I Didn't Know I Was Sexually Assaulted

TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains graphic descriptions and information regarding sexual assault and violence which may be triggering to survivors.

I was a freshman in high school, only 14, and I didn’t know much about sexual assault or trauma...except that I thought it would never happen to me.

No one had ever talked to me about sexual violence, or even about the idea of consent. Not sex ed, not my mom, not my doctor, not my friends or teachers. I knew about rape; I knew it as a scary, violent, and horribly wrong thing that happened to kidnapped women on the news and troubled girls in the movies.

I never thought about sexual harassment, the different facets of sexual assault, or that it was happening to me and people I knew.

I was 14. I attended a boarding school at the time and it was the last night before Thanksgiving break. I hadn’t even had my first kiss yet. We went on a walk. He was a year older than me. He kissed me, I knew he would. But it wasn’t like I thought it would be. It was aggressive; I felt nervous and uncomfortable. I figured, “This is what’s supposed to happen, right? This is what it’s supposed to feel like. This is okay, this is normal.” My friends had been shaming me for being the last one in our group to have never kissed a boy; I felt like I needed to earn my cool girl card with a kiss to end the mockery of being the “innocent” one of my peer group. I remember spraying on my Bath and Body Works fragrance and brushing my teeth minutes before leaving, wishing I could back out. I had a wrong feeling about it, but my friends wanted me to go, and it was just a kiss, right?

It wasn’t long until the overly aggressive, (and I must say, sloppy,) kissing led to him putting his hand down my leggings. I asked him to stop. “Can you not do that, please?” A few minutes went by and there was his hand again, exactly where I didn’t want it to be. “Ryan*, stop.” A hot flush of fight or flight ran through my body— I knew something wasn’t right. I was scared. He kept persisting. Soon my protests of “no,” “stop,” “please, Ryan,” were of no prevail, like a lost voice screaming underwater. It was painful. I tried to push away to make it stop, but all he did was place my hands over his pants. He kept hold of my hand and forced it up and down. I didn’t know what to do. All I knew was that I wished it would stop, but the biases of my friends convinced me it was okay. So I stayed. I felt stuck, as if the situation was completely out of my control. Finally, it ended, and we walked some more. Then it happened again— but worse, more painful, more aggressive, and further away from a place to run. And we walked. And it happened again, and I was trapped.

Afterwards, I walked back into my building to meet my friends, all three of them eagerly waiting to hear about my amazing experience. Numb and emotionless, I told them that we made out and that he fingered me. They squealed with excitement and hugged me to say they were proud. Apparently what had happened was a good thing. Why wouldn’t it be? My loss of innocence was a victory; I was a cool girl now.

Except I didn't feel cool. I felt sick. I felt shaky. I felt anxious. I stopped being able to hold my bowls of food in the dining hall, or bring the fork in my hand to my mouth to eat because my hands were shaking so hard. Eventually, I stopped going to the dining hall altogether. My social anxiety crippled me; I couldn’t risk running into him. I walked briskly from place to place the rest of my freshman year; I was in constant fear of seeing him somewhere on campus. I never felt safe. It was a small school, and seeing him became unavoidable second semester when we had a class together. Each encounter was met with a taunting touch of my hair, shoulder, or leg, as if to say “I won.”

I learned later that even these small, unwanted gestures qualified as sexual harassment, but at the time I thought all of this was just part of growing up and having boys think I was pretty.

I felt like I shook for an entire year. As a girl who always greets my friends with hugs, my trauma made me hate to be touched. I jumped or flinched every time a person came near me, once to the point that I physically couldn’t withstand a hug from my own mother. My body shook from deep inside me— as if to rid the things that were hurting me— except I never stopped to think that he was why. I thought that I was the problem. I genuinely believed that it was something I did to myself and that something was wrong with me.

It wasn’t until the end of that same year that I finally realized it wasn’t my fault, that what had happened to me was sexual assault, and that what happened to me was wrong.

I was sitting in the dining hall with a friend who was a junior. Ryan walked past our table and seeing that I was clearly upset, she asked what happened between us. I told her the same thing I had told my friends.

She asked me what no one had ever asked me before: “Did you want that to happen?” I said no. She looked at me and said, “He sexually assaulted you.”

In that moment, all of my feelings suddenly made sense. I finally had an explanation for all of the crippling emotions I had experienced since that cold night in November. But for six months of my life— that felt like an eternity— no one told me. My friends had applauded my experience, and I didn’t know anything about sexual assault. For six months I didn’t even know that it happened to me.

I never thought that I would be someone to come out and say “Me, too.” I thought about sharing my story anonymously, I thought about not sharing it at all, but the reason I didn’t know I was sexually assaulted and couldn’t seek support was because I didn’t know that it happened to me. I had to cope with my trauma without knowing the word to describe it. The lack of education around sexual violence is extremely harmful, and that’s why I’m saying, "Me, too." I’m not a woman who was kidnapped, I’m not a troubled character in a TV show or movie, I’m like you. I’m like your best friend, your sister, your mom, your classmate. My life didn’t need to be traumatic for trauma to happen to me.

Not everyone who shares their stories of sexual assault goes into as much detail as I did, but I chose to share the specifics of my experience because I think exactly what happened to me is extremely common. I think a lot of people do this with their partners thinking it’s okay, sharing their victorious adventures with their friends and high-fiving over the number of fingers they forced into their partner's vagina. A lot of people have it happen to them without wanting it, thinking that’s okay, too. Because he’s a f*ck boy, right? Because he’s in a frat? Because he’s been with a lot of girls? Because it happens to everybody?

No. I wanted to think it was okay. Everyone around me told me that it was okay. It wasn’t.

1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience sexual victimization before the age of 18. It’s time to talk about it.

*Names have not been changed.

If you or anyone you know have experienced sexual assault or rape, please call the Rape Recovery Center 24 Hour Crisis Line for support, or any questions you may have about sexual violence.

24-Hour Crisis Line: 801-467-7273

If seeking counseling support as a survivor of sexual assault or rape, please call the Rape Recovery Center or the Women’s Resource Center.

Rape Recovery Center: 801-467-7282

Women’s Resource Center: 801-581-8030

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