“In my generation, what these girls are going through was never considered assault,” Judith said. “It was considered, ‘I was stupid and I got embarrassed.’”
In recent days, sexual assault has been a trending topic in the media, with Harvey Weinstein, #metoo, and more front and center of all discussions. I personally came into contact with sexual assault some time ago. At the time, I truly felt alone, ashamed; my trauma was taboo. And then I saw an article by the New York Times as I scrolled through my newsfeed. It hit me like a truck, and for a while I could do nothing but reread the words on the screen. It wasn’t that I hadn’t considered that there were other people involved in sexual assault accusations, but I was shocked that they saw their struggle in such a way, and for the first heartening time, I saw sexual assault discussed freely: victims telling their stories, and shame melting away.
I was at a party with my friends, I was wearing a loose dress that reached my knees and I wasn’t drinking. This was a place for a girl like me– there were enough people I knew to guarantee that I wasn’t in any danger or sketchy gathering. I followed every rule in the book. Then, the moment I took a couple of steps away from my friends to grab a drink, I felt a hand slide down my back and touch me. Immediately, I felt every nerve in my body tense with cramped awareness, I grew cold and angry. When I whipped around to respond rather aggressively to the guy, he was gone.
All the happiness that I had felt that night slipped away. I was scared. I didn’t get the drink, and I didn’t dance the rest of the night. I stood next to my tallest, scariest-looking friend. I asked them to protect me.
My friend told me they identified the boy who had assaulted me: a guy I knew, I talked to. This horrified me, but I couldn’t say anything. In my country, rape or assault isn’t a topic you talk about. I felt like I couldn’t call the boy out; he was someone I knew, and this information would hurt him. But I also couldn’t just do nothing. So the next Monday, I armed myself with all the courage my little body could handle, let my friends know where I would be, and I confronted the guy. The details of the conversation I will not reveal, but I can tell you I made him cry. Today I am confident he would never do that again. We are not friends anymore.
I don’t walk alone anymore, at parties I ask a friend to come with me if I have to separate from the group, and more than ever, I am afraid that at parties which are supposed to be safe, some drunken harasser will assault me. Yet above all, I am most afraid of telling my parents, who struggled through a similar experience concerning my sister. Women in my country ask why my sister doesn’t come back to her home country, why she became depressed, why she will not be there the day I graduate, why there was a time I thought I was going to lose her forever. They never ask about the boy.
It all stems from having a backwards mentality about assault and rape, a mentality more appropriate to a developing country like mine than to the US. If men and women are taught that assault and rape is something unimportant, something to take lightly, to trifle with, sexual assault will go unreported, unpenalized, unchecked. There will be negative repercussions for victims who speak up. The path to true justice in cases of sexual assault is education. We need to fight for policies that protect victims. We need to begin a dialogue and destroying the surrounding stigma. Sexual assault is important, and as long as it exists, we cannot stop talking about it.
-Maria Velasquez Soler