Everyone has their reasons for being silent.
Mine are because "the truth of the matter" is that 10 was a freshman in high school. He obviously didn't know better. And when 15 did know better, I was asking for it, they said. My skirt was too short for 16, my pants were too tight for 17, the party was too wild for 18, and in 19’s defense, I was too fun. It was my fault. And when I wasn’t asking for it, 20 thought I was being dramatic. After all, others have experienced much worse. So if we’re going to be honest, I should count myself lucky because 16 was my boyfriend and everyone knows that it’s not rape if he’s your boyfriend.
For a long time, I’ve thought these were all really good reasons to be silent.
But here's the thing, reasons based on lies are not reasons at all. I didn’t ever ask for it.
It wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t being dramatic. It was child molestation, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. The label doesn’t even really matter. What matters is that I didn’t want it. What matters is that even in moments of silence when I pretended to sleep or convinced myself that I was enjoying it, I felt violated, scared, and confused. What matters is that this is a pandemic that I, alongside countless others, am suffering from. What matters is that their unwanted fingerprints have made their way from the surface of my body to every corner and crevice of my life.
The love I understand is conditional on what they get in return. Though I know I am a soul, I only feel like a body. And though I think I know who I am, I ask myself daily, "Is this you or the assault?"
Not being able to trust my feelings and emotions because they're usually masking a coping mechanism is disabling. Not knowing whether he's asking me on a date because he likes me or my body is debilitating.
How do you not attach life sentences to others when it feels like one has been attached to you? How do you believe that you're not broken when you're still picking up the pieces? These are the questions that lurch my mind in the presence of silence.
I never would have thought that the silence that surrounds my assaults would be more painful than the experiences of assault themselves, but it is. Each assault was a just moment but the silence that remained gave them a voice and it's one that won't leave me alone.
That voice has become my own personal demon. "'Maybe if you were prettier. Maybe if your thighs didn't touch. Maybe if you were smarter. Try harder. Or not. You'll never be good enough so you might as well stop now. Really? How could he love you? How could anyone love you? Have you met yourself? Stop pretending to be something you're not. You're used goods and no one likes a liar. You, a survivor? That’s funny.”
My nightmares and realities are one in the same. Everyday I tell myself that it will get better, but every day I am tempted to lock the truth back in the box I stuffed it into years ago and pretend like nothing happened. "I'm fine" is always so much easier to say than "please help me."
And in this personal struggle to admit that I should be asking for help a lot more than I do; I’ve spent a lot of time debating if I should actually publish this. I guess I’m afraid that people will question my intentions. After all, who in their right mind would release photos of themselves sobbing or make themselves this vulnerable to the public for viewing? But then I remember my “why” and all of a sudden it doesn’t really matter what people think anymore.
Because even more important to me than the opinions of others, are those who like me are crying secretly too, but unlike me have no one to hold them. Those who are convinced that their experiences are solely unique to themselves. Those who need to know that they are not alone. And out of the love I feel for them, I choose to speak. I choose to drown out the piercing voice we've given silence with a voice that actually matters. I choose to fight. With my words, with my passions, with my tears, with my honesty, with my love, with these photos and with my feet, which I continue to put one in front of the other.
Everyone has their reasons for being silent, but mine are no longer good enough. Even though I still question if I'm going to be okay, I know by breaking the silence I can make sure that others will be. And that is all the justice I need.
We may learn through experience but sexual assault is one that no one needs to have. As either the survivor or perpetrator. Both of whom lie victim to silence. Both of whom need the silence to stop. Both of whom need our help.
And that’s the truth.