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

I didn’t realize I had been sexually assaulted more times than I have fingers to count on until I read Natalie Portman’s response to the #MeToo movement.

“I went from thinking I don’t have a story to thinking, oh wait, I have 100 stories,” Portman said. “And I think a lot of people are having these reckonings with themselves.”

After digesting Natalie Portman’s recollection of the sexual assault throughout her life, it made me start to reflect on my own nights when I went out throughout my college career. I started to tally how many random men at the bar thought they could make a sexual advance without an invitation or consent. The more I thought about it, countless memories resurfaced; but in the I realized in those moments I brushed the encounters off because that’s what our society conditions women to do. They say, “It’s just a man being a man,” and to, “Suck it up buttercup.”  As I got to thinking about these moments at bars with men my own age, a haunting memory resurfaced that sent a chill down my spine and punched me right in the gut. That memory was the time a 60-year-old man sexually assaulted me.

During the summer of 2017, I worked on a promotions team for a highly respected business in Milwaukee. All summer the other women and I on the team would brush off, and most of the time laugh, at the inappropriate comments and passes we would receive from men while we were working. I never thought anything of them because it happened all the time. At this point in my life it was considered normal. But that submissive mindset quickly did a 180 after an event I worked at in late August.

The summer sun was setting and the lakefront venue made working this busy end-of-the-summer event exciting. One of the reasons why I loved working on this promotions team was because of all the networking that came along with it. I came from a small town where everyone knows everyone and that’s why I enjoyed the refreshing feeling of meeting new people at every promotion. As that night carried on we met and talked with hundreds of people that passed in and out of our promo tent. At the begining when our tent was packed with people, the energy was airy and bright. Then the band started playing, the tent cleared and my coworker and I were left alone. That’s when the predator made his move. 

From the moment I made eye contact, the short, heavy-set man with an untamed white beard and leather vest, made all the muscles in my body tense up.  Apparently, he saw me from afar and felt the need to come over and tell me I reminded him of his granddaughter because I was, “Just that pretty.”  After being under our tent for less than three minutes, the cigarette breath he was exhaling on me made me nauseous and when he inched closer and closer to me it sent a wave of panic through my body.  

As a then shy 23-year-old woman who had been taught her whole life to respect her elders and was currently working in a professional setting, I didn’t know how to change or exit the conversation. He was blatantly ignoring my uncomfortable body language and the lack of conversation I was making back. As the situation escalated there was never any sort of invitation on my end for this man to talk to me with such repulsive words or attempt to touch me the way he did. 

Now we are five minutes into him penetrating my personal bubble and making my stomach roar with uneasiness when he started to tell me about his own promotions experience, “back in the day.” At this point my eyes are darting around the venue. I am trying to make eye contact with literally anyone in hopes they will see the desperation on my face and hear my silent cry for help that my body language is screaming. But before I knew it, this random 60-year-old man I had known for five minutes began sexually assaulting before I even had a second to grasp what was going on. 

The assault started verbally with him reminiscing about the days he was a parking attendant for a private parking company. Becaus vulgarly describing the sexual things he saw people doing in the parking lots wasn’t enough for him he also had to act them out. I didn’t even have time to take a breath between his crude gestures before he moved closer to me so he could grab my hips to use as prop while he acted out the sexual scene he was describing. Everything else about that night is crystal clear but the few seconds after he reached out and grabbed my hips is out of focus. After that, he slipped back into the crowd that started to regather around our tent during the band intermission and I never saw him again.  

I knew that what had just happened to me was far from being okay. I knew that I didn’t want that to happen and in no way invited that man to tell me those stories, hit on me or grab me. But because it was nowhere out of the ordinary compared to what I deal with when I go out with my friends, I didn’t know what to do or think. Like every other time, although it took me longer this time, I brushed it off and carried on. 

This is not the first time I had been sexually assaulted. Before coming to UW-Milwaukee, I attended another UW college starting in 2012 for a brief year and half. One night, in the fall of 2013 when I was 19 years old, I used my fake i.d and with my older friend to the bars. At the end of the night I stumbled home with some of the older guys from our friend group and the only and next thing I remember is waking up in my dorm wrapped in a black and red blanket that wasn’t mine.

I didn’t think much of things until I felt my hair and tangled in it were a bunch of burs. Then I looked at the mystery blanket I was wrapped in and there were a bunch of burs on that too. I thought that I must have somehow found this random blanket on my way home, picked it up and veered off into the wooded park that was near my dorm. I didn’t understand why I went that way because it was out of the way from my normal walk home and I would have never walked there or home alone. Once I stood up to go to the bathroom, my lower body felt like it was hit by a train. I looked down at my thighs and saw they were covered in blood. After I washed away some of the blood, I saw the inside of my thighs and hips were starting to bruise.

It’s incredible what the human brain is capable of when we are in panic mode. Thanks to the many episodes of Law and Order SVU I have seen, my inner Olivia Benson kicked in and I knew what to do. After I realized what had happened to me that night, I went to the on-campus clinic alone and an examination revealed that my injuries were consistent with rape. 

When the doctors asked me if I knew who had raped me, my world changed. I realized I had no clue who had raped me. The only thing I remember from the end of the night was walking to a house with a group of my guy friends after bar close. Could one of them have done it? Could it have been a complete stranger who saw me stumbling home alone? I had no idea who raped me and I will never know.

1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime; among undergraduate students, 23.1 percent of females experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation and females ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).

Shortly after my assault, I moved back home with my parents, distanced myself from all my friends and left the university. Only a few close friends who stuck by me through the difficult times knew about it when it happened to me five years ago; but, to the speculating outside world it looked like I had taken partying too far and flunked out of school. To an extent, they’re not wrong. I did start drinking heavily and stopped caring about class but not because I was an irresponsible, young college girl. I stopped going to class because I had no idea who had raped me and was scared that I was unknowingly going to be sitting next to him in class. And even though I had nothing to remember, I drank to that I was a victim. The night terrors started immediately after my rape and lasted for months. Night after night I would wake up screaming in a hot sweat. I wasn’t able to explain the cause of my PTSD to my parents because of my little secret but the night terrors got so bad they suggested I do a sleep study to “figure out the cause” of my sleep issues.

My parents just found out about my rape within the last week after I finally felt that I could talk to my family about it. I got asked why I didn’t tell them about it when it happened and the answer is so simple. I knew that if I did say anything right after it happened, it would have been my fault. My fault I drank too much because I was underage. My fault I wore provocative clothes out to the bar that night. My fault I can’t remember my assault. My fault I was raped. After years of believing it was my fault, now I know it’s not. Yes, I did drink to much and I did wear an outfit to the bar that made me feel good about myself, but that does not give any man the right to rape me after I blacked out and could clearly not give consent

After the #MeToo movement started in October, I did some of my own research because the stories I kept reading sounded so similar to my own. An uninvited butt grab. An unasked for, aggressive pass at the bar. An old man acting out some sexual move. A rape you can’t remember because you drank too much. What I found was that the term, sexual assault, is just an umbrella term that covers many sexual activities. By definition, sexual assault is any type of sexual conduct or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient, according to the United States Justice Department.

In these stories and recalling my own personal experiences, I found a strength to share what happened to me five years ago at school, five months ago at work and everything in-between. It’s a story with themes so personal and taboo, but at the same time so universal and relevant to the other college women who have survived through stories like mine. College women keep reading stories of the powerful actresses taking down their predators, but even with these inspiring stories of confrontation, it’s hard for them to feel they can speak up and share their story if they don’t come from the position of power that fame gives a women. 

Not everyone will agree with my decision to share my story, just like they don’t agree with the #MeToo movement, but if we don’t talk about it, how can we expect it to stop? The only way to end sexual assault is to not commit sexual assault and the end starts by advocating for, believing in and educating people around us.

Meet Lauren Nelson: A woman with a humanitarian heart from a small town chasing after her concrete jungle ambitions.