Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault.
Given the highly personal nature of the events discussed in this piece, the author has chosen to remain anonymous.
In September 2018, along with the rest of the country, I watched as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, telling the story of the night in high school when she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. As I scrolled through social media that day, I saw dozens of posts about Dr. Ford’s bravery. She was a hero, she was a patriot, she was so courageous for baring her soul on a national stage, telling the world about one of the most traumatic experiences of her life.
I wanted to join the internet in applauding Dr. Ford. But instead, I sat paralyzed in front of my computer, wondering if I would ever find myself in her position.
The night I was sexually assaulted is a haze in many ways, yet crystal clear in others. I was blackout drunk at a party, and I had planned to stay the night in a spare room. When a sober boy who I knew and trusted came into the bedroom, I was in no state to consent to the intercourse that followed. The next morning, I woke up to jokes from friends who’d been at the party with me. It was so funny, they said, that I would hook up with that guy. None of them had ever seen it coming. None of them realized that my entire world had been turned upside down overnight.
I initially thought that maybe I’d just had an embarrassing hookup. I brushed off their jokes, got into my car, and drove to a Walgreens two towns over to buy Plan B. I took a long, scalding shower, washing off the evidence of the night before. Going to the hospital for a rape kit or reporting the boy to the police never crossed my mind. He had a girlfriend at the time, and I remember feeling guilty because I’d helped him cheat on her. They’re still together today. I feel even guiltier now.
Sexual assault is a complicated trauma to process. I spent weeks without an appetite, feeling lethargic and spending days at a time in my room. I had random panic attacks and nightmares, and I constantly checked the lock on my bedroom door to make sure no one could enter while I slept. I stopped hanging out with anyone who’d been at that party. I counted down the days until I would leave the state for Georgetown, figuring that if I just didn’t have to see him, I would get over it. I clung to the idea that the night was just an awkward encounter. But if it was just regrettable sex, why did I feel so ashamed?
I didn’t report my sexual assault because I didn’t immediately categorize it as rape. It took two months and one of Georgetown’s bystander intervention trainings to realize that what happened that night was more than an unpleasant hookup, but by then all the vindicating evidence was long gone. I could still pursue a case with the police, but it would be one of those dreaded “he said, she said” situations. Even if I did win, it would come at the cost of recounting one of the worst experiences of my life over and over again. I didn’t believe that a victory in court would stop the nightmares and panic attacks, so instead of legal action, I chose to seek therapy and never speak to him again. Though I know that this was the healthiest decision for me, it was not an easy one. I constantly worry that my silence puts other women at risk, because without facing any consequences, I don’t know that he’ll ever realize that what he did to me was wrong. My decision not to report my perpetrator did not absolve me of the trauma that comes with sexual assault.
I look back on the past two years of my life and sometimes all I can see are the devastating effects of that party. I think about the friends who haven’t heard from me in months because they still don’t realize that I needed them to step in that night. I think about the guys I’ve turned down for fear of having a panic attack in bed. I think about the boy who probably doesn’t believe he did anything wrong, who gets to live guilt-free while two hours of my life continue to impact my world in innumerable ways. But most of all, I think of every girl he’s encountered since then, and I am sick with shame when I realize that he could’ve hurt them because I was too scared to take him to court.
I will live with the guilt of not reporting that night for the rest of my life, but if I had to do it over again, I can’t say that I would’ve chosen the other path. I could’ve reported it immediately and fought an exhausting legal battle, or I could wait 30 years like Dr. Ford and face vitriol and disbelief from those who believe I should’ve spoken out sooner. Unfortunately, I don’t know that the end result would be any different.
I can’t tell other survivors if pursuing legal action is a good choice for them, but I can say that for every survivor who stands up and tells their story, there are many others who don’t. I hope that in the future, other survivors can feel safe prioritizing their personal needs over the opinions of a society that is not designed to support survivors of sexual violence. While I don’t believe I will ever find any kind of justice for what happened, I do believe I’ll eventually find peace. I can only choose myself and my well-being, over and over again, and try to build a world where other survivors can do the same.