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Her Story, Her Voice: “I didn’t feel like I belonged to myself for a really long time”

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Buffalo chapter.

tiffany Liang

Content Warning: This article contains mention of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Perhaps a difficult one, but a conversation that needs to be had. According to The National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women in the United States have experienced sexual assault. Despite the outrageously high number of cases in the United States, sexual harassment and sexual assault victims’ experiences remain mere experiences, and they are often left isolated and ignored. Our society decides to teach girls to be cautious, rather than teaching boys to divert from violence. 

Not all men are going around raping women left and right. That would be crazy. But I think it’s mitigating when it’s used in combat, with women sharing and coming out with these stories. The statement is one hundred percent true. I have no qualms against that, but it cannot be used in response. When a woman comes out and shares their story, she’s not talking about all men. She’s not calling all men rapists or harassers. She’s saying this happened with one person, this incident was one person’s fault. And to sort of generalize that, I think that, yeah, that’s mitigating. It’s the response. It’s not the statement itself. 

I see it more as an act, or a statement of deflection because like I said, especially when you have actions, like catcalling, or leaving a hand on the back for too long, or comments, these are things that unfortunately, a lot of guys do, whether they realize it or not. These are things that a lot of guys don’t want to label themselves as. Nobody wants to change how they act, especially when they think that it’s coming from a good place. “They’re just complimenting them.” 

I don’t think it’s out of ignorance. I don’t think that this is too difficult of a concept to wrap someone’s head around. I think it’s more out of a place of not wanting to take accountability of the things that they’ve done.

Tiffany Liang

I don’t think it’s out of ignorance. I don’t think that this is too difficult of a concept to wrap someone’s head around. I think it’s more out of a place of not wanting to take accountability of the things that they’ve done. 

I think that people need to start taking accountability. I think that’s the main thing. 

There’s far too many that lament on increasing the quality and expansion of sex education–chanting, “Boys will be boys,” and, “Not all men.” We place a weight on our girls telling them to do better, rather than telling our boys to be better. 

I have a question, but I already know the answer to my question. I already know what she will say, but I am not sure of how else to begin. I, inappropriately–yet simultaneously suitably–laugh, and she, inappropriately–yet simultaneously suitably–smiles. It was our awkward, uncomfortable laughs and smiles that finally brought her to say

Yes. About middle school, mainly from school, or at least people in school.

Post juice boxes and recess, pre driving permits and APs, merely about 12 or 13.  

And she pauses, 

I mean, at least for me, my first encounters with sexual harassment and such, they didn’t just come from random people on the street or whatever like that. 

And I think throughout middle school, you kind of just brush it off, you know? You have the whole boys will be boys mentality, so you kind of let things slide, or at least I let things slide for longer than I should’ve. 

I ask her how many times it’s happened, but she tells me it’s too many times to count–at least for the foremost part of the question, sexual harassment. And I already know the answer to the latter, she told me when we were sixteen. And as she pauses and hesitates, I am suddenly taken back to when she first told me, in that crusty auditorium bathroom in 2019. I don’t even remember exactly how she started or the exact words she had said. All I remember is the slight pause, hesitation, the silence, and the look on her face. 

I’d say, well, sexual assault? 

She pauses.

Um, once. It was my sophomore year of high school. 

Tiffany, as she begins telling me, she does not have the same look on her face, she is not wallowed in grief, no, she’s smiling. It is as if she’s reminiscing on an old friend or summery sweet lemonade. Perhaps, to some strange, maybe even odd, but to me, because I get it and I know, I find it suitably sane. 

It was after a tournament, they always have a party after a tournament. And I initially wasn’t gonna go, but I was like, “Sure, whatever.” And I actually knew the guy. I met him on multiple occasions, and I was glad to see that he was at the party. He was nice, he was charming, and being fresh out of a “fun little” toxic relationship, it was-it was nice, you know, it was fun. Eventually, I think he was like, “Oh, let’s go upstairs.” I knew that we were gonna hook up. I was fine with that. I didn’t think it was gonna go far, but it did. It was very, I guess, textbook. It’s kind of- it’s disheartening to use that word. 

Textbook, what you use to learn that thermodynamics is the study of energy and its transformation and python is not just a snake, but a language. Textbook, somehow a comprehensible way to explain our trauma. 

He left, and then I think right after I laid there, I was like, “Okay.” 

I went downstairs, I said goodbye to the host and told my friends I was gonna go home. And they were like, “Oh, okay. Are you okay?” I was like, “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just tired.” 

The next two weeks came and went like nothing happened. Nothing changed, really. 

“Nothing changed, really.” That sticks with me. Because when she later goes on to say that she was good at hiding, I realize she’s right, none of us really noticed. And though I hate to say it, and perhaps she hates it more, in many ways she is right. Nothing changed, really. 

Two weeks after the fact, his whole team showed up at my studio. His coach and my coach were familiar with each other, they wanted us to practice together. I didn’t know he was coming that day, so I was at practice warming up and when I saw them come in, I was like, “Oh, cool. Nice.” 

I remember him coming up to me, and saying, “Hey, it’s good to see you again.” And I was like, it’s not really great to see you, but hi. I was very, I don’t know, I kind of gave him that politeness. And as I was engaging–very face value conversation–he kind of pulled out a line like, “We don’t really need to talk about what happened, it wasn’t that big of a deal.” I was like, “Yeah,” and I wanted to walk away. I was trying to find excuses out of the conversation, but as I was turning away, he grabbed my wrists and was like, “Yeah, don’t worry about it.” 

I think the only thing that was going through my head at that point was just alarms. It was a scary situation, I was uncomfortable. I didn’t know what was gonna happen. I didn’t know if he was actually as polite as he was trying to come off. I just didn’t want the situation to escalate. I didn’t process my own emotions enough to actually be able to express them at that point, so I guess the only default was polite, 

Apologetic and apologizing, that’s what women are told to be. Dainty, quaint, and kind; smile and nod at the man, boy, and guy who touched you, assaulted you, raped you, for safety.

I remember breaking down in the bathroom after that. I was in there for a while. My coach came in to find me and they were like, “Dude, are you taking a massive dump or something?” 

I chuckle at her subtle use of childish humor. 

And I was crying, and obviously, I wasn’t taking a massive dump. I told him what happened because obviously I couldn’t really find a better excuse. 

He made sure I was okay. He asked if I wanted to report anything, and I was like, “No.” 

Then without any more questions, he stopped the entire practice, and kicked the whole team out. And then I think that’s when everything started to hit. 

And things changed, really.

It’s sad to think that… I’m part of a statistic. A lot of women have their rapes and assaults go unreported. I was one of them. And the reasons behind me not reporting, I didn’t want to bring everything up again. I don’t think that it would have been helpful for my own mental sake. But at the same time, it pains me to think that, yeah, he’s kind of just doing his own thing now. 

“For him, it was just a one night, and that was it. He can wipe his hands clean.”

Tiffany Liang

For him, it was just a one night, and that was it. He can wipe his hands clean. And I sort of gave him the liberty to do that by not reporting him. 

Tiffany Liang, she is 1 in 5, though I hate to describe her in such a way because she is more than just 1 in 5. She has an infectious laugh and has an odd, yet slightly endearing, affinity for cows. She is a rare breed of STEM that can intrinsically embroider words, but even saying that does not do her writing justice. Tiffany Liang, she is a young woman, she is a college student, she is an aspiring doctor, she is a writer, she is 1 in 5. 

And it seems, there is no escape for the system that was made, so we force ourselves to be better. We invest in pepper spray and mace because there is a chance that if we don’t, we may not make it through the day. 

You have cases, even when reporting, nothing really happens. You get stuck in a system that kind of throws you into illusions, like you’re chasing after a bone on a treadmill. They’re saying, “Yeah, don’t worry about it, we’ll get him,” and nothing happens. 

But I do not like to call it that, “the system”, because according to science a system is a defined part of the universe, the way when hydrogen and oxygen react it is known and formularized. Because maybe it seems there is no way out, but shouldn’t there be? 

The cards are already stacked against you. The American judicial system needs some more productivity and proactivity. Take a Red Bull or something. Things don’t move as fast as they should. And yeah, you hear these success stories, and it’s great, but they’re not as common as people would like. 

A “defined part,” it sounds solidified and obsolete, like the way things are supposed to be. 

I never saw him again after that, but pretty much, I don’t know. It was weird. It’s a weird feeling to sort of 

She pauses, and I watch her ponder for a while. 

It’s almost like an out of body experience. But derogatory, in a way that you don’t really realize that-it doesn’t feel like you fit where you are anymore, at least in your body. At least with everything else around you. I didn’t feel like I belonged to myself for a really long time. 

It was scary. I mean, if you glanced at it, I didn’t really pull away from anyone. I still talked to my friends and family, but I just wasn’t comfortable. And I think, to a sad extent, I was decently good at hiding that fact. 

Things just didn’t sit right anymore. You have this sort of crushing weight of like, shit, you know? Because… and… I don’t know. 

She begins to hesitate. 

I didn’t really realize this until at least a year after that when I was explaining what happened to my coach in the bathroom, not once did I use the word rape. 

That’s a scary word to say. It doesn’t feel right in your mouth. I still don’t say it, when I’m describing it, I don’t say it. It’s a sticky word. I don’t like saying it. I don’t like thinking of myself in that incident. It’s a lot easier to sort of sugarcoat it, you know? And it’s-it flows better in conversation.

And being able to sort of wrap your head around that, and put a label to it, and then use that label to classify it to other people, when you tell them, I think that’s one of the hardest things to do. 

For a really long time, nobody knew, not even my closest friends. My family still doesn’t know. I just told my sister earlier late last year–so that would be three years after. ‘Cause it’s just…I didn’t want- I didn’t want people to kind of see me the way I saw myself after that, you know? I was like, “You should have done better, you should have known better,” you know, “You could have gotten out of the situation and you didn’t have to go upstairs with him.” 

Because it’s always “Protect your daughter,” and never, “Educate your son.”

He wasn’t there for me to blame. I couldn’t point my finger in his face.

I kind of turned that onto myself in a very destructive way. And I think what would have crushed me even more is the other way that they would have reacted if I told people. They saw me as a victim, they would give me that like, oh-shit-look, you know? That look of pity and worry and guilt. That’s not really their guilt and that was the one thing I knew I couldn’t deal with. 

I think people having to look at me like that, I knew for a fact like that would just crush me. I think that’s the main reason why I haven’t told my parents. I know for a fact what their faces are gonna look like the second to hear it, and I don’t want them to have that thought that 

She pauses. 

I don’t want my blame to sort of translate to theirs, “We could have kept her inside that night,” “We should have done better,” “We could have kept her safe.” Because at the end of the day, it’s not anyone’s fault but his. Having that reassurance from your friends and family that you’re not permanently scarred by this, you’re not changed, you’re not dirty, you’re not inherently bad. And that wasn’t something that I could tell myself. It was only from other people that I was able to sort of find that reassurance. 

When you aren’t able to sort of release that anger towards someone, it’s very easy for that to sort of ricochet back to yourself.  

“And I think one thing I could have done, is done the hardest thing, get the hardest thing out of the way and talk to somebody about it.”

Tiffany Liang

I didn’t want anybody else to help me through it. I think it took almost a year for that to get better. I didn’t want anyone to know, too. This is my trauma. I have to deal with this myself. I have to handle this myself. I have to reason this out myself. And I think one thing I could have done, is done the hardest thing, get the hardest thing out of the way and talk to somebody about it. Tell somebody about it. My coach came up to me, he asked if I wanted to talk about it and I said, “No, nuh uh, shawty.” And I remember lying to him and being like, “Yeah, don’t worry about it, I’m talking to other people about it. It’s fine.” But I totally wasn’t. I totally wasn’t.

The main thing I struggled with was flashbacks. I wouldn’t sleep because I knew that I would wake up. I wouldn’t go back to sleep when I woke up. There’s this one night, it was really bad. It was like a horrible pause, play situation. I’d wake up and I spent 20 minutes clearing my head, and I’d be like, “I have school tomorrow, I should go to bed,” And then I would go to sleep and it would resume right when I woke up. And I ended up just not sleeping that night. And I think they got better,

I think it took almost a year for that to get better.

That’s about 0.012 percent of your life, and though small, that’s also 31,536,000 seconds (moments) of your life. Depends how you want to look at it. 

For a while I didn’t like being touched. There’s this one incident where I think it was during those two weeks where I wasn’t thinking much about it. And somebody hugged me, one of my friends, one of my really good friends, hugged me from the back, and I flinched. And I think the first thing that shot in my head was like, “Why would you do that?” 

And in that way, some things, they change, really.

I think it’s made me a bit more cautious of people. I think that’s natural when you go through something like that, especially because, well, he was someone who I knew. This wasn’t like a stranger that pulled me into an alleyway in the middle of New York City. I had to refine my, I guess, honing system of the people who I trusted, the people who I would go upstairs with. 

It made me more aware about how I hold myself. And it’s made me more aware about how other people are reacting with others. Say, we are in a party, you know, I’m very aware about how guys are approaching girls. They’ve been talking for a little bit. She’s in the corner. Is she okay? On multiple occasions, I’ve gone up and been like, “Hey, everything, okay?”, “Do you need anything?” And I think it’s reassuring to realize that not once has the girl been unappreciative of it, even if everything was going spectacular, it’s always met with a smile, “Yeah, I’m good! Thanks for asking.” I think that’s more reassuring than anything. 

It’s just like, people often watch out for each other.  

About Her:

Tiffany Liang is an alias used in order to protect the identity and privacy of the interviewee.

Dear “Tiffany,”

Thank you for sharing your story.

Love always,


Resources for Sexual Assault Victims:

National Sexual Assault Hotline 

Resources for Survivors | Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI)

Suha is currently studying at UB. She is majoring in Political Science, with a minor in Philosophy. Suha is an avid writer and a chicken nugget enthusiast! Her passions include art, reading, politics, writing, and the color purple. Suha hopes to be able to use Her Campus as a means of not only using her voice, but giving others a platform to share their stories as well.