In light of the recent rape accusations made against Bill Cosby by more than 15 women, sexual assault is more prevalent in the media than ever before. Or, maybe, it's that women are finally finding the support and courage to speak up.
Because of all the women standing up to face their demons, I have also been reflecting on a night that still lingers in my life, which I may never forget.
I was always more of a sheltered girl. I was still a virgin and only kissed two boys by the time I was 18. I was a Christian family girl.
There was a boy who I thought was cute, who invited me to my first real college party and offered to give me a ride. When the invitation to be “rebellious” was presented, it was intimidating, but also incredibly enticing. Plus, I was just excited to be with this cute guy at a mature party.
I had known this boy for years, and if you had asked me if I trusted him with my life, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say yes.
There was, of course, alcohol at the party, and since I was a bit nervous not knowing anyone but him, I drank a lot -- way too much. I didn’t know much about alcohol at the time, and I take full responsibility for how intoxicated I got.
But, I know I did not deserve what came next in my “night of rebellion.”
All I remember is waking up the next morning, my clothes strewn on the floor, the boy sleeping beside me and a condom wrapper ripped open on the bedside table.
I knew then what had happened.
He dropped me off next to a couple garbage cans two streets down from my house. I got home after walking through my suburban neighborhood in my party dress from the previous night, and I raced up the stairs to my room.
I stared into the mirror and sobbed.
The weeks that followed were hell; I kept going over the night in my head. There were times when I would be so angry with the boy that I had to focus on my breathing just to keep from screaming in frustration.
How could someone do that to me?
I felt like he had taken something away from me that I had not explicitly given him the permission to take.
There were times when I would be indifferent about that night; whatever happened, happened for a reason. I would talk about my “first time” as something that was fun and spontaneous to my friends, even though I knew it was anything but.
I thought, 'I shouldn’t let it affect me as a person; I am stronger than that.' But, the majority of the time, I blamed myself.
I knew I shouldn’t have drank as much as I did; I knew I shouldn’t have succumbed to the peer pressure of a cute boy, and I knew I was now part of some college statistic about “dumb girls” who I had always thought were just “asking for it.”
These thoughts led me to hate myself.
The pain of that night had me lying on the carpet in my room, crying in a fetal position, thinking I would never trust anyone or anything again. I would pull at the carpet until it was bare, trying to grasp at anything that would take me out of the dark place in which I felt I had put myself.
I would go out often to drink; I felt I was invincible. 'Nothing much worse can happen to me anyway,' I thought.
I would drive my car home from school, my knuckles white, tears streaming down my face, wondering if anyone would care if I drove into a tree. I felt like a worthless shell of a girl, such a difference from the happy-go-lucky girl most people knew.
It seemed like common sense to tell someone, but I was so ashamed in myself and afraid of being judged for my decisions. I kept that night a secret until, one day, someone told me the denotation of sexual assault at a conference about college safety.
Any involuntary sexual act in which a person is threatened, coerced, forced to engage against his or her will, or any non-consensual sexual touching of a person is considered to be sexual assault.
I identified with that definition immediately. It was almost like I had been avoiding giving a name to what happened to me.
Only when someone looked me in the eye and said, “I’m sorry that happened to you, you didn’t deserve it,” was I able to begin to accept that I was sexually assaulted.
I slowly but surely began to understand I was not alone, and in retrospect, quite lucky nothing worse happened that night.
Being sexually assaulted, or raped, is never deserved. I don’t care if you are wearing the skimpiest skirt or the lowest cut top, or in my case, ridiculously drunk; no girl is ever asking to be sexually assaulted.
If there is no explicit, verbal consent, if there is no thumbs up from both people involved, it is not consensual sex. It is something else entirely, something dirty and disgusting.
I learned that only I can control how I feel, and I can either choose to feel like a victim or choose to learn from my experience. Eventually, I chose the latter.
Through relying on people I know will accept me no matter what life brings, and meeting new people who are reassuring me that it is safe to trust, I know that soon enough, that night will haunt me less and less, until it dissipates into what it should be: nothingness.