I was assaulted on my 17th birthday. I say assaulted because even after a decade, I have a hard time calling it what it was.
My birthday is New Year's Eve and I went to a party full of people I didn't know. My friends thought it would be funny to get the girl who didn't drink drunk. Halfway through the party a new stranger joined the ring around the bonfire. An entire crowd of people watched a sober man pull a drunk woman off of a tailgate and drag her through the snow to the cab of his truck. When he was done he drove off. He didn't even get back out of the car.
I was a virgin, and then I was ruined. I was whole and then I was unbendable pieces. I knew myself and then I didn't. I reached out in the small scared ways people reach out when they're afraid they won't be loved anymore. I hinted my pain to teachers and mentors and friends, and begged them to understand without making me relive my shame. I wrote a paper for my AP Composition class about my experience. I got an A, but no follow up.
I sought help for the first time at age 27. I let a decade pass before I told a mental health professional about my experience. It's hard to step up. It's hard to relive trauma and face the judgment of a small town and a small state. I recognize our stories can be tools in the fight for a safer community, but my story has always been a weapon. One I've used against myself. I've used it to cut away my self-esteem, my self-love, my ability to trust my own gut. I've used it to carve out space that I've filled with alcohol and sex. I've used it to severe relationships with good people.
I have a hard time calling my experience what it was, but it was rape. Our community deserves better. I'm willing to lay down my weapon and use this story as a tool for change, but we need to get to work. We need better training, more accessible resources, and a commitment to action. I don't want this admission added to the mounting pile of tragic stories that are ignored by the people who decide the future of our state. Help us create something better.