Editor’s note: The author’s name was omitted to protect their identity.
It happened on a Thursday. It was the day before Halloween. I was dressed as the devil. I remember walking outside and feeling the cold air on my face. I remember walking into the house. I remember him on top of me. Everything else is black. Those three memories are seared into my brain, permanently I think. No matter how hard I try to forget, I don’t know if I ever will.
In the years since it happened, when I find myself gripped with panic and unable to catch my breath, I calm down by reasoning with myself. Mine wasn’t that bad because, thank God, I can’t even remember most of it. Some women have more violent memories. I’m one of the lucky ones, really. But how could I ever forget the part I did remember? It flashes into my mind at random times, and always before I go to sleep.
It’s been three years since I was raped. Those three years have been some of the longest of my life. It took me a year to admit to myself that what happened that night was actually rape. It took even longer for me to tell my parents. I can count on one hand the number of my friends I have told. To this day, I keep it to myself out of shame and fear of how I will be perceived.
We all know how people react when a woman seeks justice, or even solace, following a rape. What was she wearing? She has no proof. Why would she want to ruin a man’s life like that? Questions like these had me convinced for a long time that what happened to me was my fault. I did go to his house, after all. I was even wearing a dress. So, I allowed the shame I felt to take hold of my body. It gripped me so tightly it made it impossible to speak, even when I wanted to tell people what happened to me.
Everyone who knows me knows I’m an outspoken feminist — I’m never afraid to address the injustices that exist in our society. I have supported many of my friends who have experienced the same injustice as I have. I assure them that what happened to them was not a result of their actions or words; the horrific denial of their autonomy and disregard for their humanity was not their fault. And I believe that wholeheartedly. I would fight for any victim. So why couldn’t I fight for myself?
Over the past month or so, I have read hundreds of posts associated with the #MeToo campaign. I’m encouraged by survivors who speak out about what was done to them. I admire their bravery. Reading other women recount their stories and their recoveries gives me hope that I, too, will be able to recover one day.
However, campaigns like these, which are designed to increase awareness, feel empty at best and insulting at worst. I was not surprised by any of the posts I read or even the sheer number of my friends alone who have experienced sexual assault. This is common knowledge to me and to every woman I know.
What surprised me was how men reacted: I had no idea sexual assault was this widespread! What can we, as men, do to stop this?! Women of the world, help us be better! As if women don’t have enough to deal with already, now we must fix the problem of sexual assault, too? To me, “the problem of sexual assault” is really “the problem of men who do not know women deserve respect and dignity just like everybody else.” It’s “the problem of toxic masculinity and the patriarchy” or, more simply, “the problem of power.”
I realized this long before I was raped, and my understanding certainly didn’t require having a daughter or a wife first. Like many women I know, I’m tired of facilitating the conversation on sexual assault. But, for the sake of change, I will. Men reading this, listen up.
I implore you to understand that even if you have not sexually assaulted someone, you are complicit in sexual assault in your silence. You are complicit in the rape jokes you make with your friends. You are complicit when you willingly participate in organizations where sexual assault rates are highest, like fraternities. Please understand how destructive your behavior is to women, to men, to yourself and to society.
If you are offended by my claims, all you need to do is tune into the conversation women have been having for decades. For too long, the blame and responsibility have been placed on women. It is not our job to stop what is being done to us. We do not need to be less naive, more careful or more accepting of the “reality” of our world. Men, you need to step up. This is not on me. This is on you.
Beyond ensuring that it never happens again, men can help fix “the problem of sexual assault” by addressing the role they play in its perpetuation. Chris Brown, abuser, has a new documentary on Netflix. Kodak Black, rapist, continues to be a widely streamed artist. Woody Allen, pedophile and rapist, decorates the walls of our “progressive” town of Ann Arbor. Donald Trump, alleged rapist, is the president of the United States. The list goes on. Stop celebrating, glorifying and rewarding these men and, instead, hold them accountable.
You can also help by being supportive of the people in your life who have been raped. When I told my dad what happened to me, he listened to me. He allowed me to share my experience without interrupting or interjecting his own thoughts. Most importantly, he did not doubt me for a second. The positive impact of having a man like my dad in my life during my recovery process has been immeasurable. I encourage you to be that man for someone. Listen, actually listen, to the women, and men, in your life who want to share their experiences.
For a long time after I was raped, I felt helpless. I still have days when I feel things will never change. But my helplessness no longer consumes me. I’m inspired and comforted by the resilient, brave women in my life. To the women in my classes who excel despite their trauma, to my friends and family who carry on despite what was done to them, to survivors everywhere: I see you, I believe you and I believe in you.
Women are strong as hell. But we shouldn’t have to be. No, the solution to “the problem of sexual assault” is not women becoming stronger and less sensitive. The solution is for men to stop. Stop. Raping. Us. Though I’m tired of being held responsible, I will continue to fight for justice until men no longer feel they possess the right to my body. I will fight for me. I will fight for you.
The author is an LSA senior.