We Will Rise

Three days ago, I was sexually assaulted by a guy I met in Peru—one I had become good friends with, trusted at one point, and even dated for a few weeks. I tell you this, because today is Women’s Day. Every day I celebrate my strength as a woman in some way, and today I celebrate it by refusing to wear shame and secrecy that is not mine to wear.

This is my voice. This is my story.

***

He had many good qualities, but they were overshadowed by…I’m not even sure at this point what to call it. Willful ignorance? Selfishness? It wasn’t a big deal at first. We were just dating. It wasn’t serious on my end. There was never any doubt in my mind that the relationship had a timestamp on it, and I was fine with that—in fact, I preferred that. I had just left a marriage and wasn’t looking for a life partner, just companionship—someone to see beautiful things and experience the world with. We had good times together, and spent a lot of time with his family. He was a loving, present son to his parents and a protective brother to his sister, though little more than a mediocre boyfriend.

After a month in Peru, we started dating officially, and I realized the depths of our incompatibility. The way he treated me drained my life energy, so I broke up with him after two weeks and moved a district away to let things cool off. He hadn’t gotten some of the things I tried to explain to him about consent, and I got tired of being the one to educate him. He was a confusing mix of generosity and kindness, layered with manipulation, and a very controlling personality towards those he was romantically involved with.

I enjoyed my last two weeks in Peru without him, which was further confirmation that it was the right decision to break up. I’d still see him every so often (I ended up getting pretty sick, and he brought me medicine and food). We wanted to stay friends if we could, but he was a ‘give an inch, take a mile,’ so I ended up keeping a good distance between us for the rest of the two weeks to give it time.

Monday was my final night it Peru. It had been a while since he and I had talked, and it had seemed that things had calmed down. He’d gotten that he and I were over—so Ithought. Since it was my last night and it was extremely unlikely I’d come back to Peru, I was seized with the desire to paint the town and dance all night, sing in the square, that sort of thing. I asked if he wanted to do a pub crawl with me, as friends, for old times sake.  He said he was cool doing that. We decided on boundaries—we’d separate in an Uber at the end of the night and hi-five it out, and go our separate ways. Under no circumstances would he be coming up to my room, I asserted, and he agreed. It would be a clean break, and nice to smooth out the rough edges of our breakup, and end my trip on a good note.

It was a fun night. We went to bars I hadn’t been too yet, and had fun like we used to have, dancing, and drinking, and laughing. Enjoying being young, enjoying the city nightlife. It was innocent, romantic in a way, and safe because I was leaving.

Except it wasn’t safe. And it went horribly wrong.

It was 3:30 in the morning when the Uber took me home. I got ready to hug him goodbye and let myself in—as we had agreed—but that didn’t happen. He had to use my bathroom, he said. I didn’t want to let him in—we’d already discussed it. I had that stomach-clenching feeling and argued with irritation that he could use the main bathroom, but he refused loudly. The rest of the hostel was asleep, and more than anything I just wanted him to leave without a scene, so we went upstairs, and I unlocked my room and let him go in alone, waiting at the balcony outside, expecting him to get the point and leave quickly.

When he came out, he was noticeably angry, that I hadn’t followed him in to the room and asked why I was being ridiculous and standing out here. His tone had changed. He said he had something to talk to me about something. I told him he could say it here, outside, because we’d agreed he wasn’t coming in my room, and he got angry and told me I was being stupid, and that he was going to say what he had to say to me inside my room where it was private. I refused, and repeated myself, turning back to the rail. Before I realized what was happening, he grabbed my wrist and pulled me through the door. It was the first time he’d used force, and I was too startled to register what was happening until I heard it shut behind me.

Once inside, he dropped the pretense of conversation. I have no words to describe how angry I was at how fully he showed his true colors and his lack of respect for me as a woman. What he had violated more subtly throughout our relationship was now overt and undisguised, and my brain was going a mile a minute on how to stop this and get him out of my room. I kept expecting him to care that I was openly resisting his advances, that I was saying no again and again and again as things progressed, but nothing slowed him down.

It was clear that this would only end in one of two ways, so I stopped saying no, and kicked his chest. “What the fuck are you doing?” I yelled sharply, like I would yell at a dog attacking a child.

He froze. The force of my voice surprised us both. He tried to flip the switch, tried to be affectionate, tried to make himself believe that everything that he had to that point had been consensual. His eyes flickered as he processed all the no’s that were still echoing off the walls…and what that meant about him. He asked if he could hold me. I refused, told him it was time to say goodbye. I watched his eyes grow dark and stormy, as he studied me. Finally he shook his head, and moved to pull his clothes on angrily, fumbling furiously with buttons, and I scrambled off the bed and stood near the door, every muscle tensed and on alert.

I played my cards better after that, knowing if I made him upset or let him see how deeply I hated him in that moment, that it would be dangerous for me, and he might not leave. He could keep his tale of what had just transpired, for now. My eyes were blank, as he began spouting off about an appalling fantasy that we’d be together again someday, and when he started saying that we were perfect and meant to be together, I clenched my teeth so hard that they ached, and said nothing. I would have made up any lie to get him out of that room, so I tolerated his making out with me again by the door, hating every second, my stomach turning all the while, and two words ran over and over in my mind—fuck you. fuck you—as I pulled away, again and again, hoping to God that this would be the last time.

As he was getting ready to leave, he took off the necklace he wore every day and said he wanted me to have it, and bring it back to him one day. I said I couldn’t take it. He said I had to take it, and pressed into into my palm. The silver chain was heavy with a medallion of Caesar on it, still warm from his skin—never have I held an object this more disgust.

Finally, finally, he left. He’d been in my room an hour. I shut the door and listened for his footsteps, knowing there was nothing he could say or do that could convince to open the door again. His footsteps sounded on the stairs. The front door closed heavily. The car engine started, and paused, then pulled away.

And I breathed at last, knowing I would never have to see him again. For the next twelve hours, I tried to put it out of my mind. When I woke up I felt horrible and dismissed it as a hangover as I packed up, and arranged my taxi to the airport, all the while not ready to admit that what happened was sexual assault. A few hours before my flight, I admitted it for the first time out loud and wept. When I was close enough to my departure to ensure I wouldn’t be followed, I texted him and told him that I would never speak to him again, and that if I had lived in Peru, I would have reported what he did to the police. I blocked him on everything, deleted every picture we had together and left everything he’d ever given me on the side of the street.

***

This brings me to the next part of my story. In the next 24 hours, I told three friends, two girls and a guy, what happened. The girls had been openly encouraging me to break up with this guy, which hadn’t happen as soon as either of them advised. They both responded in very similar ways…not exactly, ‘I told you so,’ but close, and parceled into both of their messages was, yes, the obligatory, ‘this isn’t your fault’…but sandwiched between were hints that I should have seen that this would eventually happen…so maybe it kind of was.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. These were my girls—yet they didn’t get it. They were blaming me. I didn’t tell anyone else after that for a whole day because I was still reeling, and couldn’t deal with the underlying implication that I was somehow responsibility for being assaulted, or held some level of complicity in the whole affair.

These girls had grown up the way I did, conditioned in a world where it was expected that a woman would internalize the blame when men behaved as predators. It was a natural reaction for them to backtrack, armed with hindsight to pinpoint where this could have been prevented if I could have known the future in the present. They were repeating the messages we’d internalized all our lives..a message I believed at one time.

I have compassion for that, but do you see how fucked up that reasoning is? Obviously, If I’d thought the night would end in sexual assault, I would have changed plans and watched Spanish Soap Operas. I wouldn’t have spent another second with this guy. Of course, I didn’t know that would happen. And it isn’t my fault that I couldn’t predict that I would be assaulted.

After my head cleared, I realized their reactions didn’t reflect on me personally or on their love for me—they were just reflecting the messages that all women wear on their skin. The #metoo movement is truly radical—the heart of it lies in acknowledges that generations of women were utterly unable to speak their stories against their abusers. It broke my heart. If a woman shares with you that she was sexually assaulted and you are unsure who is at fault, then I tell you with all the love in my being that you are not awake.And the world needs you to wake

The third friend I told about the assault in those first hours was a man. I didn’t dare hope that he would get it, especially since the women hadn’t, but it was he who helped dispel that initial shame that I’d felt from their responses, and get my head back on straight. He told me what I knew deep down, that it wasn’t my fault in any way that this guy acted like a predator. My friend didn’t need to factor in whether I’d given this guy too many chances, or whether I should have known this would happen, or whether I’d had too much to drink, or was too trusting, or anything.

To him, those details were irrelevant. This guy had fucked up—it was simple as that. I agree. 

Today, I began reaching out to women with this short text: “I was sexually assaulted Tuesday. How much of that was my fault?” And so far, everyone I’ve sent the message to has responded emphatically, and without hesitation—none of it was your fault. With those words, they are joining me in dismantling a system that has needed to be torn down for age.

 


I am woman. I am worthy. I overcome.
And I refuse
to walk with head down
because he violated
his conscience.
I refuse to hide
behind the locked door
of my heart,
and sink into bitterness
at this beautiful world.

I refuse to second-guess my inner light
the power of my convictions
or impact of my voice.
And I utterly refuse to carry his guilt
on my shoulders
because
I am woman.
I am worthy.

And I overcome.

{featured image: Renevus}

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