Editor’s note: This column contains sensitive information about sexual assault and my be triggering for some readers.
My friends call me “the mayor.”
When they walk around campus with me I stop and say hi to everyone.
I get it from my dad: A blind confidence that makes a person feel comfortable so that 10 minutes later, we’re laughing like old friends. It’s what makes me a good journalist, and I like being well known.
But I don’t just do it because I’m friendly.
It’s also a defense mechanism.
If I walk into a frat basement by myself and I know the names and faces of every person there and everyone knows me, I believe it lessens the likelihood of being kidnapped or assaulted.
And I’m not unfamiliar with sexual harassment, assault and rape.
Beginning when I was 15, an adult man stalked me for three years. He was 23 at the time, living in Florida and –– as a naive, trusting teenager –– he lured me into sending nude photos of myself. And he eventually used them as blackmail, as “revenge porn.”
Since he lived out of state, the FBI handled the case, and took two years to track him down.
But still, he has no arrest record and is not listed on the sex offender registry.
I have been pinned down by men three times my size.
I have sat in my kitchen retelling these stories to police officers on more than one occasion, yet, I have never testified in their trials –– they never had any.
Not because I didn’t wish to press charges, but because law enforcement and prosecutors could not fathom burdening these young men with damaging charges of sexual assault. They thought warnings were sufficient punishments.
But they were comfortable plaguing me with the trauma of these stories and the looming knowledge that these men are still out there and could strike again.
And we’ve traditionally stereotyped rapists as both stand-offish and charming. They are loners, but they are also the “life of the party.” The truth is, rapists come in all shapes and sizes. My attackers have been both strangers and men I once called friends.
And these attacks can happen anywhere.
I have been harassed on the street, assaulted at parties and raped in a UB apartment.
Trouble chases me throughout mazes that I cannot traverse, with danger lurking around every corner.
I carry a knife when walking on South Campus at night. I have a special belt I wear when going out because it’s particularly difficult to take off. I have swung at men who didn’t take me seriously when I told them to “back the f--k off.” But danger has become more than just physical threats. Winking emojis, too, have become weapons.
Someone recently had the audacity to send me one in a group chat.
What precautions am I supposed to take to keep myself safe there? And when the harassment isn’t physical, when you can’t look your abuser in the eye while they’re leering at you, how do you retaliate?
I wasn’t wearing anything slutty in my text messages and I certainly wasn’t provoking the response. I’m also not saying that this boy was intentionally trying to sexually harass me. He probably thought he was making a funny joke.
But it wasn’t funny. And it wasn’t a joke.
I’m tired of people who think they have the right to make these uncomfortable and vaguely sexual passes.
I talk about sex openly, yes, and I wrote about my body count in a column. That does not give you the right to sexualize me. You do not know me.
Don’t tell me I’m a “pussy.”
Don’t ask me if my count has gone up.
Don’t ask me to hook up with you ("Pretty Girl"clearly states I want a boyfriend).
Don’t flood my inboxes asking to see my “chart.”
And don’t f--king wink at me.
I wrote a column saying women shouldn’t be ashamed of having sex, not that my sex life is yours to snidely comment on.
This is an uncomfortable conversation to have. We are uncomfortable with talking about sexual assault because sexual assault is uncomfortable.
And I hope you’re uncomfortable.
I certainly am.
Because as long as we aren’t comfortable with this behavior, we can have faith that, someday, it won’t be normal for a man to walk up to me in a club and ask if he can be number 26.
Reilly Mullen is the news editor and can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReillyMMullen.
Reilly Mullen is the editor-in-chief at The Spectrum. She is a senior majoring in political science with a journalism certificate. She enjoys Dunkin’ iced lattes and Scrabble. A former web, features, news and managing editor, she is a columnist at heart but has covered everything from UB Football to breaking news.