TW: Sexual assault, rape, trauma.
One in five college women are sexually assaulted in their time on campus. This is a statistic most college students are unfortunately familiar with. I felt confident enough in my abilities as a person and as a friend to help someone if a situation like this ever occurred, but I never thought I would be one needing help.
Last semester, I was raped by a fellow Auburn student. I want to share my story not for pity or attention or for some twisted revenge toward the perpetrator but so anyone else who feels broken and alone knows there is something more.
At first, it was a classic downtown flirtation. You lock eyes across the bar, and he buys you a drink. After we talked and danced to “Tennessee Whiskey,” he took me to a restaurant to have more in-depth conversation. He made sure to walk between me and the street, let me tuck my arm under his and told me he didn’t expect anything from me tonight. We talked until 3 a.m.
He walked me back to my apartment, and we kissed. He grabbed my face and told me “I don’t want to do anything more tonight because I can see this going somewhere.” He was extremely considerate and checked in to make sure I was ok. I enjoyed having the flirty moment but was unsure where it was going to go long-term. He texted to hang out the following week, but our schedules conflicted.
Later, after a night out with my friends, I reached out to him to meet up. I am normally the mom of the group so my friends said encouraging words like “you deserve this!” “go on and live your best life!”
He picked me up from downtown, and it was my intention to sleep with him.
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I trusted him.
When we got upstairs, the tone completely changed. He was more aggressive than our first encounter, and he was forceful. Things were progressing faster than I was comfortable with, so I kept telling him to slow down. I was not where he was yet.
Sex is supposed to be an intimate moment between two people, and in that moment it was not registering in my brain that he would hurt me — because the expectation is the polar opposite of that. I had had a few drinks, but I am not a heavy drinker and was not impaired in any way because I remember everything.
Looking back, I see little moments that I could have picked up on, but based on our previous interactions I did not think he would become violent. That might sound like a naive explanation that I chose to believe in the good side of people, but I have no other explanation. I thought I could handle it.
As he became more forceful, he began pressuring me to do certain sexual things that I was not comfortable with. I said very clear no’s to several of these propositions at least 15 times, but he kept persisting. He would ask me “why” and I would respond “because I said so.” I tried to be clear about what I was comfortable with and what I wanted, but his actions kept ignoring my interjections and escalating.
I became frightened and there was a point where I tried to speak up and say “you’re scaring me” but I could not get the whole phrase out when he slapped me. Face stinging, tears welled in my eyes, and he kept going. He then put his hand around my neck, and I had to tear it away.
After he tried to choke me, I stopped. I told him I didn’t want to do this anymore and turned off the lights and went to sleep, fully clothed.
I woke up in the middle of the night with him on top of me. I will never forget the look in his eyes when I saw him above me.
There was no kindness in his eyes, just a cold piercing stare that made my heart drop. I knew what was about to happen. I never felt so powerless in my life. I just let it happen because I did not see another way out. He was so much stronger than me. I was overpowered. I didn’t know what would happen if I tried to resist.
I left this interaction knowing it was not right, but I thought the blame was on me and there there were a lot of gray areas.
I should have communicated more clearly. The shame I felt for getting myself into this situation ate away at my soul. It shredded my confidence and caused me to live in this cloud of shame and embarrassment. I thought it was my fault for wanting a boy's attention.
These emotions kept eating at me. It became difficult to focus on school. I would be studying in the library and someone walked by that looked like him, and I would just replay it in my head over and over again.
Two weeks later, I reached out to a trusted faculty member who worked in the office of Health Promotion and Wellness who got me connected to Safe Harbor and stayed with me for my in-take session. I am forever grateful for her.
It became clear this was not an instance where I was “unclear about what I wanted.” I think she could see me begin to understand the gravity of the situation as the words came out of my mouth. She explained that our bodies experience sexual violence as a threat to our life. We will act in a way to save ourselves, which is why a lot of survivors freeze because resisting seems more life-threatening.
Safe Harbor helped me with getting extensions with school work, getting connected to a counselor, and put me in contact with the Title IX office. I am grateful for all the resources available to support me.
However, Safe Harbor's scope is expanding. In the last few years, the number of reports to the organization has increased, and the longevity of each case has also increased. Not only is Safe Harbor helping more students, they are also helping those students over a longer period of time. Right now, one person leads Safe Harbor and Green Dot with the help of hotline volunteers. The University of Alabama has 14 people in its department.
After I received clinical help, I opened up to my close friends. Sharing my story helped separate my personhood from the traumatic event and slowly helped me take the blame off myself. Early on, I told one of my guy friends what happened, and I did not spare him any details. There was a point where he said, “that was not right.” Once I heard him say that, I felt this immense pressure release.
There is no greater disconnect than your head and your heart. Knowing logically, that if another person is asleep, fully clothed, they are not in a position to give consent is a totally different entity than feeling it in my heart. I felt like I should have resisted or not even texted him that night.
And these feelings resurface every time I see him on campus. I will take the longer route to class or back home to avoid places I have seen him. I have wiped away tears from my puffy eyes in the bathroom before walking into class because how am I supposed to explain that to a professor?
What I learned through counseling and my supportive friends is that nothing justifies violence. Just because one person wants something, doesn’t mean the other person has to accommodate them. It’s a waste of energy to think of all the things I could have done to not have that moment where I woke up and he was on top of me because no person should ever be in that situation, regardless of what their original intentions were.
I feel this narrative of a “perfect victim” surrounds the issue of sexual violence and heterosexual women. That unless it was a stranger who was violent and gave the survivor no other option or the survivor was completely sober and not wearing revealing clothing then, and only then, can we forgive them.
But we need to take the burden off of women.
One theory that explains why survivors often turn inward, blaming ourselves deals with the notion that humans like to be in control. We are trying to rationalize the trauma, and putting the blame on us is easier to accept than the alternative: that another human would render someone else powerless to get what they want.
I chose this narrative.
How could a boy who told me I had beautiful blue eyes and wanted to take me to church willingly strip away my humanity?
I have learned that my story has power. If you experienced a situation where consent was not present but don’t feel like you fall under this description of a “perfect victim” – that is untrue. But I know the pain of changing that narrative in your heart. If you do not have a personal connection with sexual violence, I ask you to listen to others’ perspectives. It is a very real and constant threat. I know what it feels like to be completely shattered on the inside but have to put up a façade of something different. Hold fast to your strength, your resilience, and know in your heart that you are valued and worthy of being loved.
Safe Harbor offers support and resources for individuals who have been sexually assaulted, harassed or abused.
The Auburn Plainsman chose to give this author anonymity because of the seriousness of her experience. We recognized the potential danger this letter could have placed her in, but we believe her experience is too important to not publish.
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