This piece is for those of you not directly affected by sexual assault. It has to do with my own life experience and in no way is a mold for how others experience events or emotions. I feel inclined to write a trigger warning, for this contains some tough shit — so this is it: trigger warning.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the recent news surrounding Harvey Weinstein. If you haven’t, he’s a famous director and producer who’s been accused of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment by at least 40 women, as The New York Times reported. It’s been such a big story because of the wide network of people in Hollywood who were affected or knew about Weinstein’s abhorrent acts. Weinstein has been engaging in this behavior for over three decades — longer than I’ve even been alive.
To the naïve shock of some, I don’t feel surprised when I read these reports. This culture, rape culture, is one that I know well. As some prefer to eloquently put it, I’m a survivor of sexual assault. To me, that feels too fancy. In my head, it feels more right to call it what it was — a brutal rape. I do understand why people cling to the word survivor, though, because making it through each day since then has been an indescribable struggle.
The first few months following were full of visceral flashbacks, it was as if he was on my skin again. I wanted so badly to peel it off and start anew. Can you imagine that? Feeling like you have so little control of your own body, being so disgusted with what’s happened to you that the only way you can fathom living in this body any longer is if you could peel bits of it away?
I couldn’t sleep, either. And when I did, I was awoken by nightmares that replayed the trauma over and over and over. Sometimes I would be walking down the sidewalk or hallway and all of the sudden he was there, biting me and tackling me to the concrete. I would dissociate for what feels like eternity. Eventually someone would bring me back to reality. Maybe it’s my mom asking again what I want for dinner. Sometimes it’s my professor repeating an exam review. Either way, it felt and still feels like I can’t escape.
It’s been years and I still don’t, or rather can’t, comfortably let people touch me without being almost in a state of panic. Even the slight brush of my forearm sends shivers up my spine and adrenaline through my veins. Seeing distant family members over holiday breaks is a scene out of my worst nightmare — hugging and kissing multitudes of people, unable to say no comfortably. Some see my aversion to touch as an overreaction, but to me it’s a survival mechanism.
Every day is a different challenge, a different barrier in overcoming the trauma. Constantly repeating to myself that I’m not worthless or undeserving of my humanity or just a body for someone else’s pleasure. Constantly shouting in my own head that it’s not my fault, that I didn’t make up my memories, that I belong on this Earth.
I think this is why they use the word survivor.
I want to tell you this because I want you to understand why I can’t fight this battle by myself — or rather, why the victims of sexual assault and harassment can’t fight this by themselves. You might justify my request and your lack of action by saying that others don’t bear this level of pain, but does it matter? They probably wouldn’t tell you if they did, because the pain in you not believing us is almost like it’s happening over again; that we’re not worth our humanity, again.
I want you to understand why we can’t fight this battle ourselves. We fight our own internal battles every day, and we need allies to take to the streets and help. We need others to stand up and say something when they hear comments implying acts without consent or even just sexualizing other beings. We need to know that you are here for us, that you will defend us and that you believe us.
The silence that you allow is the violence that plagues my skin.
When you hear “locker room talk,” stop it. Let them know that’s not accepted here. You may face resistance. People may ask why you care about their conversation or state that it has nothing to do with you, but please continue fighting this with us. Please know that you are fighting one of the noblest battles in existence. You are the voice for those whose have been robbed, silenced and doubted. And from the bottom of my heart, I will always be grateful for that.
Meaghan Wheat is an LSA junior.
If you would like to share your story, learn how to submit to our series here. The submission deadline for the fall 2017 semester is Oct. 26, 2017 at 11:59 p.m., but after that you may submit your piece as an op-ed.