#NotOkay at ASU: Stories of sexual assault

One in five female college undergraduates will report sexual assault, according to a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics Research and Development Series. Pretty horrifying, right? Now take into consideration the women who are afraid to speak out and never report their assault. Are you afraid now? I am.

Brock Turner, the Stanford rapist, served only three months in prison for brutally attacking a woman behind a nightclub. His sentence was reduced by half for “good behavior.” How a rapist can ever demonstrate “good behavior” is beyond me — yet here we are.

Donald Trump, the 2016 president-elect, openly bragged about touching and kissing women without their consent. He wrote off his comments as “locker room talk,” essentially saying this is how all men speak about women when they’re not around. Nice. When you put it that way, I totally don’t feel like less of a person and more like an object.

As I watched these events unfold on my television and computer screens, I grew angrier as people jumped to the defense of these men. Every woman knows a Turner or a Trump. Every woman fears being raped. Every woman has dealt with unwanted gropes or catcalls. It’s disgusting. It’s rape culture.

Furthermore, what does this say about how our country views women? Fifty-three percent of the male population voted for Trump. Forty-two percent of all American women also cast their vote for the Republican candidate. Why is a clear admission of sexual assault not enough to stop a man from becoming the leader of our country? 

After Trump’s recorded remarks to Access Hollywood host, Billy Bush, became public, Kelly Oxford, a New York Times best-selling author, tweeted the story of her first sexual assault. She encouraged her followers to do the same with the hashtag #NotOkay. In response, thousands of women shared the first time they were touched without consent.

I decided it was time to share my story and encourage other ASU students to do the same. I created an online form and encouraged my followers on social media to fill it out or share it, if they felt comfortable enough to do so. Warning: These may be triggering for rape and sexual assault survivors, and includes some offensive language.

Here’s the story of the first time I was groped:

When I was 16, my best friend at the time introduced me to a male friend of hers. He seemed very sweet and very in love with his girlfriend. Let’s call him Seth.

About a month later, I found myself in a bedroom with Seth and two other people. I was lying down on the bed and Seth joined me. He told us he was going to take a nap and we all assumed he had fallen asleep.

Ten minutes later, Seth had positioned himself so that he was lying on his side facing my back. I suddenly felt his hands reach around me and grab my breasts.

I really hate that I just lay there and let it happen, but I was really confused. He had a girlfriend, he seemed nice, he was friends with my best friend. There’s no way he could ever be capable of doing something so wrong. I just brushed it off and sat up a few minutes later as if nothing had happened.

A few months later I heard that another girl had accused him of sexually assaulting her. Again, I was in shock, but then I remembered what he did to me. I believe her.

It took me a long time to realize that this wasn’t just a casual thing. Years later, I don’t think I’ve even ever brought it up to my friends or my boyfriend in a serious context. It was just something I’d tucked away in the back of my mind. Now I realize what had happened was wrong, and it could’ve been a lot worse. I don’t want to think about what might have happened had we been alone.

Again, I realize my story could be much worse, but I know it’s probably similar to a lot of experiences others have had.

If you don’t believe me, here are just some of the stories sent in by my peers. I thank each and every person who took a stand against sexual harassment and assault by submitting their experiences. I also support those who feel they cannot speak out yet. You’re not alone. (Names have been omitted and responses have been edited for clarity.)

20-year-old female

I want to preface this by saying how incredibly difficult this is for me to write. As a journalism student, being at a loss for words doesn’t happen to me often.

I’m going to adhere to the original #NotOkay tweet and describe what I consider to be my “first,” textbook experience of sexual assault. It’s difficult, however, because I’ve had many experiences where I was on the receiving end of what I wouldn’t describe as “consensual.” This is far too common for women, and so often we aren’t even able to clarify what is consensual, what it harassment or assault, what is #NotOkay behavior toward us because it is just that pervasive.

I was 19 years old, possibly newly 20 (it was around my birthday). I was walking with a friend one evening when I was studying abroad. It was just the two of us in the street, or at least I thought. Before I even saw his face, I felt a man’s hand on my, to quote Mr. Trump, “pussy.” My body kicked into fight or flight mode and I pushed him off, shouting, “Are you fuckking kidding me?”

On a typical day when I was studying abroad, I would have to walk several miles to get to school, the local grocery store, etc. As a foreigner and a young woman, in particular, cat calls were to be expected. Since I had to walk everywhere, this meant that cat calls and comments happened everywhere. This doesn’t mean they were or are ever welcome, or ever comfortable, or ever something that I got used to; it just means that they were. On this day in particular, they were really bad, and I was extra fed up. I had met my friend a few hours earlier at a church near her apartment and experienced a creepy lurking/following situation as I waited for her to arrive at the church.

That evening, as we walked back to my apartment after I was assaulted, a couple of strange men even tried to get us to get in their car with them. Harassment could be pervasive on any given day, but that day in particular, it was something extra, even before the assault, and I was entirely done with it.

As much as I loved my experience abroad, there’s always this side to it that I don’t know how to, or if I should, explain when people ask me how it was. It’s not OK that something that I worked so hard for and should have been the best experience of my life could also be one of the worst.

I’m so torn, and it hurts so deeply, and the written word simply can’t do that pain justice.

I’m just lucky that at a moment when I could have frozen completely, which, as someone suffering from anxiety, is my body’s natural response, I was able to push him off, and even manage to reply: “Are you fucking kidding me?” That sentence in and of itself pretty accurately depicts what I had felt that day.

It’s #NotOkay, though. It’s #NotOkay what happened, and perhaps what could have happened had I not fought back. What could’ve happened had I frozen up, or had I been alone, or had he pushed further. Had he not ran off.

It’s #NotOkay that as a proud feminist who knows that harassment and assault are #NotOkay in any form, and that victim blaming is never OK, that randomly, even a year later, my mind will find ways to make myself think that I was somehow, even for a second, in the wrong (I’m not).

It’s #NotOkay that for this past year, possibly for the rest of my life, I get to be triggered without a moment’s notice. That this is not something that I can just choose to never think about again. That this encounter with a man I had never met probably meant nothing to him. That he didn’t think twice about it. That it’s something I have to remember always.

It’s #NotOkay that I am holding back tears and desperately staving off a panic attack as I write this. It’s #NotOkay that I’m the one who gets to be hurt and afraid because of this. It’s not something that I did, it’s something that happened to me, yet I and so many other victims get to pay the ultimate price for assault.

21-year-old female

I was 15 and still in high school. I was just starting my sophomore year and getting out of my first relationship. I was smitten with a guy in my bio class, only to learn he lived three streets down from my parents. We would casually see each other at football games and at parties. After a party, he asked to hang out and walk me home. I had been drinking; he hadn’t.

He convinced me to go swimming in the pool of an abandoned house, which slowly turned into my biggest nightmare. He made multiple passes. I shot down each one. I knew I wasn’t safe, but I knew he could outrun me. I fought him off while he climbed on top of me. I kept fighting and crying, but couldn’t get him off.

He called me names everyday at school. “Whore.” “Slut.” He told everyone I begged for him. I was too ashamed to share my story for three years.

Upon my arrival at ASU, I heard he had assaulted another young girl, so I finally spoke up. Telling my parents was the hardest conversation I have ever had. I hope no girl ever feels ashamed to have been raped. I wish I hadn’t carried the blame all these years. It was his fault. Not mine.

19-year-old female

I met a guy; he was a friend of a friend. A group of us were hanging out when he insisted that he spend the night, whether I wanted him to or not. While we were in bed, he forced himself on top of me and forced himself into my mouth, regardless of how much I protested. This happened multiple times before he finally left the next morning. I was 18.

20-year-old female

I’ve suffered from seizures for as long as I could remember. When I was 17 on a school trip to New York, I ended up alone, in my hotel room, with a boy who liked me. I started to feel like I was going to have a seizure, so I laid down and told him what would happen and just to get me water for when I woke up. I trusted him to watch that I was safe while I rode out my seizure.

Instead, I woke up with him on top of me and was unable to move while he raped my unconscious, unresponsive body. Post-seizure, I could barely move or understand my surroundings, so there was never enough to press charges or investigate because I was not a valid witness.

20-year-old female

Honestly, I’ve been sexually harassed and assaulted so many times that I’ve grown numb to it. Whether it’s a party or a concert, I will get uncomfortably touched without permission, guaranteed. Sometimes guys just grind up behind you randomly, even when you back away. I get catcalled and am sent unsolicited sexual messages and pictures on a regular basis.

Once, a guy asked me for my number and grabbed me when I refused. I’ve been followed down the street multiple times, even after politely saying I’m not interested. Guys have stalked and attempted to blackmail me after I reject them, including an Uber driver that kept my number and wouldn’t leave me alone. I even had an instance of a male teacher making inappropriate comments to me in middle school. I was roofied my first week at ASU. This is just off the top of my head the list goes on and most of these things have happened to many of my closest friends.

21-year-old female

I woke up feeling guilty. As if my verbal protests weren’t enough. As if I could’ve done more. As if my small, 21-year-old frame could’ve physically pushed off his muscular body. I woke up feeling ashamed for something I never wanted to do. A few of the handful of people I told said maybe I shouldn’t have drank so much or maybe I shouldn’t have invited him into my home.

And well, maybe I shouldn’t have. But a man who keeps going when a woman says no is committing textbook sexual assault. He was an acquaintance, maybe even a friend. I haven’t talked to him since. He may never understand how he made me feel that night and in the weeks after. Violated. Disturbed. Vulnerable. I want him to pay, but I don’t know how. I never reported it. But he needs to know it’s not OK. It’s not OK.

18-year-old female

I’ve experienced cat calls from a young age, beginning around 11. But my worst experience happened at 16, when my family and I went on vacation to Egypt. The entire time, I was catcalled, stalked, and yelled at for not complying to their calls. Since then, it’s gotten progressively worse. I cannot even enjoy a night out alongside my boyfriend without getting honked at or catcalled from passing cars. This has been my life for nearly a decade now. It’s awful.

20-year-old female

I was 16 when my 35-year-old boss for the restaurant I worked for went too far. He would always hug me too tight and too long, kiss my shoulder and neck, and never stopped talking about my butt until one day he finally grabbed it without permission. He did all of this at the hostess stand in the restaurant. I knew it didn’t feel right but he gave me attention so I developed a crush on him.

20-year-old female

I have experienced sexual harassment and assault many times. Unfortunately, sexual harassment has become so common in my life, from cat calls to inappropriate comments, that I don’t think twice about it anymore. My experiences of physical sexual assault, on the other hand, still haunt me. Although I never considered the situations I have been in “rape” because they happened with guys I knew and had sexual relationships with, I was still forced into sexual acts without my consent.

Multiple times, guys have used their strength to pin me down and do things to me that I clearly said no to. The first time this happened to me I was 15. Mostly, I have been drunk during these incidents, but a few times I was completely sober. I have often been blamed for putting myself in these situations or told I should expect it because I am a sexual person. It is not OK.

31-year-old female

Just last week, I was walking to my parking garage alone when a young guy stopped and asked me if it was “his bucky night.” I said I didn’t know what that was and he said, “It’s like a rape night” and I just stood there. I was shocked and walked away quickly. Hardly anyone was out there because it was so late. I was shaken and felt very threatened. I reported this to campus police, but I was never contacted for follow-up like I was told I would be.

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