“A new year has begun, and it is already more jarring than the last. I started off the year on a sour note, and it feels like 2019 keeps punching me in the face.”
I wrote those sentences about a month ago. I’m feeling better 30 days later, but beginnings are harsh – especially as you age. This online publication turns four years old today. It’s scary how quickly these four years have flashed by.
I am a completely different person from the day it began, and yet still the same. I assess things differently, I cope differently, I judge myself differently, I communicate differently and I love myself and others differently.
“I tell my story in the hope that it could help someone in the way that the people on GrrlPunch and other female-run publications have helped me.”
GrrlPunch has given me the special gift of tracking this growth. I can go back through my editor’s notes over the years and watch a person changing through words. It’s like a diary that’s incredibly public, yet still a part of a tight-knit community of young people that support each other.
The grrls that have worked with GrrlPunch over the past four years have helped and guided each other in a way that is inspiring and humbling. And that’s why I think it’s time to tell an incredibly private story about myself.
I tell my story in the hope that it could help someone in the way that the people on GrrlPunch and other female-run publications have helped me.
**Trigger warning for individuals who have dealt, or are still dealing, with sexual assault and rape.**
This New Year’s Eve I was forced to relive something from my past that I had tucked far, far away. I walked into a party and was faced with the man who raped me.
I hadn’t seen him in years and everything started to well up inside of my brain, my lungs and my stomach. I tried to avoid interaction, but was cornered by him after an acquaintance confronted him – despite my pleading to leave it alone.
I had to look my rapist in the eyes while 2018 turned to 2019 and explain how his actions affected me, even years later. What he did was wrong, there’s no denying that. However, I’ve never felt more powerful than when I looked my rapist in the eyes and said, “I forgive you because I’m stronger in spite of you.”
When #MeToo started trending last year, I wanted to associate myself with those strong survivors, but I didn’t because I couldn’t bear to hurt my family and close friends by divulging that secret. It’s earth shattering to find out that someone you would do anything to protect was hurt without your knowing. But is withholding a story of perseverance from an ear that needs it worth protecting others from reality? I’m unsure of the answer to such a hypothetical question, but here I go:
I was sexually assaulted by a “friend” in high school. He took advantage of a situation that I had little control over. I was at a party in a house with no adult supervision. Yes, there was alcohol involved, but no, it doesn’t invalidate my experience. Despite how much a person has had to drink, rape is rape and sexual assault is sexual assault.
“But it didn’t matter what I wore that night because a t-shirt and a skirt don’t permit assault. Nothing does.”
I could argue that most human beings have a sense of morality in which they know ripping away a person’s sense of safety is wrong. Maybe I’m the one that is wrong about that. I knew the person before they hurt me, and that’s why it didn’t make sense.
I wanted to go home, and I asked this friend for a ride so the girls I came with could stay a bit longer. I got in his car, and I don’t remember much after.
I remember waking up in the trunk of a car that was not mine, in a park that was not my home without my clothes. No consent was given, there was just a young man who had taken every sense of security away from me.
He told my friends where they could find me, and they picked me up. I was so stunned that I acted like everything was fine, almost made it comical in a way that was helping me cope. They suspected nothing.
The next day I was sore throughout my entire body. I ached as I put myself back together again over the course of months and then years.
I threw away the clothes I was wearing the night before because I couldn’t separate my favorite skirt from my living nightmare. But it didn’t matter what I wore that night because a t-shirt and a skirt don’t permit assault. Nothing does.
I thought it was over. I could bear my shame by myself. That was until photos he took of me that night started to circulate around to other young men. I cannot begin to articulate the humiliation I felt after finding out about the pictures. I cannot put into words how much my life felt like it was over. I was being degraded and objectified without consent even after my traumatic experience had occurred and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
I started acting out, I shut myself off from my friends and family, and I starting hating myself in a way that I did not know was possible. Looking back on that time, I don’t know how I made it out alive. I didn’t see him or my friends for much of the summer after that.
I blamed myself like many sexual assault victims do, and I blamed myself for a long time. I’m still fighting that battle.
After that night, I felt hollow, and I didn’t address that pain. I didn’t report it because I truly didn’t know how to. I couldn’t put myself through a situation where every choice I had made that night would be called into question to ultimately validate my worst fear: that it was, in fact, my fault.
“There must have been some way I could have prevented it. There must have been something I wore or drank or did that allowed for such a horrific act of defilement.” I lived with these thoughts and statements for a long time.
“I knew I had to do something, and then I did it. I started GrrlPunch.”
I wanted to tell my friends, I wanted to tell my family, but the sense of shame that a sexual assault survivor feels is indescribable. Your shame becomes your shadow. It follows you wherever you go.
The school year started, and each day it became easier to distract myself – until I skipped school one day. I stayed home and watched documentaries and movies all afternoon. One, in particular, struck a chord.
The Punk Singer, directed by Sini Anderson, follows Kathleen Hanna and her influence on punk rock and feminism in the early 90s. I was floored by her story and the stories of the women working with her.
“GrrlPunch wasn’t started because I was raped, GrrlPunch was started because I needed a community of grrls to share experiences with”
She explains in one part of the documentary about how her best friend was assaulted in their home. It was the first time I was openly told about assault. I felt understood and validated.
Kathleen recalled thinking, “I have to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.” That sentence hit me in the gut. I hadn’t done anything to ensure that what happened to me wouldn’t happen to another young person. I knew I had to do something, and then I did it. I started GrrlPunch.
I’d like to say that was the end of my sexual assault story, but that story continues everyday. It will forever be a piece of who I am as a young woman, despite me conquering the worst of it.
GrrlPunch wasn’t started because I was raped, GrrlPunch was started because I needed a community of grrls to share experiences with. I needed understanding and protection, but at the same time I needed to understand and protect others. I created exactly what I needed and then some.
Often times I’m homesick for the young woman I was before I was sexually assaulted. I wonder who I would be now if it hadn’t happened to me.
Then I think about GrrlPunch, and how much it changed my life in ways that wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t skipped school, if I hadn’t felt the need to help others, if I hadn’t felt that anger and shame and if I hadn’t needed and wanted to share stories.
I have had the privilege to work with strong grrls, to learn from grrls and to open my heart to those grrls. In turn, many of them have felt the same security with me. That trust is an honor. However, every experience is different and most, unfortunately, do not turn out like mine did.
I surrounded myself with grrls who never judged me, but loved me. I healed because I created a support system that would ensure I survived as well as others.
“I wonder who I would be now if it hadn’t happened to me.”
I don’t really know how to end this other than saying thank you. Thank you for reading this, thank you for supporting GrrlPunch. Thank you for aiding me in taking terrible shit and making it beautiful, supportive and loving.
Much Love Always,