I was assaulted when I was 13 years old, every day in 8th grade on my way to gym class. I had no option but to pass my abuser to get to class. He was popular. He was a football player. He was just trying to flirt. I should be lucky that he was showing me attention. These were the statements that ran through my head for years so that I would not face what was actually happening. Until one day, it hit me like a truck. At 17 years old while sitting in class, it finally clicked.
It took me four years. Four years passed before I was able to say, “This is not okay. I was assaulted.” But I still had to see him every school day until we graduated. Now that I am a junior in college, I have been able to leave him behind. I have not seen him since the day I saw him walk across the stage, accept his diploma and go off into the world.
I could not protect others from him. I was too scared. I never reported. There was no proof. I would be viewed as the girl who tried to ruin a popular football player’s life. I would be seen as a liar. It is one mistake that he made when he was young, why should it impact his life? Even though I would forever remember what had happened to me. It was a he said, she said situation and what we know in this world is that what he says holds more weight than what she says. If you do not believe me, look at Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh. Two men that have been accused of assault but still were approved and now hold two of the most important jobs in the nation.
How do I get out all these feelings? How do I find people who would know how it felt to be taken advantage of? I was led to the Counseling and Wellness Clothesline project.
This is a clothesline that is hung outside of the Counseling and Wellness Center in October for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This line is a place where people can display their story in a creative way of decorated shirts. They are using their trauma and expressing it in a way that other people can observe and appreciate.
I have a shirt on this line. I sat in a room with many other survivors and created my shirt. I was finally able to express how I felt without being judged by others for being naive enough to let this happen. We were able to share our stories with each other. I was showed that this was not my fault. I am not a victim, I am a survivor of a messed up and traumatic situation. A situation that I should not have to face ever but especially not every day at the age of 13.
To display my shirt on the line and to have my story being able to be seen by the whole campus was a freeing experience. I did not have to feel shame for what had happened to me. I was in good company. I was with strong men and women who could tell their stories and not let it destroy them.
Unfortunately, the clothesline only was up for one day. You cannot see all the stories that people have told.
My recommendation is if you have faced a trauma such as mine, do not keep it to yourself. Tell someone. Tell the world. We have a great staff at The Wellness Center on campus that are willing to talk to you. There is also many places to report what has happened. You are not alone and it is not your fault. This was done to you against your will. No matter what the circumstances were, you did not deserve this. You are not someone else’s victim. You survived.
If someone is willing to tell you their story, listen and do not judge them. They trust you and they feel safe with you.