I honestly didn't know what sexual assault was. All I knew about was incest and rape. I was 18, so I should've known, but you don't know much when you grow up in a sheltered town.
Growing up, I was afraid to say no to men. My father was verbally abusive, so what he said was the law. You just didn't say no. So I always thought that you just never say no to men.
It all started when I hit puberty. Boys sexually harassed me in middle school, snapping my bra and slapping my butt in gym glass. I told the principal, but the response was, "Boys will be boys." My mom tried to fight for me but to no avail. "Boys will be boys." After that, I just accepted that all men wanted was sex, and everything just went downhill from there.
I got my first boyfriend when I was 15. He made me feel special. Wanted. But I couldn't tell him no. I allowed him to grope me but inside I was screaming for him to stop. I knew it was wrong and I knew that he didn't really love me like he said he did. He tried to coerce me into having sex with him, but I was brought up that you should wait until marriage to have sex, so I said no for the first time. After that, our relationship ended. I blamed myself. I told myself that I shouldn't have said no. It wasn't right to say no.
All of my relationships afterwards were similar. I couldn't say no to anything, except sex. I was coerced into sending nude photos and other things. I was still screaming no inside. I still thought that you couldn't say no to men. The main reason why I existed was to please men. By this time, I had become empty inside and suicidal. I couldn't feel love, not even for my family. I couldn't tell anyone about the things that had been happening to me because I was ashamed and felt dirty.
I finally went to my bishop and told him about what was going on. He didn't chastise me or anything, which I found surprising. Instead, he offered support and saw me once a week and helped me go through the healing process. I began to feel happy for the first time in a long time.
Then my life came crashing down again at the age of 18. I was hanging out with a guy friend that I'd known since I was 11. I went over to his place to watch a movie. We were alone, but I didn't think anything of it. I trusted him. I ended up falling asleep halfway through the movie. I woke up to him on top of me and kissing me. This was the first time I'd said no. I told him to stop but he wouldn't listen. He began to grope me and when I tried to fight him off, he told me that I would either give him consent or he would rape me. But by some miracle, my phone rang and it distracted him enough for me to run away.
I didn't understand. He was my friend. I trusted him. I thought that he of all people would listen when I said no. But because he was one of the few people I trusted at that time, it hurt me more than the other experiences I had. For a while, it didn't click that anything bad had happened. I let it slip to the back of my mind and didn't think about it.
A few years later when I was serving a volunteer church mission, it finally hit me one night. I broke down crying. I told my companion everything that had happened. She told me that I had been assaulted. I had no idea what she meant, and she explained to me exactly what sexual assault and sexual violence is. I finally realized what had happened to me all those years.
I went to professional counseling and am still seeing a psychiatrist and psychologist. My life is getting better, but I still have flashbacks. After finally accepting what happened, I have decided to fight against this. I will tell people it's okay to say no, that you should say no. Teach people, especially youth, that no means no. People need to know what consent really is. People need to learn to have sympathy for victims and survivors.