"Don't wear revealing clothes." "Don't go anywhere alone, especially at night." "Watch your drinks." "Don't flirt with guys—it gives them the wrong impression." "If you are walking to your car alone, carry your keys in your hands to defend yourself." "Lock your doors."
All my life, the women that I looked up to have trained me in how to prevent being raped. They give tips like the ones listed above, and point out what other girls did wrong.
"She was dressed provocatively." "She was intoxicated." "She was alone in a dark place." "She didn't lock her doors." She left safety, and ultimately paid the price.
Safety is familiar.
Home is safe.
School is safe.
But is it really?
I was 12 years old.
At 12, I was a typical awkward 6th grader. Justice was my go-to store and I was proud to pull out my "Cool" Aeropostale shirts for special occasions, like Roller-Skating parties. I had a crush who I texted on my second gen. iPod touch everyday after school. My friends and I would talk about the boys who put on way too much axe after PE, the teacher who wore cheetah print every day "SO 2004," and jammed to Avril Lavigne and Sean Kingston.
I was 12 years old when I walked down the hallway during band class. While walking, I saw a boy in my class sitting on a bench by himself. I asked him how his day was going and he told me that he was "kind of sad today." I gave him a hug and told him "Everything will be okay, if you need to talk I'm here for you." As our hug ended he placed both of his hands on my chest, told me he liked my boobs, and walked away.
This began the cycle of abuse. From petty bra strap snaps, to "accidental" chest grabs and butt slaps, being sexually harassed became a part of my everyday life.
Finally, after months, I had enough. I worked up the courage to tell a teacher what had been going on. I sat down with a teacher that I trusted and told her about what had been going on. I told her about what the boy had been doing to me.
She listened to me, and then told me that I couldn't fault him for what he did. First of all, he had anxiety and therefore couldn't be held responsible for his actions. Second, he was a boy and I was (in her opinion) a very flirtatious girl so I must have been asking for it. If I really wanted him to stop I would change the way that I carried myself around school.
Horrified. Ashamed. Guilty.
After the conversation with my teacher, I began to change who I was. I carried myself less confidently, and opted out of social interaction. I hoped that by me changing who I was, it would change my situation.
I was 12 years old when I was raped.
I was 12 years old when I was forced into the band closet. I remember the horrible way that his hands ripped my clothes off, as he had his way with me. I remember crying. I remember begging him to stop. Then I remember giving up. I don't remember much after that, mostly because I don't want to. I felt dirty. I was ashamed, and convinced that this was still my fault.
Remembering is hard. Even 7 years later, I had to take time off after just typing that paragraph.
I have questions. Most of my questions will never be answered. I'd like to ask all those who blame victims of sexual assault, "Was it my Justice shirt, covered in plastic sequins? Was it the way that I smiled and flirted as any middle school girl might? Was it because I was walking around in my school's hallway alone during class? Did I not take the correct steps in defending myself?"
I'd like to ask my teacher, "Is it okay that he isn't being held responsible for the mental damage he caused me because of his mental instability? Why was my mental and physical health of less importance than his?"
Finally, I'd like to ask him, "Why me?"
As I conclude this post, I'd like to offer that we don't blame the victims of sexual assault. It doesn't matter how close we stay to what is considered safe, bad things happen. Rape is the most horrendous of crimes, it not only takes away innocence and dignity, it takes away piece of mind and the literal life from the victim. It has been 7 years after I was attacked, and this is the first time I've spoken out. There's not a day that I don't carry that day with me. Somedays it hurts more than others, but there is hope. If you have read my story, and have related I promise you, IT GETS BETTER. You are not alone. We are not alone.