I am a bartender, and I have been sexually assaulted by a colleague. Twice.
The first time, I was at her bar, and she kept encouraging me to drink more me until I was black out drunk. She offered me a ride home, and the next thing I remembered was waking up naked in bed with her while she joked about how I passed out in the middle of her raping me.
The second time, about a month later, I was with a co-worker having drinks at my house. She kept putting drinks in front of me until I blacked out. I woke up naked in my bed, and she laughed, saying, “I got you so drunk last night.” She raped me and laughed about it.
Both of these events happened over ten years ago. I refused to acknowledge what happened, and dismissed it as my fault for being so drunk, but for two years after they occurred, I could not be physical with anyone. I felt so much shame and guilt over what happened to me. I felt like it was my fault, like I somehow brought on their behavior.
It took me ten years, but I am finally able to talk about this and admit that what happened to me was sexual assault, and that it was not my fault. Ten years of blaming myself and never wanting to talk or think about those two people. Honestly, I still don’t want to. It is incredibly painful to think about what happened. Sure, I should not have allowed myself to get that drunk. I definitely have not since. But both people knew (and laughed about) the fact that I was clearly not able to make any decisions. They both acted deliberately to rape me. In the weeks since I started fully acknowledging what happened to me, I have spent so many days unable to get out of bed or communicate with the world because of how traumatic reliving those experiences has been. I have felt so helpless, worthless, ashamed, and alone.
I am talking about this now because I know I am not alone. Talk to anyone in our industry, and they know someone who has been sexually assaulted, most times by a colleague. This often happens at gatherings of bartenders, but not always. No one talks about this, even though we all know it happens. It is a sickening part of our industry that has apparently become part of the culture. We brush it off thinking it was just some drunken hookup we do not remember and never want to think about again, because thinking about it is immensely painful. Being a victim is so unbelievably unbearable, and, unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult to fully acknowledge what happened and to not blame yourself, let alone make that information public.
THIS IS NOT OKAY.
Sexual assault occurs in our industry, by people in our industry, at an alarming rate, yet we somehow brush it aside as simply something that happens. It is infinitely harder to discuss being assaulted because we worry about how we will be perceived, how it will affect the colleague that did this to us, and what the professional ramifications may be if we talk about being assaulted by someone in our small community.
We are a family that is supposed to look out for each other, not allow our family members to be hurt and ignore it because the person who hurt them is also family.
We are a family that has given me the courage to talk about terrible things that happened to me.
We are a family that has shown me nothing but support and love after talking to them.
We are a family that does not want to see this happen to anyone ever again.
Acknowledging being sexually assaulted is one of the hardest things to do. Talking about it is even more difficult. But, the more we have the courage to address what happened to us, and to call out those who harmed us, the more we can help each other create a healthier family.
It is not our fault. We need to acknowledge what happened to us, as painful as it is to do so. It is too easy to feel ashamed and repress these experiences. We need to talk about this. Consent is consent, and anything else is sexual assault. We have all been far too complicit in allowing this to continue to happen, and once we admit that, hopefully we can strive to make our community a safe place for everyone.