I told my dad about my experiences and some of my struggles over FaceTime and it was one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had. He kept telling me that I’m a good person. Multiple times, he made sure to remind me. He sent me a text a couple days afterwards reminding me that I’m a wonderful person and he loves me. It was so kind, but that’s the problem, I thought. People aren’t either good or bad, they’re human. It isn’t black and white like that, people are just people. I’m not a good person or a bad person, I’m a person. I’m human. Yes, I seek good in everything I do. I seek love and kindness and honesty and grace and patience. But I also make mistakes, I’m capable of the bad. But that doesn’t make me a bad person either.
That is the problem. I’ve shared my writings from the past few days with others and they respond with anger towards all three of the guys. They want to rip their throats out. They want to kick them where it counts. They hate these guys. They tell me to report it and make them pay. They demonize them. They’re monsters. But that’s not what I want. That won’t fix anything. We do not need to fight evil with evil. That’s why I’m having trouble with deciding to report the experience with my coworker. That’s why I’m having trouble sharing any of these experiences at all. I keep searching for the anger and hatred for them but I don’t have it. I feel for them too. Because if they are capable of causing pain like this, then they must have really dealt with some pain on their own.
I don’t want to demonize anyone. I don’t want revenge or justice or for them to pay for what they’ve done. I don’t want them to suffer like I’ve suffered – I wouldn’t wish this suffering on any other human being. I don’t want to ruin their lives.
People aren’t good or bad. These guys aren’t bad people. These guys are brothers and sons and friends and coworkers and uncles. They’re people. People who have done bad things, yes. But they have families, they have passions. They’ve done good things too. They’re fighting their own demons. They’re here on this earth for a reason. They’re as capable of good as you or me. I experienced some of the bad that they are capable of, some of the mistakes. But they are human and I’d be a hypocrite if I pretended like I’ve never done anything wrong. We all do wrong, we all are capable of good and bad. We are all human.
It’s so much more complicated than who is right and who is wrong, who is the victim and who needs punishment. I can see that this whole thing is bigger than that.
However, it is right that people are angry after reading about my experiences. We should be angry about sexual assault, about objectifying women’s bodies, about all of it. As a race, I think we genuinely have a lot of things to be angry about. A lot of things that need to be changed.
I have wanted to report the situation with my coworker since the day my boss sat me down in front of a computer and located the Title IX website. Since the day she pulled the definition of consent, the definition of sexual assault, the definition of rape up on my computer screen. I didn’t suddenly want to report it because reading those definitions meant that he is a rapist or a predator or a bad person. Not because it meant Brad is a rapist, that my friend commit sexual assault on my birthday. Not because I wanted revenge. But because it meant that I have been raped multiple times and I was blaming myself for it all. I didn’t see it as rape, I saw it as my own fault and stupidity. I thought it was my fault, I did something wrong. Or, rather, I thought these occurrences were how I was supposed to be treated, that they are normal.
That is not okay.
There are thousands of girls and guys speaking up about their stories. During sexual assault awareness month, I read so many stories. I read at least five stories of experiences on my own college campus, one being a girl who went to my high school. I think that reading some of these posts helped me to look for my own voice.
The part that does make me angry is the fact that this isn’t rare. That objectifying women has become normalized in our society, in our schools, in our workplaces, and our homes. That political figures, actors, bosses, and other men abuse their power and treat women as objects. And girls don’t know that it is not okay. And men don’t know that it is not okay.
Almost every relationship I’ve had I can pinpoint times where my body was treated as an object, as a prize. It was treated as something that wasn’t my own. I had no control over what was done to it. My first boyfriend when I was 17 didn’t respect any of my boundaries that I actually set pretty clearly. It’s not okay that he pushed and pushed and took my virginity when I told him multiple times to stop and I wanted to wait. No wonder I have been trying so desperately to control my body’s size, it’s weight, how much I feed it or don’t feed it. No wonder I have been battling disordered eating for so long. No wonder I’m searching for any tiny bit of control over my body. Because every other ounce of power I have over my body keeps being stripped away.
Okay so I’ve been raped, I’ve been sexually assaulted, I’ve been harassed. I’ve been pushed around and stepped on and manipulated. I’ve been torn down, not only by others, but by myself. Bullied and belittled by this strong inner voice of self-hatred and self-disgust. This voice that is fueled by our media and our gender norms and our unrealistic expectations of both men and women. So.. now what? What am I going to do about it?
February 1st, 2018 I sat in my supervisor’s office, shaking. I stopped crying long enough to look up at her, at tears brimming in her own eyes. She looks at me with so much conviction and says to me, “Olivia, there will come a point where you go from a victim to a survivor.” I felt so hopeless in that moment. To be able to crawl out of that dark place felt so unattainable, so unrealistic. “You’re strong enough to beat this.”
“I just really feel like I’m not,” I reply.
Victim. I gripped this identity so tightly. I burrowed so deeply into the darkness that I just wanted to disappear. I wanted to be done, I wanted to give up this fight so many times. It was exhausting and miserable.
“And I know it may kill me but maybe I deserve that too.”
“I can’t take any more.”
“I hope I don’t wake up tomorrow.”
“I hate myself and I am done”
“I’m ready to be done.”
“I wish I could just silently disappear.”
All heartbreaking statements that can be found in my own handwriting scattered throughout my journal entries this semester. I’ve been trying to run away. No, I’ve been sprinting away from the stress, the trauma, the bad stuff. I’ve been burrowing and burrowing into hiding trying to escape it. Running and starving and binging and purging and burrowing. Trying to find that control over my body that has been robbed from me so many times.
Of course I don’t feel strong enough. Of course I feel out of control. This is not okay.
There are girls who just graduated high school, so excited to start the next chapter of their lives. They might have cried tears of joy to receive their acceptance letter to college. They’ve probably chosen a major, found a roommate, picked out a floral twin sheet set from Bed, Bath, and Beyond for their crummy dorm room mattress. And statistics show that 1 in 5 of them will be sexually assaulted during their time in college. Every 21 hours, someone is raped on an American college campus. And 95% of these assaults go unreported. THAT IS NOT OKAY.
These sisters and daughters and friends and nieces and mentors and strong, kind, amazing women will have their power and control completely stripped from them. They might be pushed into a place as dark as me, maybe darker. They may feel like they deserve it, like they’re not enough. They may feel like they don’t have a voice, that no one is listening. They may feel alone. And I am not okay with that.
So I finally see what my boss means about moving from a victim to a survivor. It is moving from passivity and terror to action and change. I don’t want to hide in this darkness any more when my voice could bring so much light to others. Am I stepping across a nice, neat line between the two titles? Haha, no. I’m going to have to fight to get out of this darkness, this war over my body that has been occurring for years. I’m going to have to learn to fight this voice that’s been growing stronger with every battle for control. I will wear the title of “victim” for the rest of my life, but it is “survivor” that gives me hope for a better future.
I reported what my coworker did to Title IX. Not because I wanted revenge or I wanted him to suffer. He did not receive any consequences at all, but I do want him to know that what he did was not okay. I hope to someday live in a world where we teach our sons, brothers, friends that behavior like this is not okay. That objectifying women and taking control of their bodies is not okay. I was not okay with knowing that if I didn’t report it, the same thing, if not worse could happen to someone else. Someone from the HPER. Someone from the amazing community that has made me who I am today.
I hope to live in a world, raise kids in a world, where we teach our daughters, sisters, friends that they are strong, capable, powerful individuals who are enough. That they are enough no matter their size or appearance or relationship status or job title. I want to use my voice to spread this message. I reported my sexual assault because I wanted to be able to give others a voice who may not be able to find theirs yet. I reported that it is not okay.