First of all, I just want to first acknowledge that all of this talk about sexual assault and sexual harassment can be tough to hear. I totally support people speaking up and bringing light to this issue, as it is truly an epidemic. I’m sure that women who weren’t comfortable sharing their stories previously have been empowered to simply state, “me too.” Victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment deal with a lot of feelings and issues and there is comfort knowing that so many others out there have been there and have felt and dealt with the same things. Other people have walked in your shoes and can truly empathize with what you going through. Your feelings are normal and are completely justified. The #metoo movement has definitely brought light to the fact that we aren’t alone.
I was out running on a Sunday afternoon after church when a man grabbed me by the arm and dragged me through the woods. He threatened to kill me if I didn’t do what he said. I was 20 years old and I believed him. I still believe that he could’ve easily killed me if he had wanted to. To this day, I feel extremely fortunate that he didn’t kill me. He did, however, rape me repeatedly. That is my #metoo moment and it changed the entire trajectory of the rest of my life.
I know without a doubt that nothing I did that day was my fault. Of course, I have questioned what I could’ve done differently, what I would do if something like this were to happen again, etc. It’s impossible not to replay those scenarios over and over again.
Here’s the thing: as women, we have proven our worth in society and shown that we are just as brave and intelligent as men. But even as we affirm female agency and strength, we can miss an equally important, albeit unsettling, reality: Women are vulnerable in the world in ways that men, as a rule, aren’t. This is harsh, but it’s reality. Women are as strong and as gifted as men, but if we gloss over our physical differences, we’ll also gloss over the dangers we face. All the gumption and intelligence in the world mean little when a man is intent on harming a woman. Nothing hurts me more or gets me more fired up than when I hear someone say that women shouldn’t be scared, shouldn’t be afraid to stand up for ourselves or shouldn’t let ourselves be attacked.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the “not today mother f*cker” story that went viral earlier this year. I am so thankful that this runner reacted the way that she did. However, the more this is talked about the more I feel like I did something wrong. My brain goes to places like, “Why did I let myself get attacked? How stupid am I?” This is not a fun place to be. In the midst of sexual assault, the brain’s fear circuitry dominates and all that’s left are reflexes and habits. Most victims will freeze, some will fight back, some will resist in habitual, passive ways, some will suddenly give in and cry, while others will become paralyzed, become faint, pass out or dissociate. Everyone’s brain reacts to attack and terror differently.
None of these responses entail consent or cowardice. These are all responses that we should expect from brains dominated by the circuitry of fear (just as we should expect fragmented and incomplete memories). May we NEVER blame ourselves for how we reacted or didn’t react and may we NEVER blame someone else for reacting differently than expected.