BY APRILL EMIG | Managing Editor | The Statesman
Becoming a feminist is what made me realize I’d been sexually assaulted. Until then I had always blamed myself.
Feminism has long been about the personal being political; what we think is only a problem with ourselves is very often a sign of societal issues. Consciousness-raising groups in the 1970s brought women together who shared stories of abuse, poverty and assault. It was only then that they realized they weren’t alone.
This is what feminism has done for me. It gave me a community when I needed it most.
I was 16 and I met him online through a friend. He seemed cool. He lived in Wales at the time but was from the town I currently lived in. We talked online a bit. He’d start video chatting me. He’d masturbate. I was uncomfortable but I was lonely. I thought playing along would get me the connection I desperately wanted.
He came back from Wales and invited me over. It was uneventful at first. He played World of Warcraft for over an hour while I sat at the dining table next to him, staring at the table. I complained of being hungry and he threw me a bag of cool ranch Doritos. Suddenly he was done and decided it was time for us to watch a movie downstairs.
I’ll never forget the movie that was on: “A Guy Thing.” The irony of this situation could launch a thousand shitty poems. He kept trying to kiss me and all I remember is that his lips were dry as chalk. His sisters would roam in and out of the room while he groped me. I just wanted to watch the movie. I loved Julia Stiles. I’ll never know what that movie was about.
An hour later we were in the laundry room. He demanded I give him a blow job. I said no. He told me I was his girlfriend and that’s what I was supposed to do, that it was “my job.” I left and his mom gave me a ride home. It was a minivan and I remember thinking it was really nice.
When I got home he had the audacity to break up with me over instant messenger. We were never officially dating. I suppose that was our first and last date.
As I write this I feel afraid and ashamed. This will be the first time my parents learn about what happened. They’re reading my story the exact way you are. I went back to my mom’s house and never said a word. Why would I? I was a slut. It was my fault.
Writing this makes me realize that I still take some responsibility for what happened. Maybe if I hadn’t gone there, maybe if I was stronger, maybe if … I wish I could protect my parents, my friends. I wish they didn’t have to know.
Sometimes I wonder what the point is of telling my story. Maybe I want other people to feel comfortable enough to tell theirs, to end the stigma around a crime that’s far too common. Maybe I suffer from the ubiquitous special snowflake syndrome that plagues my generation, thinking my story is somehow uniquely worthy of print. Maybe I have a martyr complex.
But when my mind spirals like this I think about what I would tell someone else in my situation.
I’d tell them not to be ashamed, that they did nothing wrong. No matter how they were dressed, how they acted, regardless of skin color, gender identity or sexuality. I’d tell them that the more people who come forward and share their stories the bigger the impact we can have. People won’t be able to keep saying it’s not a problem, that the stats are exaggerated.
I’m coming at this issue as a feminist but also as a journalist. Sexual assault on college campuses has been getting a lot of attention in the past couple years and few things get college administrators moving faster than bad press.
But the problem is that sexual assault has been an issue for much longer than it’s been in the mainstream and it doesn’t only happen in college. It’s not new and it’s not going to go away when the press stops paying attention.
This is a problem that will require radical societal transformation. It will require people to understand that sexual violence is about power, not desire. It will require people to care about more than just cisgendered white female victims (like me) and instead see that systems of oppression work to target minorities and keep them silent.
We need to speak up. But we need to do so remembering that we’re standing on the shoulders of our activist foremothers who have fought against sexual oppression for centuries. We need to understand that while the attention is valuable, it’s not the solution. We need to appreciate the feminists who worked endlessly to support victims even when it wasn’t popular to do so.
We need to believe our own stories as much as we believe others’.