Break ice in case of emergency: Reevaluating our response to sexual assault
The author is a Rice University junior who wished to remain anonymous.
Two Saturdays ago, I woke up in my own room, like normal. I’d set an alarm, like normal. I was wearing my pajamas, like normal.
What wasn’t normal, though, was that I couldn’t remember anything of what had happened the night before.
I called a friend, in the hopes that she might string together some truth in my night. I remembered dancing the night away, stumbling home with a guy and nothing else. I wandered around my room, phone in one hand, crippled ego in the other.
“I’m sure nothing happened with that guy last night, though.”
It was like I was in some twisted sitcom though, because as soon as I said those words, I found an open condom wrapper neatly placed on the corner of my desk. No condom, though. I panicked. She asked if I was all right. I said that I thought so.
We quickly moved on to discuss her night.
Later that day, I went to work. I told a coworker what had happened. He asked if I was all right. I said I thought so, and on to the next topic, and the next topic and the next.
I kept telling people what had happened, desperately flinging my story out into the world, quietly hoping that someone would do more than ask me if I was “all right,” because I wasn’t. But I couldn’t say so, because I wasn’t sure what that meant.
No one was appalled or furious or anything other than completely apathetic. By omission, I was led to believe that it was just a bad hookup.
But that wasn’t what it was. A “bad” hookup, which shouldn’t even happen in the first place, still involves active consent. It still involves both parties being engaged, in control of their faculties. It still involves remembering what happened.
I had to eventually ask a friend of a friend for the intimate details of the night. I had to hear from someone else how my night ended. I had to learn all of this, without any memories of my own to soften the shame, to make it just a “bad hookup.”
And when I asked for my voice to be heard, for my version of the night, or lack thereof, to be told, I was reprimanded and belittled. “If you really want, I can tell him about your drunkenness.” That wasn’t what I wanted.
I told myself that this was just one of those “Oops!” moments, the kind of story you tell your friends at a dinner table, that you laugh about. “Oh, she’s so silly and naive! She got blackout drunk and didn’t expect a stranger to take advantage of her.” Ha, the joke’s on me.
But what happened that night goes far beyond just myself. This isn’t just about me. This is about Rice students, who know that sexual assault is a thing that happens, but don’t actually know how to deal with it. Those who don’t know how to ask anything other than “Are you OK?” Those who work at the Rice Women’s Resource Center, but don’t know a fuck about how to provide resources to women. Those who tell jokes (“Guess you can cross sexual assault off of your college bucket list now!”), in an attempt to minimize and trivialize my experience. Those who don’t know how to make it better, and those who are too afraid to ask.
This is about all those people who normalized my experience, who made me feel like I shouldn’t be scared or hurt or sad.
I’ve been hurt most of all by the people closest to me. I can’t remember what happened that night, but what I do remember is how I’ve felt and how I’ve been treated by those around me since.
I’ve felt like the only one still struggling while everyone else is leaps and bounds ahead, already talking about the next piece of gossip or the next weekend’s plans, and I just can’t catch up because am I going to tell my mom? What happens if I see him? Was I assaulted? What does being assaulted mean? Why do I feel so much?
I think it’s going to take me a while.
And in the meantime, everyone should ask themselves how they’d react if this happened to them, and, maybe just as importantly, how they would react if this happened to a friend. It’s hard to tell a friend that they are allowed to be scared and hurt and sad; it’s even more difficult to tell a friend that they should feel this way. But that was all that I needed. I needed someone to tell me that I wasn’t going insane, that I wasn’t overreacting, that what happened to me was wrong. Because, it’s taken a while, but I now know that what happened to me wasn’t normal. It wasn’t all right. It was wrong, and I deserve better.
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