I was raped at 19 — 10 years later, I have a lot to say.

Fear and shame are powerful vehicles of silence. They are the very things that keep the underbelly of society functioning without incident. As women, we fear backlash for speaking up about things that have happened to us, or simply things we think are wrong. I have been sharing post after post about GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, especially his villainization of assault victims, to the annoyance of some friends and loved ones. Those who are annoyed mostly either agree with some of his politics or think I am (and I directly quote) “beating a dead horse.”

Let me share with you why I am not beating a dead horse. Hopefully, I can help you understand why this horse is living, breathing and galloping through society without reprimand or guidance to our own detriment. This is not an easy topic to come out with, especially a decade after it has happened to me. A decade of buried pain requires many layers of healing and coping to unearth, but this election has already made much of that rise to the surface. Old wounds are now fresh and it’s time to speak up though I fear backlash all the same. I look around and see women coming forward stating how they were assaulted or raped and in response to their bravery, often they are further questioned. In lieu of our sick nature as a society to put further social responsibility on people who have been deeply traumatized; I’d like to offer some answers from my perspective.

Why not sooner? Why now?

I cannot boast to speak for all women, but I will give my reasoning as follows. I cannot idly stand by while a man who has admitted on tape to sexual assault, blatantly disregarding consent and overall human decency is legitimately considered for the highest office in the land. I think many women share that same feeling. The resistance towards sharing not only our pain but our shame in such a public way is overcome by the impetus to stand against the almost cartoon caricature of misogyny and rape culture we see attempting to slither into the oval office. This election has brought up such a deep searing anger and sense of powerlessness, all too similar to the pain I felt 10 years ago when I was raped in college.

Few people know this happened to me. The circumstances that some found out were even against my will. Of all the many emotions I felt about being raped, shame was by far the strongest one and certainly the hardest to overcome in writing this piece. It has taken me 10 long years to feel that I have even built up enough self-love to discuss that this happened to me. Having the right support system and knowing that no matter what happens in sharing, I would still have my loved ones by my side has also been a huge help in coming forward. Some women do not have that and never will. Some women still live with their abusers and are not able to escape. Mark my words, speaking out is in it’s own right an act of privilege. Another important point is that it is not lost on me that by sharing this, I make myself a target. As sick as that is, many women have experienced this. Just as we see on the media, victims are doubted, attacked, judged for their appearance, dissected, doxxed and more — women are not making themselves more safe by speaking out or coming forwards, often, it’s the other way around.

Why didn’t you report this when it happened?

Everyone’s story is different. After my rape, a friend consoled me enough to get me into his car and drove me to a non-profit women’s shelter. I was a mess and looking back I believe this friend did the right thing. There they physically inspected me and I had the opportunity to be put in touch with police to report the incident and file charges. The woman who I spoke with gave me a pragmatic view into what would happen if I did. She enumerated the steps very clearly and for that I am very grateful. She told me what the rape kit consisted of, how prosecution would go, what trials were like, how long things could drag on for, how my choices would be cast under a magnifying glass, how poorly college administrations deal with these allegations and so on. I was 19 at the time so this was quite a lot to process.

I had just begun college, I had been raped and now I was getting an explanation of how emphatically broken not only our justice system is for women in my position but how colleges, much like me, wanted to wash away the rape fervently. They do not want the smear on their reputations. They do not want parents sending their precious daughters (or sons) into the sweaty clutches of rapists. Unfortunately, take one look at the statistics on the matter and this is sadly the case for 11.2% of students. This was a lot of information to consume while I was processing the traumatic event I went through. I was questioning whether it happened, assuming it was my fault. Further, I didn’t want to set my life on fire because the system that is supposed to offer me justice could make it worse after all was said and done.

More over, I was afraid I wouldn’t be backed up. My friends had left that night, they didn’t witness what had happened. There were people who heard me say “No” and “Stop you’re hurting me” but they didn’t stop him and they didn’t intervene. They were his friends so I thought I didn’t stand a chance in getting corroboration of the facts. I knew enough in my young 19 years to know I wouldn’t be believed. When accusing someone of something, they have a vested interest in denying it, especially if there are legal repercussions. That denial can be a painful mechanism for the rapist to further abuse the victim as seen here. I did not have the ability to take that on with how broken I was at the time. I had a lot of healing yet to do.

What about his future victims?

To make it the social responsibility of the victim in ensuring that justice is served is ridiculous. I understand the altruistic roots of this logic but why don’t we direct it appropriately? Perhaps towards, I don’t know, NOT RAPING PEOPLE to begin with? Or maybe fixing the clearly broken justice system towards rape and sexual assault might be a good prerogative? What about college rape culture and how it interfaces with the legal system? We saw these events unfold in rapist Brock Turner’s case where he served a pittance — a mere 3 months, of his 6 month to begin with, joke of a rape sentence. What about mandatorily educating young people on consent in a preventative measure? What about the ugliness of society when a victim comes forward? Could we change that? Could we change the way that we approach people who have been so deeply violated to feel supported if we want them to come forward so badly? I think it is extremely short sided to pit all of the responsibility on the victim of sexual assault. It has taken me a decade to understand that justice wasn’t my social responsibility and that I did not make the wrong choice for me. I practiced self-care. I healed. I did what I had to do to come back from a devastating life event. The only person that gets to judge how I responded to such a state of chaos is me.

Why you shouldn’t silence people:

When you see someone speaking out so strongly against someone who has such malignant views against women — someone who abhors the idea of women being viewed as equals by society and that pesters you…don’t try to silence them. You don’t know why they might be opening up. You don’t know their personal history. It’s wrong on many levels to silence people, especially oppressed people, as they speak out against their oppression. This rings especially true for intersectional cases and people of color in a big way. This post is merely about my experience and I can only speak to what I endured as a white woman who was raped. Problems in society like this become exponentially more toxic, harmful and unjust when people of color endure them. So, in regard to silencing people who want to speak out against people like Donald Trump and his attacks against his accusers, I hope for better out of people. I think we should want to have important social commentary about sexual violence. This is clearly a problem that is not going away, especially given this election.

Yes, I know you are tired of hearing about this election but REALLY STOP TO THINK ABOUT THIS. A man who has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women, caught on tape disregarding consent as a bragging right — he is the GOP presidential candidate. I wondered for a long time aside from the blatantly obvious reasons what so deeply disturbed me about him. Now I know. He reminds me of my rape. The way he silences victims, degrades women, and supports rape culture, tears down everything I have built up over the past decade. In my mind, he is a representative for my rapist and the ugliness in society if I had come forth when it happened. He is the very reason I stayed silent and bore my shame alone. Do not promote fear and shame for others. Be the reason these problems leave society, not get perpetuated.

In Summary:

10 years later I am proud of who I am. I have built myself up from a level of self-loathing and decimation so horrid, I don’t know how I came back. After my rape, I recovered slowly and with great challenges. I failed in school, I nearly flunked out. I fell into a very unhealthy relationship. I hated, no — I loathed — myself. I began to attempt to define my worth externally as nothing was left within. I used school ascending to the Dean’s and Chancellor’s lists and my then boyfriend to cope. I would use really anything outward to attach my worth to. I tried many different ways of escaping this one demon. All those tricks failed and I was left with the inner truth: I hated myself because I was raped.

After therapy, help from friends and years of yoga I learned how to love myself. More importantly, I learned to believe in myself. I learned to be strong and to fight for what was right. I learned to NEVER be silenced again. My friends and colleagues will be the first to tell you that I am perhaps the most outspoken and direct person they know. I have a loving and supportive partner who has brightened my whole world. I am truly happy with me. It is out of a place of self-love that I have felt empowered enough to speak up about my rape. I honestly don’t know if anyone will read this but for those who do, you don’t owe anyone an explanation for your recovery. Don’t let anyone bully or intimidate you into thinking you do. The reason I am providing mine is for those of you who have been hurt, touched, assaulted (verbally or otherwise) and yes, raped. I want to offer you some words that may seem simple, but they define the foremost priority in all of this, the one I wish I had all these years; the most important matter in all of this is your wellness.

This election has drudged up a lot of social pain that as Michelle Obama pointed out is “not normal” for politics. She was right, I cannot recall a single election in my lifetime that has hit such main staples of the injustices in American society. There has been a discussion on race, gender, sexual assault, disabilities, and I am sure there is more I am not even recounting. I wish I could say that unearthing these deep divides, showing these often subtle or quiet wrongs is good. In some ways I think it is, but a lot of damage has been done. Many people think it’s okay to attack women who speak out against sexual violence and I’m here to state as a survivor that by doing so, you equate yourself to the act of abuse to begin with. You support the abuse. To deny someone’s experience is as painful and sometimes it’s even more painful than the abuse itself. Ask yourself truly what women have to gain by casting their shame into the open? The only benefit is to expose the wrongs in society, to speak out against these actions and to bring light to their darkest secrets with the hope one less person will hurt someone like them. We are not beating a dead horse, the horse is alive and well, we just want you to see it.