Wednesday, August 22

The Quad: Sexual assault survivors share their stories with the #metoo campaign


metoo


I was not shocked when the allegations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein first surfaced. While people ordinarily do not speak out about their assault for fear of victim blaming, the publicity these allegations have received has emboldened some to share their stories.

In response to these allegations against Weinstein, several people – including celebrities – took to the digital streets of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to share their stories and increase awareness about the extent of sexual assault and harassment through the #metoo campaign. Some have supported this campaign by posting the hashtag, while others have used it as an opportunity to further expand on the details of their assaults.

The message of the campaign is simple:

“If all people who have been sexually assaulted or harassed wrote ‘me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

It is unfortunate how many people consider sexual assault and harassment an everyday part of their lives. I have learned to ignore lewd comments and looks when I walk down the street wearing my favorite dress and have adopted buddy systems and safe words for a night of partying. I constantly feel unsafe – be it on a crowded street or alone at home – and that is not OK.

It’s also important to add that despite how prevalent sexual assault and harassment are, they can still be stigmatized in a way that disfavors the victim’s narrative.

Throughout the week, the Daily Bruin will share the experiences of survivors who have chosen to come forward with their stories.

***

“I was about 17 years old. I was over at my best friend’s house for a sleepover. Her stepdad came into the bedroom and we were all just hanging out and talking. Then my friend left the room so it was just me and her stepdad. I was laying down on my friend’s bed with my back to the door where he was standing.

Suddenly, her stepdad crawls into the bed, lays down next to me and starts feeling me up. He puts his hand up my shorts. His hand just stays there on my butt while he asks me how I’m doing and I just say, ‘I’m fine.’

I didn’t know how to fight back. This was my friend’s stepdad and he always seemed like a good guy – funny and charismatic. I didn’t want to tell my friend because it would cause a disturbance in their relationship and her mother’s relationship with him.

It would cause a whole mess so I decided to just be quiet about it; I just denied that what I had just experienced was molestation. It was only when I came to UCLA that I divulged my secret to some close friends. They told me, ‘That was molestation and that is not okay,’ and only then did I admit to myself that I had been sexually molested.

I have never been to my friend’s house after that incident and whenever we hang out, I always insist that she come over to my house. I am afraid of (my friend’s step-father).

I have only seen him a few times after that incident, but I pretend that nothing’s happened.”

- A second-year student

***

“My assaulter was one of my closest friends. He assaulted me when we were pre-gaming for a party on the Hill. He refused to acknowledge the assault the next day even though his friends made light of the situation. They already knew (about the assault) even though he claimed that he didn’t remember, but he apologized when I confronted him a week later.

However, despite his apologies he continued to emotionally manipulate me – he expected the same unconditional friendship, expected me to deal with his problems and he played the victim. He gave me “affectionate” nicknames that I thought were weird and disgusting, especially since I didn’t reciprocate and was trying to distance myself from him.

I couldn’t cut him off all at once since I was being blamed for this incident. I was made to feel guilty for verbally confronting my assaulter. It amazes me how people who I thought were close to me were okay with blaming me for an incident I did not have any control over.

What scares me is that he is still seeking out friendships with female first-year students who don’t know how horrible he is.

He is very good at portraying himself as an angelic, innocent person even though he is not.”

- A student of color

***

“My experience with sexual assault happened during fall quarter of my first year and has impacted the way I navigate UCLA from the very beginning. I met my assaulter during stay-through after the New Student Orientation session.

The stay-through was a very lonely and vulnerable period for me in which I was navigating UCLA and dealing with homesickness at the same time. I was hanging out with a group of people who I was not necessarily friends with, and my assaulter was in that group. He would always approach me at parties and encourage me to drink at a time when I had never even tried alcohol.

He would get me so intoxicated that oftentimes I would lose my memory and wake up disoriented. I had no recollection of what had happened, but I always woke up next to him. He ended up coercing me into a relationship and would often exhibit possessive and controlling behavior – he would always stand with an arm around me, would always hold my hand in public, would ask where I was going and who I was going with. He would drop me back to my room, but I would wake up in the morning with him next to me and bruises between my legs.

I couldn’t shake off this feeling of disgust and shame. It got to a point where it was too unbearable and I told him that I didn’t want to see him again. I knew something was wrong, but it wasn’t until I was sitting in a sexual assault presentation a year and a half later till I realized that I had been assaulted. I was in an incredibly vulnerable and ignorant stage of my life when I came to UCLA. College was the first space where I could experience true freedom, but I had difficulty setting boundaries for myself. I had never talked about relationships or sexuality back home; I didn’t know what assault was apart from the stereotypical “stranger-in-an-alley” scenario.

I didn’t think it could happen to me, and I believed that for almost two years.”

- A fourth-year international student from India

***

“I was raped at a party during my second year by someone who was not a student but was still a well-known person around the campus. It happened in an off-campus apartment. There was alcohol at the party but I was less intoxicated than my assaulter. I didn’t encourage him but he still raped me in the bathroom of the apartment. I couldn’t control the situation because he was bigger than me.

I also ended up walking back with him to my dorm room as a safety precaution because I didn’t want him to harm anyone else. After I checked him in, I brought him to my room. We were arguing in the hallway and the only way I could calm him down was by inviting him inside.

He tried to touch me again inside the room but I stopped him because by then he was too intoxicated and couldn’t fight me. I reported him a week later, but during that week I did not talk to anyone about the incident and distanced myself; I was still in shock and trying to deny it (as rape).

I reported the incident because I had gone to the Ashe Center to check if something was wrong; I felt that I had to get myself checked since he didn’t use protection. My practitioner asked me to name my partner and that was when I told them that I was raped.

But instead of telling me my options, she made me feel like (reporting the rape) was the only choice I had. Regardless of whether the person you are speaking to is a professional, no person has the right to force you to report your assault, because this decision is something you need to make on your own since it can aggravate the trauma.

After I reported the incident, UCPD was called into Ashe immediately. They asked me uncomfortable questions that I found overwhelming because the incident was still fresh in my mind. The point (at which) everything broke apart was when I was called into the station and had to directly confront my assaulter. He rejected whatever I said, accused me of making things up and this made feel confused and made me doubt everything.

One thing that helped me was fighting for sexual assault victims. This helped keep me motivated and on track. Just because it had happened to me, I (realized that I) didn’t have to be silent about it and that I could help other girls who underwent similar incidents. It didn’t end there. I ended up taking leadership roles in women-run organizations and that helped me meet empowering women who helped me become the leader I am today.

Instead of feeling helpless, I feel that I am now a role model who could offer a lot more to my community than I had before.”

- A fourth-year student

***

“I was about 17 years old. I was over at my best friend’s house for a sleepover. Her stepdad came into the bedroom and we were all just hanging out and talking. Then my friend left the room so it was just me and her stepdad. I was laying down on my friend’s bed with my back to the door where he was standing.

Suddenly, her stepdad crawls into the bed, lays down next to me and starts feeling me up. He puts his hand up my shorts. His hand just stays there on my butt while he asks me how I’m doing and I just say, “I’m fine.”

I didn’t know how to fight back. This was my friend’s stepdad and he always seemed like a good guy – funny and charismatic. I didn’t want to tell my friend because it would cause a disturbance in their relationship and her mother’s relationship with him.

It would cause a whole mess so I decided to just be quiet about it; I just denied that what I had just experienced was molestation. It was only when I came to UCLA that I divulged my secret to some close friends. They told me, “That was molestation and that is not OK,” and only then did I admit to myself that I had been sexually molested.

I have never been to my friend’s house after that incident and whenever we hang out, I always insist that she come over to my house. I am afraid of (my friend’s stepfather).

I have only seen him a few times after that incident, but I pretend that nothing’s happened.”

- A second-year student

***

“The first time I was molested was by a construction worker who was building our house. I was 4 or 5 years old and he pulled me into a room and pulled down his pants. I was a child so I didn’t know what was happening, but I remember how I felt after that. I remember feeling dirty and that it was my fault. The second time I was molested was by an uncle when I was around 10 years old. He made me sit on his lap, felt me up and tried to remove my clothes. But I stopped him. Every time I was assaulted (before) my mind would leave my body and I would freeze. I would deny that it had happened to me. But with my uncle, I realized at some point what was happening and was able to stop him.

My most recent experience was when I was 19 years old. I was in an abusive relationship for two years. It was a long-distance relationship and he visited me here at the university. I have always believed that the erotic – sex, intimacy and arousal – are very empowering things for everyone, especially (those who are not) cis heterosexual white men. I believe in being sexually active, but this person assumed that I wanted to have sex because we hadn’t seen each other in a while.

(The assault) can be constituted as tricky because I revoked consent in the middle (of sex) but he continued what he was doing. He raped me.

I did not label that incident as rape until this spring. That’s why I am still in a place where I am still grappling with all of this. These are very new experiences for me because I did not call what happened to me as a child as molestation. I had grief because I had all these emotions that I pushed down, so later I couldn’t identify them and eventually developed depression.

I don’t think you can ever get over assault, but you can come to terms with how you were violated on every possible level. You can try to learn to love the body that has been made alien to you by your assault. I am trying to give these events the proper space they deserve in my life by not letting them dictate the rest of my existence.”

- A fourth-year English student

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Appurva Goel is a Daily Bruin Quad contributor. She likes writing about different cultures, fashion and social issues.


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