absolute dogshit, part 3

art by the mighty sami martasian

tw; sexual assault

hi, it’s me jamie. springtime is when i usually get swallowed up by myself for a little while — it’s around this time of year that i was raped in college, and is still something that i guess hangs in the air for me a little when it gets nice outside. this combined with a few other events and thoughts i’ve been having recently made it feel like the right time to return to that period, and so if that’s not something you’d like to sign on for at this particular moment, then now’s the time!

i’ve written about my own experience with sexual assault and the long fallout of its effects a number of times (june 2015 and may 2016 specifically), and it’s a little out of body to read these thoughts now — i’m not interested in editing them, as both feel like time capsules of a very specific time in where i was in my own recovery and understanding of my own experiences. i’m sure i’ll feel the same way about this piece someday, too. they’re important to me, along with a lot of private writing and conversations almost as a timeline of coming to terms, like a really emotionally violent dominos pizza tracker.

the conversation and ability to talk about these issues in an open, receptive space has certainly grown since my initial experience, but we’re also living under an administration that is actively trying to suppress these resources and rights, and it becomes our responsibility as individuals to be the listeners and the speakers and the ones who take action when no one else will.

everyone is different, and i’m only speaking to my own experience here, but hope it might be helpful. it’s been over four years of trial and error and with more time, i’ll have gleaned and learned more, but as a member of a community that’s slowly improving but remains notorious for poorly regulating and excusing abusers within its own ranks (wats up comedians), here are a few things i’ve learned and i hope can help.

the people worth keeping in your life are the ones who listen.
i think if i got all the time i spent trying to change the minds of friends who wouldn’t take my allegations seriously or didn’t want to deal with them back, i’d be fluent in forty-five languages. as recently as a year ago, i still devoted a lot of my time to trying to explain, justify and validate my own experiences to people who, usually because they knew or were close to the abuser, didn’t want to believe what i was saying.

at the time, this felt like something i needed to do to get closure for myself on the matter — if i was able to explain my experiences and make people see what they didn’t want to, somehow it might make it okay that i still had incredibly complicated feelings of anger toward the abuser and would help me move forward after making the decision not to press charges. again, everyone is different, and there are certain friendships (and particularly family members) that i approached these conversations with differently, but in general, i feel my life is better for not engaging in a friendship where i feel the need to constantly prove the persistent pain of one of the worst things that can happen to someone. the friends who were with me from the beginning are still with me now, and i can’t overstate the value they’ve added to my life.

that’s not to say that these are bad people by definition — discussing sexual assault openly is still an evolving thing that is difficult for some to wrap their heads and hearts around. for me, it did mean that those in my life who weren’t equipped or prepared to hear something difficult about a painful experience that had happened to someone they loved or had difficulty accepting that my abuser was capable of the behavior i knew to be true and the abuser themselves had admitted to tended to slowly drift from my life or, in some cases, i made the decision to stop engaging in the friendship altogether. it’s hard not to feel anger or sadness about these sorts of losses sometimes, but i ultimately feel stronger and more secure having kept and since found friends who listen and, i hope, know that i will listen to them, too.

deciding not to press charges does not invalidate your very real experience.
this is something many people know already, but is a reality that took me a long time to internalize with regards to my own experience. pressing charges against an abuser within the statute of limitations is a massive undertaking for the victim — it’s extremely difficult to get past step one without physical evidence, it’s a financial burden to secure proper legal counsel, and it’s months and months of court dates that, more often than not, end with the victim losing their own case. in my case, it took over a month of denial that my own partner would rape me that by the time i’d come to terms with it, there was no more physical evidence to be had.

while i did file a report with the police after over a year, it was a very personal decision not to press charges, both for my own mental health and the unfortunate truth that, with my abuser having more financial resources, the counsel i would have liked to have if i’d chosen to move forward was in a different tax bracket than that of an average twenty-one-year-old woman.

on anonymity.
i haven’t gone the anonymous route very often in my addressing sexual assault, but being anonymous should never have any bearing on the value and bravery of coming forward. particularly when there is an abuser whose financial resources outrank your own, going public is an enormous and potentially dangerous risk. pair this with the internet’s ability to attack victims with anonymity, harass and endanger them, etc., and it can become a necessity. this hasn’t been my route for the most part, but the threat of a defamation lawsuit is certainly enough to make me wish i had done the same myself some days.

mental illness doesn’t mean you’re crazy, or that your experience isn’t less significant.
this is an example pretty specific to my experiences, but is something i’ve heard enough in discussions of sexual assault that it feels worth mentioning.

in the past four years, i have struggled with and been treated for obsessive compulsive disorder and manic depression, and there were times while i was still embroiled in dealing with my assault that it felt like these conditions made it so that i was deserving of what had happened.

this wasn’t and isn’t true. while a lot of factors certainly made me vulnerable to my abuser, it took many years to understand that these conditions did make me deserving of assault, nor did the way they affected my reactions in the aftermath make me deserving of assault retroactively.

it’s a hard idea to shake when most of the country still struggles with discussing mental illness or abuse, but the only thing my struggle with mental illness had to do with my rape was making an already painful experience more painful. there is no right way to deal with a situation that no one should ever have to deal with, regardless of whatever other mental, physical or personal condition you’re battling.

many institutions are not able, and sometimes not willing, to give victims the voice and resources they deserve.
at the time of my assault in april 2013, i was a student at emerson college assaulted by a partner, and a current student and classmate. i first went to a school counselor in regards to that issue that summer — this was the first time i was informed that because the assault had taken place off campus in our apartment, it then became an issue to report to the city’s police force. i went to this counseling center only once or twice after, meeting with a different person every time and rehashing what had happened to receive a similar answer, then stopped going to the center and to therapists in general for many months.

later that same year, a student who had been raped on-campus filed a complaint alone the same lines of what i’d experienced and went public with it — her allegations included being told by school officials that she “shouldn’t be making a big deal with” her allegations, a refrain that would become common at the school in the year or so after — here are some other examples of similar conduct within the school beginning within six months on either side of my experience at the counseling center. at the time, i’d felt silly for going to the school about it and that there was no point in pursuing the issue further, setting legal action and my own healing process back by over a year.

listen.
making the time to listen to someone who’s in pain can be lifechanging for both of you and i know that sounds corny as hell but honey, drown me in a bathtub of corn because it’s the truth.

community is everything.
it should also be said that institutions that do take these allegations seriously can be transformative for victims. the comedy theater i worked with in school and up through today was the first place who took my allegations seriously and took steps to actively remove the abuser and has in general made efforts to cultivate a safe and open space for performers and employees to discuss these issues. finding spaces in boston and later los angeles comedy that i felt heard and understood by (s/o to improvboston in MA and gal palace in LA in particular) were major steps forward for me.

it’s pretty incredible to see communities, and even subsects of larger communities, band together to form a zero tolerance policy for abusers and is something that’s been happening more and more in my neck of the woods, although this isn’t without its share of victim-shaming and backlash. the value of feeling like you belong somewhere is significant no matter who you are or what your profession is, and this becomes doubly significant when a community rallies around a victim when the subject matter isn’t easy to confront.

you know what you know.
i included this in a previous piece as well, but one of the final exchanges i had with my abuser is something i return to pretty often, even when it hurts. i’m b.

A: It’s not about the very last offense. You’ve got to look at the big picture, and I’ve been looking at it more and more. I don’t want to look at it, though.

B: What are you saying?

A: I’m saying that you’re an unhappy person, and it has been affecting me in a negative way.

B: I was trying to be a happy person when you-

A: When what?

B: I was trying to have a whole life separate from you.

A: Okay…if that’s what you think will make you happy, then by all means. Do what makes you happy.

B: It was for a while. It was for a while.

A: I think that you crave unhappiness, and that’s why you’re fighting so hard to date a guy who raped you. How little self-respect must you have?

this, paired with a public confession my abuser made and later altered, is more proof than many victims get. so yes, it hurts and it’s painful and it can change the direction your life goes in, but it’s okay to feel empowered by the knowing.

okay, that’s all for today. thanks for listening.