An open letter about sexual assault

Anonymous

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Two years ago, I braided your hair in class. After asking to copy my notes, you took a seat next to me. It was the last two minutes of class. Your hand found my inner thigh, tracing circles, then moving up, slowly, as if you thought I would not notice. I remember thinking to myself, ‘He won’t, right? He wouldn’t really do this in class… right?’ That was the worst part, not knowing what you were going to do. Sixty agonizing seconds later, the bell rang, chairs scraped, and everyone left the classroom.

I was not planning on speaking up. I was confused—I knew I felt uncomfortable, but I did not know how to respond. You did not touch me underneath my clothing, or rape me, or force me into anything. I told myself that it was an insignificant blip. Sometimes, I still believe it.

I told my best friend in a text, assuring her I was fine, that it was just startling. She called me, telling me I needed to say something to someone, that it was more serious than that, that you should not get away with it. I spoke to a dean. The next day, he called me back into his office. Only this time, he had your account as well. He told me how you thought I was flirting with you, and while what you did was uncalled for, in the future, maybe I should not braid boys’ hair. You returned to school the next day, just as I did, only I now carried the burden of your ignorance.

The two minutes that encompassed the incident hurt less than everything that came after. You are a well-known, well-liked kid, I knew that, but even so, it was as if half my grade turned their noses up at me. One of your friends even went as far as to say to my face, “It sucks that no one believes you,” and in the same breath admitted he did not know who to trust. Another person flat-out told me that you “would never do something like that,” and that she knew you too well. 

I’m not going to say no one did anything. The administrator gave me space to explain it, he talked to you, he talked to your parents. Even though my parents were never contacted or brought in for a follow-up, I guess I can still say something was done. But I have come to realize that the expectation is not simply for someone to do anything. Was knowing you talked to him, was knowing your parents knew, enough to pack up and move on? I did not have that luxury. It was so easy for you to overlook. It was so meaningless. It is not to me. I felt stronger before you. You made me feel like I had no control over my body. I see you, and I feel that all over again. It does not matter that that is illogical—I know you will never do it again. Yet, logic does not surpass fear. I am reminded of that every day. 

The most traumatizing is the responsibility I took for it, swallowed by the “if only.” If only I had stood up, or said something sooner, or had not talked to you in the first place. Is it my fault? Were there things I could have done to stop it? Did I really invite it? How could I change so it did not happen again?  

I went to elementary school with you, I played in the sandbox with you. It was just as much of a breach of trust, just as much of a shock, only I did not get to determine whether or not I wanted to believe it. I could not choose to sweep it under the rug or forget about it or pick who to believe. I was just left with a sick feeling, anger, and the advice to not braid a boy’s hair. 

In late November, two counselors came to senior classrooms to lead an enactment of a simulation about sexual assault in high school. It was not a discussion, no one was necessarily encouraged to talk about how they have seen it as a problem at Wilson. Ultimately, it did not portray the message that victims should feel encouraged to speak up. As a school, we have so much work to do on this front. If we can wear buttons saying “Believe Christine Blasey Ford,” maybe we can work on believing the victims inside of our walls. 

It’s been two years and yet I only recently told my dad and brother what happened to me. I inadvertently hid these events. They feel as shameful to me as I know it should feel to you. It is hard to be friends with anyone who is friends with you, which sometimes feels like everyone. It is hard to know that my pain is fabricated in their eyes, the words “he’s not like that” still painfully clear in my head. 

It’s been two years, and I still have not figured out what to say to that. I am haunted by what happened to me, and I am the only one paying for it. •