A good 15 years ago, I was sexually assaulted by a co-worker.
I’ve rarely talked about it, but not for the reasons you might think. Not because there was “rape shame” or anything like that but because if I did talk about it, people would hate me for what I have to say about the experience.
In essence, I believe at least 50% of what happened was my fault and I accept full responsibility. I am a victim, but I am not a victim.
In today’s social climate, this opinion is abhorrent to feminists the world over. I get that. How dare I say a sexual assault was my fault? Did I cause the guy and his friend to do what they did? Was I responsible for their disgusting behavior? Absolutely not. I refuse to take the blame for their part of this pain.
Here is what I am responsible for:
I am responsible for going out with a group of co-workers and mistaking them for friends. I thought the female co-workers would look out for me. They didn’t.
I am responsible for thinking my male co-workers were more upstanding than they were. They were not.
I am responsible for over-consuming alcohol and allowing people to buy me drinks when I could not be positive of their intentions. The intentions weren’t good.
I am responsible for being scantily dressed. Yes, I dressed up “for myself” to make myself feel beautiful and sexy and I fully agree, men need to be honorable and do better. But I was naive in my thinking that nobody would mistake my intentions for dressing the way I was dressed.
One of the ones who assaulted me whispered, “You’ve been teasing me all night in that skirt!” as if it were my fault. Looking back, I will partially accept blame. I dressed a certain way and got treated a certain way. Nobody ever wants to hear or acknowledge this, but the fact remains.
I am responsible for allowing myself to be pulled into a car with a male co-worker and his friends thinking their intentions were honorable in driving me back to their house for the after party. They were not.
I am responsible for my stupidity, my naiveté and my belief that all people are basically good people. They are not.
Today, we are told it’s 100% the fault of the man and we have done nothing wrong. We are taught about the way all men should behave. I fully agree, but the truth is that they don’t all behave this way. The sadder truth is this; We will never be able to stop things that have been occurring since the dawn of man. The even sadder truth is that in the hysteria of blaming men, we lose stressing important lessons that could save more women from assault.
We can teach our sons to do better for women. We can teach them to be kind, be gentle, to be caring. We can teach them the best we can, but nobody knows what causes some men to stray off the path of righteousness. Bad mothers sometimes raise good men. Good mothers sometimes raise rapists and murderers.
We can march and storm the streets. We can campaign to our heart’s content. We can scream injustice from the rooftops. It does nothing. It still won’t stop a man overcome with lust and devoid of conscience. But we can do our best.
The only way we can stop these things from happening is the answer a lot of feminists are deeply uncomfortable with – We must change ourselves.
Living in a “Me”-centric society, this idea is angering to many. Why should we have to change? This is victim-blaming! Why can’t men just start being better people?
Because it’s not reality. It’s not the way the world works. In many aspects of society, we must learn we can’t control other people…and in some aspects, we shouldn’t. The only real control we have is over ourselves.
Know the difference between preventable sexual assault and non-preventable sexual assault
Yes, there is a difference. Yes, we can sometimes STOP sexual assault before it happens, but it means admitting some hard truths about our own behaviors. If we don’t admit the truth about our behaviors and how they could contribute to an assault, we open the door to be victimized repeatedly. There is nothing more powerful than realizing the ways you could stop this from happening and applying these things to your own life.
In the case of non-preventable sexual assault, they come from situations where you have little to no control or social pressures force you into situations where you are with someone you should be able to trust like a teacher, a counselor, a coach, religious clergy, a parent, family, etc. Arguably, I should have been able to trust my co-workers.
In some situations, we can’t help being forced to interact with someone alone. These are the victims my heart breaks for. They are the ones who will deal with lifelong trust issues, PTSD, etc. For many of us, we can find comfort that we can prevent many assaults by checking our own actions.
Know your friends
If you are not sure you can 100% trust your friends, don’t put them in charge of your inebriated self.
Be aware of who you are inebriated around
I’m not saying don’t drink – ever, but when you consume drugs and alcohol, you are altering your mental state. Who can you trust fully in this inebriated state?
Think about it.
Dress for how you want to be treated
What used to be common sense is now a controversial opinion. Yes, we know men should do better. But some don’t. This is the difference between perpetual victimization and being street smart. If you want to dress provocatively, it’s also worth noting you should be with people you trust, watch what you drink and try not to be alone. Wearing some things attracts attention…and sometimes it’s attention from people whose attention you may not want focused on you.
Don’t be alone
In truth, many sexual assaults could have been prevented. Most of the time it’s because of whom we have chosen to surround ourselves with or because we have let our guard down and thought we would be safe walking through a deserted parking lot just to get to our car quickly…Yes, the ‘buddy system’ sounds corny. The truth is – It works.
Don’t give out too much information
The Internet makes it all too easy to find out information about anyone, these days. Safeguard your personal details carefully. Fifteen years ago, we were told not to ever post our real name online. Now sites like Facebook and Google almost require it just to get an account. If you associate with strangers online under your real name, they can have your address in a matter of seconds. Some sites give the names of people close to you. Some people even have photos of their children on prominent display. Alarmist? Maybe. But can you ever be too careful?
Sometimes women end up giving their address out to complete strangers who claim interest in an item they are selling online. Just a few clicks away is that person’s profile, often photos of them, their house, their children, their possessions, their lives. Never has it been more easy for criminals to fully case a target before making a move.
There is no victim-blaming here. Believe me, the hardest thing I ever did was have to sit down and reason out how I could stop this from happening to myself ever again. There is comfort in the acknowledgment horrible things can be prevented if we are willing to examine our own actions and behaviors and how they might contribute to the unspeakable. This coming from someone who was careless and learned her lesson well.
Ladies, I’m not saying we can’t be sexy and dress to express ourselves. But do it in packs. Do it with women you know will have your back. Don’t dress yourself in a meat dress like Lady Gaga and wander into a pack of wolves, alone, thinking you will walk out the other side unscathed. Know your surroundings, know who you’re with and be careful. Prevention is something that should be discussed much more than it is.