Finding power in a situation where I had none
Sexual assault can happen to anyone
This is supposed to be my “goodbye” column, where I get nostalgic and sappy and talk about my experience at UB.
I could do that.
I could talk about the small group of friends I’ve made here in the last two years like I’m supposed to, but that wouldn’t be an accurate representation of how I feel about my time here.
I’ve got nothing against this school or the people here but I’ve spent my senior year feeling lost, regardless of the friends I’ve made or things I’ve accomplished. I know I sound like a prima donna, like I’m crying because I broke my tiara or something, but let me explain why I feel this way.
It was late October 2015. I was at an open bar and drank too much because I was depressed and thought it’d help. It didn’t. I got drunk enough that I stumbled outside to catch some air and blacked out.
I regained partial consciousness in a car to a stranger sexually assaulting me. I’m a guy and he was a guy too.
I was too drunk to really understand what was happening to me at the time, but the assailant wasn’t. The guy was sober enough to lead me to his car, sober enough to take my pants off, sober enough to drive. Sober enough to know better.
Just because I’m a guy doesn’t mean sexual assault can’t happen to me. And just because I was too drunk to defend myself doesn’t make me gay or mean that I “secretly wanted it.”
If someone broke into one of your friend’s house, beat them and stole all of their money you wouldn’t say: “Well you must have wanted to get robbed and beaten, otherwise you would have had a better security system and put up more of a fight.”
You wouldn’t blame the victim in other violent crimes, so don’t blame the victim when it comes to sexual assault.
I’ve read countless stories on sexual assault and every time I see at least a few comments where people blame the victim instead of holding the assailant accountable. According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 68 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to the police.
Victim blaming is no doubt a huge part of the reason why sexual assault is so unreported and it’s partially what caused me not to report the assault when I could have done something about it. The other reason I didn’t report it has to do with gender roles.
Society sets unrealistic expectations for both men and women but gender roles for men make it seem like it’s impossible for us to be taken advantage of. Society presents the idea that men are supposed to be powerful, strong and in control. We’re not supposed to have something happen to us that makes us victims.
Because of these expectations, I tried to deny that the assault happened to me.
The morning after it happened I tried to tell myself that I made it all up, that I was drunk and misremembering. But I knew that it was real because I had proof.
Even once I knew it had actually happened I still didn’t tell anyone. I thought it wasn’t a big deal. I thought it didn’t matter. I didn’t want to be judged or viewed as less of a man for “letting this happen” to me. I just wanted to deny it so that’s what I did.
I shut out the negative emotions from the trauma and by extension I shut out all my positive emotions as well.
I felt nothing for a long time.
Sexual assault happens to your body but your mind is where most of the damage is done. You no longer trust yourself or other people and you lose grip on who you really are. That’s a terrible feeling to have in your 20s when you’re just starting to figure out what you really stand for.
I won’t sit here and spin a complete sob story though because I have recently opened up about this to those close to me and I’ve been able to fight through this. I have been able to go to my classes and get all my work done regardless of how terrible I feel most of the time and I’m proud of that.
This article is something that I’ve warred with myself over. Putting myself out there makes me vulnerable and being vulnerable isn’t a feeling I enjoy, for obvious reasons. But I’d rather be uncomfortable and do some good than be comfortable and help no one but myself. Progress never comes from a place of comfort.
If you’ve been sexually assaulted but never told anyone I want you to know that it’s not your fault and that telling people you trust really does make things better. I know it’s nerve-racking to be so open with someone but there’re some things you weren’t meant to deal with on your own and sexual assault is one of them.
I might not have had control over what happened to me but I have control over how I choose to deal with it.
I choose to speak out.
John Jacobs is the assistant features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.