was married, I had to sleep on my neighbor’s couch every time my husband went out of town. Looking back, I’m sure I had PTSD before we called it PTSD. Not knowing that trauma could affect anyone that way, I suffered without help and without understanding from those around me.
Years later, I was thriving in most aspects of my life except the feeling of personal safety. I still never felt safe. I was always afraid to be alone. For a very…long…time. Healing came slowly for me over many years and with lots of prayer. The nightmares finally ceased after a group of women prayer warriors laid hands on me and prayed over me. I’ve never had one of those nightmares since. I can’t explain it. I’d prayed many times before. This was the time God healed me. All I can say is don’t give up praying. There is hope for healing.
I’m in a much better place now. God has brought healing where I never thought I would be healed. I’m actually good with being alone. (And I don’t sleep on my neighbor’s couch any more.)
For those of you who are not in that better place, who are struggling, don’t give up hope. God can get you to that better place.
For those of you who know someone who is struggling with the trauma of sexual assault, be compassionate and have patience. Don’t tell them they should be healed “by now” or that they shouldn’t be feeling what they feel. People may react differently than you expect to trauma and everyone heals at different rates.
Recognize that sexual assault is not just rape. Sexual assault also includes any form of sexual violence, attempted rape, unwanted sexual advances, groping, unwanted fondling or sexual touching, incest, indecent exposure, sexual harassment, etc. Most people around me thought that what happened to me was not a big deal because, “Thank goodness you were not raped.” No, but I was sexually assaulted; and I was traumatized. Learn about the effects of sexual assault and how you can help.
For those of you who are facing (or will face) the trauma of sexual assault, here’s what I would do differently if I knew then what I know now:
Report – Don’t let anyone convince you that it was “just a misunderstanding”. Don’t be intimidated. If there’s any question, report.
Ask for help – There is so much help out there now. Sexual assault hotlines. Counseling. Therapies. Support groups. Medications. I often wonder if my healing would have come sooner if I had recognized what was happening in the aftermath and sought help. Get help.
Know that it’s not just you – I thought for many years that the fear and anxiety I felt was just me. I thought (in fact I was told) that other women with my experiences would have “gotten over it by now”, or never would have reacted the way I did in the first place. It’s not just you. You’re not crazy, and you’re not alone.
There is hope for healing from sexual trauma. God provides both human avenues (counseling, meds, therapies, etc.) and supernatural avenues (prayer and the Holy Spirit) for your healing. Cling to that hope.