Student takes back the night, opens up about sexual assault on campus

ShelThomason

I like to think of myself as a glass half full person.

When I am having a tough day at school, I consider how lucky I am to even be attending college. When it rains on a day I had planned to spend swimming, I think of how much the earth needs the water.

When I was sexually assaulted during my first semester of college, I told myself I was lucky to not have been physically hurt or raped.

Last semester, I ran alone on the track at least three days a week, both during the day and night time. On the morning of my assault, there were four other people on the track, two of which took off after my attacker. Another, a woman, was there to comfort me while we called the University Police Department. Although I am grateful for the emotional support the people present that day provided, I was more relieved to have witnesses than I was to have comfort.

My first thought when the university police department arrived on the scene was “What if they don’t believe me?” I had multiple witnesses, in broad daylight, and still worried if my testimony would be taken as fact.

I began to recount what happened and immediately began defending myself. I told the police officer that although I had a bad feeling about the man, he disappeared from where he had been standing when I fell in step with some of the other runners, so I began to distance myself and run on my own again. This was when the man ran out of the trees and attacked me. I felt obligated to justify why I thought it had been safe to keep running despite the fact that I was uncomfortable over and over again. My reaction had nothing to do with the attitude or behavior of the officers.

After I handled all the necessary paperwork and I assured the school officials I was fine, I called my mother and began the process of defending myself once more. I finished my detailed account of what happened with “I wasn’t even wearing a sports bra and spandex today! I was wearing leggings and a jacket.” My wonderful mother responded, “You could have been running naked and it would still not give anyone the right to touch you.”

All of the validation and support I received from the St. Edward’s faculty, my parents and my peers is what has convinced me of how lucky I truly was. When I began vomiting due to utter shock and fear, there was a person to comfort me and others were in pursuit of my attacker. Everyone believed me. Everyone told me it was not my fault. No one blamed me.

But what about all the people who are sexually assaulted or raped walking home alone from work at night? What about the people who are assaulted or raped when they were intoxicated? What about the people who  “show a lot of skin” and are “asking for it” as if wearing a crop top or a tight dress gives anyone the undeniable right to forcibly touch you?

Quite frankly, I do not understand why people go to such lengths to make excuses for rapists. We have got to start trusting sexual assault and rape survivors and we absolutely must stop blaming them. Recovering from being so intensely violated is horrid enough without having to cope with skepticism and slut shaming.

Despite my unique circumstances, I have still been trying to convince myself to go public about being sexually assaulted since I returned to school this semester. I was worried I would seem like I wanted attention or pity or to be lauded as brave, but I decided it was necessary.

At the age of 11, I was beginning to understand what sex was and came to the realization that I was sexually abused as a child. Although I have a warm and supportive family, I could not convince myself to tell my parents what had happened because even as a junior high girl, I somehow felt what this man had done to me many, many years ago was my fault.

During my time of doubt and self-loathing, Lady Gaga was not singing about campus rape. The internet was not saturated with social media campaigns geared towards helping and supporting sex crime survivors. I had no one to tell me it was not my fault. I cannot bear the thought of how many people have hated, hurt and killed themselves because they felt disgusting or guilty due to someone’s heinous actions.

I firmly believe it is undeniably important that we continue to talk publicly about rape, sexual assault and all other sex crimes. It is so crucial that we communicate to every human being blaming themselves that the perversions of a selfish person are NOT and will NEVER be their fault.