Katie was raped eight years ago and just this month had the courage to speak up about it. Here is what she has to say to you.
What was your experience that made you feel safe enough to share? The #Yesallwomen campaign made me feel safe to come forward with what happened to me. It was because of that campaign that I found a voice. When that campaign started, I read many of the brave and heartbreaking stories that others had posted, including some from my closest friends. My immediate response was to say to myself “They are so brave. I could never say what happened to me.” That was my wake up call.
What emotions did you feel?
I got angry with myself. I was angry that I was buying into the crap that keeps so many survivors silent about what has happened to them. I felt angry that I felt guilty about my attacker not listening, not hearing my refusal. Anger is an underrated emotion. Anger can give you a voice and it finally gave me mine. I don’t like it when people call me brave, though.
Why don’t you like people calling you brave?
It’s sad that sharing like this has to be brave. It should be expected that you say your truth. When people get cancer no one says, “You are so brave to come forward.” They say, “Of course you are telling me. Thank you. I am here for you.” But when we talk about sexual assault and rape, people act surprised to hear you come forward and don’t know how to respond. They either want to run away or hear every single detail. I shouldn't have to say to everyone exactly what happened to me behind closed doors. I shouldn’t have to open that private window to the past to get people to listen.
Why wait for 8 years?
It took eight years and a shooting in Santa Barbara for #YesAllWomen to happen. It took eight years for me to heal enough in order to tell my story. It took eight years for me to be more angry at my attacker than I was with myself for “putting myself” in the situation where I could be attacked by a relative stranger. It took eight years for me to stand up for the scared homesick kid that I was.
It was a blessing and curse to wait this long, though. The curse is that my perpetrator will never be prosecuted. The blessing is that I had 8 years to sort through the good the bad and the ugly of dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault, and I was able to get the help and support I needed to share today.
I'm not a therapist or counselor by any means, but when people tell me that they have been through the same thing as me, I don’t feel alone. I feel healed by it. I don’t just want people’s support—I want them to take action and do something about it with me. This is not just about me and my experience. I would not have gone through all this if I only wanted it to be about me because no matter what it is still embarrassing. Sharing helps us to own our stories.
What reactions did you get when you opened up?
Honestly, I got a lot of mixed reactions. A lot of times, the survivor can feel like they are responsible for people falling apart, so on top of dealing with our own stuff, we had to make sure everyone else is okay too. We really don’t have space in our culture to talk about sad and painful news or for women to openly express anger without being called a “crazy bitch.” I wish people would be better listeners for survivors and let them process and grieve. I wish we had room to express sadness in our culture because people don’t know how to handle it. With that being said, I was incredibly grateful to have gotten so much support from my immediate friends, family, and larger community.
Can you press charges? What are your rights in this situation?
Rape and sexual assault laws are different in every state. Where I live, what happened to me is not technically considered “rape”. It is considered a “sexual offense in the first degree”. I was appalled to find this out. I also love the word “offense” because good lord is it was offensive! If I did want to prosecute my perpetrator, the minimum sentence for sexual offense in the first degree is 25 years in prison--but I am not interested in pressing charges. I don’t think my attacker is a serial predator. I see my assault as an almost textbook example of a “crime of opportunity”. I have no interest in personal compensation, monetary or otherwise. I have no interest in stifling his intellectual or personal life. I frankly have an infinite number of better, more positive things on which to focus my life and attentions.
Author’s note: If you want to learn about your rights, depending on what state you live in, you can look up information here: https://www.rainn.org/public-policy/laws-in-your-state
What kind of outcome did you hope for in coming forward?
My intention in coming forward was to bring awareness to crimes like this and be a model for other women to feel safe to speak their truth. I want to make the dialogue about sexual assault less scary and more acceptable. I want to show people that there are places they can go and things they can do to speak up. By sharing with others, I hope that I am helping them feel empowered. I created a website where women can anonymously share experiences they have with sexual assault in hopes of continuing a larger conversation. On that website, I list resources if you or a love one have been raped or sexually assaulted. Check out those websites below:
RAINN - Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network: https://www.rainn.org/
The Joyful Heart Foundation: www.joyfulheartfoundation.org
Men Stopping Violence: www.menstoppingviolence.org
Not Alone: www.notalone.gov
What have you learned from all of this?
What I have learned from all of this is that, for all of my fears of rejection, dismissal, and ridicule I have only received expressions of love, respect, and support. All of this anger and energy would be better focused on ensuring that every survivor should be able to speak out about their experiences secure in the knowledge that they are not alone, that they too are entitled to their own voice and their own life.