I am, unfortunately, one of the 1 in 5 college-aged women who has been sexually assaulted. And if that isn’t warning enough, let me put it bluntly: if you’re easily upset, this post may not be for you.
But let’s take a step back. What does sexual assault even mean? It’s a phrase I hear all the time, and I prior to my own incident, I assumed it meant rape. Not so. According to the United States Department of Justice, sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.
I’m not sure that the particulars matter, but maybe it will caution someone else to keep an eye out, speak up, and get out before things get bad. I was 18, a freshman in college, when I went to a Halloween party at a fraternity. I couldn’t even tell you which one now, it’s been so long and I was probably not sober at the time. (Just being real, you know how it goes in college.) I was dancing with some friends and these guys came up behind us. I’m pretty sure one of my friends went off with one of them, and the rest of us were dancing together. One in particular seemed really interested in me, so we started dancing. Next thing you know, he put his hand up my skirt. I moved his hand away. He did it again. I said, “Please stop” and moved his hand away again. Apparently he didn’t get the message, and continued what he was doing, more and more persistently.
That was it. I pushed him off me, got my friend’s attention, and told her we needed to go. I didn’t want to make a big scene, so I just said I didn’t like that guy, and that was that. At 18, I was quite a bit different than I am now. Then, I was afraid to speak up. Afraid of being told it was “no big deal” or that it shouldn’t bother me. Today when I hear about something like that happening to another young woman, it makes me cringe. No one should be violated by a stranger ever. And if they say no? You listen.
Looking back on it, that whole incident is scary. What if I had been there alone? What if I had put up with it? What would he have done next? What else would he have tried to do if I had stayed? I’m glad I never found out.
It’s so important to be safe, especially when drinking is involved. As women, we are vulnerable whether we like it or not. Men can overpower us. Men can (and, unfortunately, do) take advantage of us.
Every 107 seconds, another woman is sexually assaulted according to RAINN.org. I hope that you are never one of them. And if you have been, I am so sorry. It is not an experience I would wish on anyone.
The good news? Now, more than ever, there is awareness about sexual assault. While most of it is focused on violent attacks and rape, especially in the college community, awareness and discussion is important. It’s key to break the cycle. I only wish that there had been more discussion around sexual assault in general. I often wonder how many other women were taken advantage of at parties who never reported it either.
The advancements in technology also mean more and more tools to help you feel safer in your own community. One such tool is an app called Watch Over Me, which came to be after the co-founder, Chin Xin-Ci, escaped a kidnapping attempt. You can read her amazing, terrifying, and honest story here.
If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s to keep your eyes open. When you’re walking alone at night, always be scanning the areas in front of you and to your sides. Be aware of what is happening around you. And if you live, work, or are visiting a particular dangerous area, Watch Over Me is seriously a great option. You can let it know to start tracking your location and send notifications to loved ones. You also can trigger “SOS” mode which will sound the alarm and trigger your phone’s video camera. The app is free, but some features like SMS alerts are part of their subscription.
Watch Over Me has kindly offered 10 free accounts. Enter below and share this with the women in your lives so they can try the app and enter too. Taking our power back is important, and this is just one small step in the right direction.
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This post is not sponsored by Watch Over Me. They’ve provided 10 free accounts to my readers, and I took the opportunity to share my own story along with the giveaway.
Have you ever been put in a dangerous situation? How did you deal with it?
Dear Jenn, thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s very brave of you to do; it’s no small feat and I want you to know how sincerely proud I am of you.
I think it’s really important to pluralize the definition of sexual assault; like you said, I think people have a tendency to think it necessarily means forcible penetration. Another thing that it’s important to point out is the the majority of acts of sexual violence are perpetrated by someone you know. I know that when it happened to me, because my situation was not one of a violent stranger rape, I downplayed what had happened a lot. “Oh, it wasn’t bad enough….” But if it happened, it’s bad enough. It’s all bad.
Part of me has such a visceral reaction to telling women to be more careful so as to avoid being assaulted. I mean, I think we all know that’s a pretty fucked up way of doing things and is a way of placing the responsibility on the victim. It makes me hesitant in a lot of ways because I hate the rhetoric of “she was assaulted because she wasn’t careful enough.” At the same time, there are obviously steps that we can take as individuals to try to keep ourselves out of harms way. It’s a fine line and I think you’ve done a good job of presenting a balanced, non-judgemental perspective here.
Sorry if I’m rambling – this is such a long comment! tl;dr thanks for sharing and I really appreciate your honest words.
Through the Thicket
Aw, thank you Kathryn! You are too kind, and thank you for sharing your thoughts too! I think it’s a really important discussion to be having, and I’m glad so many other women feel the same.
You’re so right. I find that so many of us will say things like “it wasn’t that bad” or “I shouldn’t have been wearing/doing/drinking XYZ…” when there really is no excuse for any sort of unwanted behavior. If someone says no, that means no.
And I agree. I have a hard time giving out “tips” to women to keep themselves safe, because really, we shouldn’t HAVE to do anything special. And really, to some extent there is not always much you can do but to avoid certain areas that are notorious for criminal activity. But, for my own peace of mind, I always try to stay alert of my surroundings because it’s better to be safe and watching your own back then nothing at all.
I know I don’t do a lot of going out alone because I’m married but I do have girls nights every now and then and my husband does go out of town several times a year. I would use this when I go to dinner with the girls or have to run to the store after dark. I would also use this when we travel, which is fairly often. While I may not be sexually assaulted with my husband right there, it doesn’t mean something won’t happen to us.
I know what you mean – you never know, and you really never can be too careful. Thanks for entering, Catherine!
Sadly, I too am a victim. I blamed myself for years because I was intoxicated at the time. Now, I understand that I was not at fault. I trusted someone I thought was a friend to get my home safely but instead, he violated my person and my trust and my self-respect for years with his actions. By accepting that I wasn’t at fault, I’ve learned that he cannot violate me anymore and that has been a very freeing experience. It has also helped to have a supportive partner who knows about the trauma I went through and goes above and beyond to comfort me when I need it.
Sexual violence, including rape, is something no one should have to experience but as you said, it happens way too often. I hope that by you speaking out about your own assault, people will learn that it happens to good people and that our “rape culture” needs to change.
Oh how terrible. I am so sorry, Kate. I’m so glad you have Adam to support you, and have been able to acccept that in no way were you at fault for that. And amen to your last statement. That is absolutely true!
Thanks for sharing your story and raising awareness- this app seems really great- there are so many times I’m walking in a dark parking lot and was wishing for something like this!
I know right? I definitely feel a little bit safer knowing I have the app downloaded and ready to go anytime I may need it.
thank you for sharing that personal experience with us. there’s a similar app/idea that i’ve heard of, and like this, it’s genius. my experiences with sexual harassment/assault have been unwanted verbal harassment. it made doing my job completely uncomfortable b/c i had to be around this man and his inappropriate and continued comments. the sad thing is, as a young woman, i didn’t know what to do but try and cover myself up and laugh it away. now i’d say, you need to stop.
How awful, I can’t imagine being harrassed at work. That must have made your workplace feel like a nightmare! :(
I actually heard of this app for the very first time through another blogger. I think it’s such a great idea. I’m so sorry to hear your story. That’s awful. I’ve gone through a similar scenario but also never reported it because when I thought about sexual assault, I thought it meant rape and rape alone.
I’m sorry you can relate to this, Julie. It’s sad that those kind of behaviors by men has been “normalized” enough for us to not think to report it. :(
You are strong and brave for sharing your experience. And you are right, the definition of Sexual Assault is widely misconceived. Educating the world on what it really is and how no mean NO is super important. Stories like yours further that education, so thank you for sharing it. People need to know what to look for and to stand up for others in similar situations.
I have never had an encounter close to yours, but have found myself in plenty of situations similar while in high school. It’s really scary to think about the “what-ifs” and sometimes they drive me crazy. What if I had been alone? What if I had just ignored it? It’s a scary world and knowing the signs and being alert is so important these days.
Thank you for sharing and thank you for your honesty
Aw, thank you for the kind words Chelsie!
Agreed on all of your points – it’s amazing how many other women have been put in uncomfortable and dangerous situations, yet never speak up, myself included. I hope that in the future, by talking about these things openly it will reduce the stigma surrounding it and young girls will be much more aware and alert.
I love that people are now speaking out on sexual assault and rape. Sadly, women, including myself, blame themselves all too often for these situations occurring. I didn’t talk to anyone about it for years because I was so afraid people would blame me. (which is silly because I was five the first time). Now that I am open about it, I talk to others would have gone through it, and it’s obvious that rape/sexual assault culture needs to change. Thanks for sharing your story and raising awareness.
Thanks Olya, and I’m so sorry you’ve been through that. Agreed, it really does need to change and I hope more women start talking about this with others too – it is so important!
Thank you for sharing your experience and I am so sorry that happened to you and I am so glad you left. It made me start thinking about back when I was in college or even now and especially for my 18 year old daughter that is a senior this year and very naive when it comes to the “real” world, she is too trusting of people that she does not really know. And as you stated, men can overpower us fairly easily because they are just stronger than us. I am a single and at times, I can’t think of a situation right now, but am in a situation that I let someone know where I am and how long I should be just in case. I wasn’t aware of this app but am so so glad to have been made aware of it. Thank you so much.
You’re so welcome, Christy! It’s definitely just one more way to protect ourselves and those we care about. I was naive at that age and thought nothing bad would ever happen to me, and unfortunately that’s just not the reality these days. I hope your daughter stays safe! The world can be a scary place.
Thank you for this post! I too, was the victim of a sexual assault in college (actually, a quite violent rape). 20+years ago, victims were not offered the resources that are available today – although the sexual assault numbers appear to be climbing. My assailant was actually a Big10 football player from another school. It was ‘quietly taken care of’ between both universities. But I still feel like my options were limited & the punishment was lighter because of my assailant’s ‘importance’ to the other school (if this makes sense)…
I am so sorry to hear that, Kim. I can’t even imagine. It’s awful that the player was treated differently than I imagine a “normal” student would. It wouldn’t surprise me if that still doesn’t happen on a lot of college campuses, and is really sad. :( Thank you for sharing!
Thank you for sharing your story, Jenn. The exact same thing happened to me when I was in college, and I have seen it happening to other girls as well. For it to be such a common occurrence is disconcerting. I’m sure some people think it’s no big deal, but it’s simply not okay to touch someone without their permission.
That is disconcerting! You’re right, it’s definitely a big deal, no one should be touched without their permission, especially if it makes them uncomfortable and they say no or stop.
Thank you for sharing your story! I can’t imagine that was easy to share with the entire Internet, but it is so important for women (and men!) to realize forced intercourse is not the only method of sexual assault. In this way, I think more than 1 in 5 women have probably been assaulted, they just don’t know it, and that needs to change!
Ha, definitely was not my favorite post to write, and getting the words right was not the easiest task either! Agreed, I imagine the number is much higher because I would guess that women 1. don’t realize it, and 2. don’t report it!
thank you so much for this. i wish more young girls would know about this! i think it is important to know that there are many definitions of sexual assault and rape. it you dont give consent, then something is wrong!
i would use this when going to uncertain places
Agreed, Tima! There are so many definitions and you’re right, if no consent is given, it’s definitely not right!
Oh, Jenn, I didn’t want to read further, but I’m glad I did. Posts like this raise awareness to women regardless of age and status who could be a victim of sexual assault. I’m sorry it happened to you when you were 18. It wasn’t the best way to learn how dangerous the world can be.
You know that I’m moving to the US very soon, and this app may help me feel secured in a completely foreign land. I’ve never been to the US before, and I tend to become paranoid in certain places, so this may come in handy.
Thanks for reading, Jae! I know it’s not a pleasant topic, but you’re right, it does help awareness and I’m hopeful it will lead to conversations so more women will feel less ashamed or embarassed of things that have happened to them,
I’m sure the app will come in handy! It definitely makes me feel more secure knowing I can use it if I need to!
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I’m so sorry this happened to you! But thank you for being brave enough to share your story! It’s sad that we have to be so cautious all the time to avoid being victimized. You just never can be too careful.
Thanks Martha! Agreed, it really is sad, but you’re right, better to be safe than sorry!
That was one of my biggest fears when I was in college and walking from a class after dark or walking to my car after dark from work. It still is. Unfortunately it can happen anytime, anywhere, to anyone. This is a REALLY great giveaway!
Agreed Tori! It’s super scary. I am really glad nothing worse happened to me while I was in college, and cross my fingers it never does.
Really appreciate you sharing your story. This happens ALL over the world and its just crazy!
Thanks for sharing Watch Over Me as well <3
Thanks Xinch! It is just crazy. Hopefully tools like Watch Over Me will help make it less common in the future!