I didn’t even know who Alex was. I was too new to meeting people on a national level and was just beginning my steps towards becoming involved in our greater community. The first time I “met” him, I was stumbling out of the bathroom of a bar during a party at SACC. It was pretty clear that I had had too much to drink, as nearly everyone still at the bar at that point had. As I went to join my friends back inside the party, this man stopped me at the entrance and asked if I wanted some cocaine. I told him I had never used it before and wasn’t sure because the idea made me really nervous. He coaxed me up the stairs, out of sight, and convinced me to try it. Only seconds after he fed it to me and did a bump for himself, he pinned me up against the wall and tried to kiss me. Shocked and more alert thanks to the new substance introduced to my system, I yelled at him, and in the brief second he coiled back, I slipped out from under his arms and ran down the stairs back to the bar.
I didn’t tell anyone what happened that night. At the time, I didn’t really think much of it. As a woman, it wasn’t my first time to turn down an aggressive advance, and sadly, I’m sure it won’t be the last. Over the course of this year, I’ve only mentioned this story to a couple of people. No one seemed that concerned about it, so in turn, I continued to allow myself to think nothing of it. I wrote it off as just another one of many times I’ve been made to feel uncomfortable or sexually assaulted by a man. After all, he didn’t actually touch me. I mean, he didn’t rape me, so really, it wasn’t that bad, right?
I told myself it was a one off. I had no idea he was a predator. After hearing the accounts of so many other women, I am so angry with myself for not telling people. Verbal and physical sexual assault is so common that it’s easy to become numb to it. Sometimes it’s the only way to cope when it happens to you all the time. You begin to put these events into a hierarchical system of what you should spend your energy being upset about and what you should just brush off. If you didn’t, you’d just be upset all the time and spiral down the rabbit hole of wondering why life is like this for women.
Why do I have to constantly fear being drugged and/or raped? Why do I get called a bitch for turning down someone’s advances? Why do I get called a slut for accepting the advances of someone I’m interested in? Did I only get chosen for this job because he wants to fuck me? Then there’s the hand job you somehow feel obligated to give when you don’t want to sleep with a guy but he makes you feel like you’ve “wasted” his night. Don’t even get me started on cat calls. And why do strangers think it’s okay to grind up behind you on the dance floor when you are clearly just trying to silly dance with your girls?
But you can’t live life being upset about these things all the time. You’d go mad. So instead, you end up just letting some man tell you how bad he wants to fuck you or pin you against a wall or put his hand on your thigh, tell yourself it wasn’t that bad, and move on because, thankfully, you weren’t raped.
Then there’s the fear of what people will think of you. What will it do to my career? Will people just write me off as overreacting? Will I just become the girl that accuses men of misconduct even though it “wasn’t a big deal” and “he was just drunk”? Because after all, if you called out all the men that ever said or did anything inappropriate to you, none of the other men would want to associate with you for fear of being the next accused, and when you live and work in a male dominated industry, you can’t take that risk. Silence often feels like the only course of action.
Some of my male coworkers asked me how this could happen to so many different women on so many different occasions without anyone finding out. This is how. As women, this is our reality. Every day. We have been conditioned into silence as a form of survival and perseverance in the profession we have chosen.
Speaking up is difficult, but it is the right thing to do if we ever want things to change. I am so proud of the women who have come forward. You are all so brave and fierce. I was lucky to have escaped my incident with him when I did. Others were not so fortunate, but hopefully in creating this dialogue, we can create some awareness to the fact that sexual assault in our community is an issue and that nothing can excuse it.