Breaking my silence

BY KT MUELLER | Guest Columnist | The Statesman 1 in 4 women, 1 in 20 men, and 1 in 3 LGBTQ students will be sexually assaulted.

I told my story as a joke the first time I said it out loud. I don’t think I wanted to know just how disgusting it made me feel. Maybe I wanted one of my friends to react, to tell me it wasn’t right before I could admit it to myself. But I also know that part of me just wanted them to laugh and brush it under the rug with me, to let me continue believing it was no big deal because the alternative was far too painful.

I wish there had been someone there to tell me that it was wrong, that it wasn’t my fault and that I wasn’t alone.

It took six months for me to even begin to admit to myself that anything had been wrong. And when I finally did accept it the path toward healing became much more difficult. I didn’t know where to start. Why did I feel the way I did? What exactly had happened to me?

I remember finally making the choice to visit the Women’s Resource and Action Center and meet with a PAVSA advocate.

I remember hiding in the bathroom beforehand for half an hour, crying. I was afraid I had “nothing to complain about.” I thought rape was all strangers and knives and brute force.

I remember the moment when the PAVSA advocate told me what I had experienced was “textbook rape.”

And I remember staring at the wall behind her not really feeling anything and unsure of how to react.

Everything I had known about rape up until that moment had come from skewed pop culture references, dark scenes in movies and uncomfortable jokes.

I remember the moment when the PAVSA advocate told me what I had experienced was "textbook rape."

I grew up in a town where sex education consisted of the teachers telling the females in the class how men constantly wanted sex. And while they told us to not believe them when they said they “needed” it, they never bothered to tell the males in the class that it was not okay, under any circumstances, to pressure someone else into having sex with them.

No one ever covered the topic of “consent.” The word rape was never mentioned. And this is where the problem begins. How can we prevent it if we don’t even know what it is?

We live in a society of band-aid solutions. We would rather cover up the resulting “symptoms” than discover the root cause and take preventative measures. We would rather tell women to dress carefully, travel in groups and essentially “not get raped” than deal with the fact that by doing this we are perpetuating a cultural norm that tells men they do not have to take responsibility for their actions and tells women that they should expect to be harassed, assaulted and raped. And that when they are, they are to blame for it.

Even two and a half years after my abusive relationship I still find reasons to blame myself. Every time someone makes disparaging or derogatory comments about a woman’s outfit, every time I see an over-sexualized woman on an advertisement, every time someone turns rape into a joke, I find a reason to blame myself.

And I still find it difficult to speak out sometimes. Often when I do so I feel as though I’m suddenly wearing a big red sign and they must know what happened to me. As though the only people who can be disturbed by rape jokes are those who have experienced it. As though anyone else who finds them upsetting is “too sensitive.”

Even two and a half years after my abusive relationship I still find reasons to blame myself.

And it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to wake up to another story of victim-blaming on the internet, to walk down another hallway or street and try to ignore catcalls and harassment and to look into the eyes of a friend and know what’s coming: another painful story to add to the thousands upon thousands that came before.

But there’s a movement growing out of this darkness. I see people sharing their stories every single day, brave men and women who know that the only way to prevent this from continuing is to talk about it. The only way to prevent this is to educate ourselves and speak out against the silence.

And I’ve finally decided to add my voice.


The Chancellor on sexual assault at UMD

Sept. 30 issue