April Is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month

A Planned Parenthood Arizona supporter shared her story of sexual assault with us in observance of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

I had never had a boyfriend before and it was flattering to have someone dote on me and give me all of his attention. And he was a wonderful friend. We could talk to one another for hours, especially about music and art. Was I attracted to him? Not really, but did I need to be? He was someone to hang around with; a kindred spirit. College was my first priority. But, after a couple of months of friendship, he was insistent on more. I held him off for a few weeks, but he was not leaving the topic alone.

“I love you. Don’t you love me? If you love me, then sex is the next step. It is the ultimate connection.”

For Sexual Assault Awareness Month, let your friends know that you will be the nonjudgmental support they deserve.

Standing in my family’s garage, looking for a bolt I needed for a school project, I told him that I didn’t love him and I wasn’t ready for sex. A normal evening of hanging out became the worst night of my life. His eyes became angry and black; I will never forget them. They squinted at me with rage and distaste. He looked at me like I was the most disgusting thing he had ever seen. His nose was snarled up too, and the muscles in his neck were tense. He hissed between his teeth that I wasn’t going to tease him anymore. His face was close to mine. I remember the warm spit hitting my face and the strong smell of dinner on his breath as he told me he deserved more and he was going to get it whether I was ready or not. I couldn’t move at first because I was in shock that this was happening. He wasn’t going to hurt me, right? Not the person who laughed with me and found me so brilliant.

When he moved toward me, it was swift and aggressive. He shoved me to the ground with both of his hands. After regaining my breath, my natural defense kicked in and I pushed against his face with my palms and put my leg up so that my knee was in his chest. I gritted my teeth and fought back with all I had, but he was stronger than I realized. I kicked him in the groin and then wrestled onto all fours to get up off the concrete floor. He grabbed my ankle and pulled me back down, twisting me around so that I was on my back. Then, an excruciating pain shot through my leg. I looked at him and in his hand was a hammer. He hit my right thigh with a hammer. I screamed in pain and wished my parents hadn’t left for the evening and my sister wasn’t at a sleepover. I felt powerless. It was like being pulled under by a massive wave and being so turned around that I wasn’t sure where the surface was.

Powerless. I felt powerless for a long time after that evening. A bit of myself had been stolen as he forced himself on me, taking advantage of my pain, my moment of vulnerability, my trust. I had a hard time being close to anyone. I also didn’t think I was worthy of anyone’s affection. I thought the horrible damage that had been done was obvious and written on my face.

I didn’t know what to do and no one had ever talked to me about sex or rape before. I just wanted the memory of it to go away. I didn’t understand what consent was or even truly what a healthy adult relationship looked like when it included sex. It wasn’t something anyone had talked to me about.

Sexual assault is any sexual contact without consent. Consensual sex, on the other hand, doesn’t involve any physical or emotional force. No one is passed out, drunk, or asleep. There is a clear “Yes.”

This month, in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, let your friends know that you will be the nonjudgmental support they deserve. You will be the advocate who will help and not watch them feel powerless. You will stand up with them and make sure they aren’t alone. No shame, no denigration, no embarrassment — just respect. It would have helped if I had known I had parents and friends to whom I felt comfortable talking about something like this; people who I thought wouldn’t judge me or shun me. But I wasn’t sure how they would take it. We never talked about sex or relationships in our home. Did I provoke it? Maybe they would say I did something wrong. What did I expect would happen when I was at my home alone with a man?

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) is the organization that promotes SAAM every year. In its 15th year, the 2016 campaign encourages prevention. With nearly 1 in every 5 women in the United States having experienced rape or attempted rape in her life, sexual assault is a widespread problem. And it isn’t just something experienced by women: One in every 71 men has experienced sexual victimization as well.

Sexual assault needs to be addressed in our country so that we have a healthy culture of consent. NSRVC says that prevention is possible with the “promotion of safe behaviors, thoughtful policies and healthy relationships” in order to “create safe and equitable communities where every person is treated with respect.” Planned Parenthood believes this too: Young people need to understand consent and have the skills to engage in communication around sex and relationships.

Respect is the key. Respect yourself and expect others to do the same. Don’t stay with people who don’t honor who you are and love you for being you. All sex should be wanted sex. Consent means both people are excited about what they are going to experience together and there is a resounding, “Yes.” Communication is vital for healthy sexual intimacy. “I don’t know,” pressure, and manipulation are not consent. You should be comfortable enough to talk to your partner about your boundaries and what you want if you are going to be sexually active.

I thought I had to continue to call someone “boyfriend” because it was what you did. For a year and a half, I was followed, manipulated, belittled, hit, called names, and controlled. After completing my freshman year of college, making new friends, and seeing truly all of the things I could accomplish on my own, I finally had the courage to stand up to my tormentor. I told him what I thought of him and his constant abuse and that I would go to the police if he touched me again.

Today, it is 23 years later and my life is wonderful. I have a beautiful family and a job that is incredible. I have open and honest communication with the people I love so they can be there to support me when I need it and they can expect the same of me. The broken blood vessels that were created by the hammer are still there on my thigh in a blue ring. I wear it like a badge, a reminder of something I overcame. Is the pain and hurt still lurking there? Yes, every day. But I shove it back down. I focus on all of the strength and happiness I have today.

Want to learn more about consent and healthy communication? Check out these videos from Planned Parenthood. And, if you are an educator, use the videos and lesson plans to talk to young people about consent.