good victim, bad victim

I find it funny how people look at me these days like a model rape victim. I honestly get messages like that all the time. “You did everything right”, “I wish some of these other victims would take responsibility like you!”. These comments come from a place that means well, but are definitely misguided. The reason that I think this is funny is because I am not the “good victim”. When I think about the number of people who supported me pre-conviction and post-conviction, the difference is astronomical. The only reason I suddenly flipped over to being the “good victim” is because the guy who raped me is in prison. There’s a mugshot, and he’s a registered sex offender, so I’m a hero.

What everyone is forgetting is that I was the “bad victim”. I drank too much, there was evidence of me joking about sex and drugs on the internet, and I “didn’t act like a victim”. After it first happened, I reacted how everyone thought I should: staying in bed crying for days on end, not keeping food down, losing weight, dropping out of school. It made sense to people. But then I started drinking excessively, (somewhat) dating again, and trying to be social. That part made sense to no one. We all have this idea of how a victim of rape should react. None of it included anything that I was doing during this time. Sure, I ended every night hysterically crying and couldn’t function without a drink or a Xanax, but going out to parties? Even my therapist at the time told me that I was being irresponsible by trying to still go out and have fun.

I appreciate that so many of you see me as a “good victim” because I reported and eventually got justice. But I’m not a “good victim”, and there’s no such thing. People have reached out to me trying to defend men accused in other cases by disparaging the victim. They think it’ll get me on their side. “I totally support rape victims, but you’re a real victim and this girl isn’t. She’s still going out to parties and I even heard she hooked up with a guy I know before this happened.” These people don’t realize how huge the range of behavior is after someone has been raped. This is because anyone can be the victim of a sexual assault. There’s no such thing as a good or bad victim because any one of us could be victims, and how you react to it is totally up to you and who you are as a person. If you haven’t been a victim, you’ve simply been lucky. Every single one of us has been in situations that could have resulted in a sexual assault. The only factor that truly influences whether or not you’ll be raped is if the person you are vulnerable around decides to rape you. That’s it. It’s their fault and their fault only.

I want you to go re-read that paragraph and make sure it sinks in. I want you to think about every time that you’ve been drunk, asleep, or even just alone with another human being. I want you to remember that the only thing separating you as a non-victim is the fact that all of those people made better decisions than any of our perpetrators did. It is never, ever the victim’s responsibility.

This might sound repetitive to some of you. If so, I’m glad we’re on the same page. If you had never considered what I’m talking about before here, I don’t blame you. Our education around sexual assault isn’t great. If I could have any dream job, it would be to spend my time educating about consent and sexual assault, and I would start it much younger than we currently do. I don’t know about you guys, but my health class in high school barely touched on sexual assault during that entire unit. I remember knowing that girls I went to school with had been “raped”, or heard “I guess he doesn’t take no for an answer”. No one took any of that seriously. I knew girls who were bullied out of their school after they were raped. No one took that seriously either. I remember getting to college, knowing that most of my friends had already had sex, and thinking I had heard everything I needed to know. My friends were even laughing and making fun of the orientation leaders while they did a skit about consent. It just didn’t come early enough.

If you are a parent, or anyone who has influence with teenagers, I really encourage you to start talking about sexual assault to them. I know many people who were victims of rape or sexual assault in high school. The man who raped me was committing crimes long before he was 18, and apparently everyone knew. This isn’t the first time I had heard of a situation like that. It’s not rare, unfortunately. The best way to protect your children is to arm them with information, and the courage to step in when they see something unsafe happening to someone else. You might think they don’t know enough to be able to listen to you, but chances are, they’ve already heard about sexual assault happening to someone they know. They just might not realize what happened, depending on how they heard about it.

Most importantly, no matter how old you are, check yourself before talking about a sexual assault victim. If you’re talking about a case in the news, think to yourself “would I want a nearby survivor to hear what I’m saying about this?” I know empathy hasn’t been the biggest focus in the U.S. recently, but it’s more important now than ever. We aren’t the judge or jury, you’re right. No one should go to jail without evidence. But remember that the evidence in a rape trial often must surpass the evidence required in any other crime tenfold. If charges have been brought, or someone is even being investigated, that means ~98% of the time that there is a very real victim on the other side of it. Choose your words and reactions carefully. You don’t have any control over the legal outcome (unless you start pushing for better police investigations with your local department!), but you do have control over what kind of a world you’re making for everyone in the future. Are you going to be someone supporting victim-survivors, or tearing them down and questioning their life choices? I hope you choose the former. I hope you choose to be a part of the conversation that every survivor wants to have about how to change the world for the men and women who will be victimized in the future. We just want them to have a better experience than we did, and to create a more understanding world for everyone who will go through this after we have. We’d love to have you as an ally.

(If you have been the victim of a sexual assault or rape and are in crisis, please call 1-800-656-4673, available 24 hours a day)

lifting each other up instead of tearing your competition down

I would be totally lying if I told you I wasn’t writing this post based on a particular recent incident in my life. I would also be totally lying if I told you that what I’m about to write is not drawn from a million separate experiences in my life, all with a common theme: tearing someone down who you should be supporting.

We all know the type. And quite frankly, we’ve all been the type. Scenario A: you’re a girl growing up, and another girl is making you jealous. You feel like she’s prettier than you, smarter than you, and it makes you hate yourself. She’s even drawing the attention of the boy you like. The easy, immature, go-to answer? Talk smack about her until you’ve made her feel pathetic and small. Most of us know by adulthood that this is not how to deal with insecurities. I look back with absolute shame on how I dealt with being jealous of other girls. I’m grateful for that feeling of shame, because it reminds me to keep my integrity strengthened and never stoop low like that again; yes, ages 7-19 are rough, but we shouldn’t have all made it even harder on each other like that. Bad move.

This brings me to a more recent phenomenon I’ve noticed in a new part-of-life group I’ve joined: survivors of sexual assault (I’ll add that I’m not talking about any specific group or organization of survivors here: I’ve seen this across the board). This group is a sad one to be a member of, and it’s full of men and women who have suffered through the unimaginable. I don’t blame anyone in that group for developing some bitterness, and I think that’s perfectly normal. What blows my mind is seeing that same cattiness I grew up with start to permeate my new circle, in a space that should be so filled with love and support. I won’t even bother describing the different times I’ve seen this happen; I’ve experienced it myself with a few fellow survivors, and I’ve seen it happen between others. I always cringe knowing where it’s coming from – a deep, desperately lonely emotional hole – and part of me wants to excuse the behavior.

Except, wait; I won’t do that. What I’m about to say might sound harsh, but hear me out: You cannot ever use your pain as an excuse for inflicting pain on someone else. I don’t care how low you feel; it’s not okay to climb over someone who is just as broken as you to make yourself feel better. We’ve all experienced being torn down by another human being, and we know how it feels. Now you’re going to do it to someone else? You might be reading this if you’re not a survivor of sexual assault and say that this doesn’t apply to you. But it does. We all have pain. We all have pain that no one else has been through or seen the way that we have. When you needlessly tear someone else down (whether it’s because you’re jealous, bored, or you flat-out enjoy excessive gossiping), you’re ignoring everything that that person has ever been through, just for a few seconds of personal relief. That is never, ever going to make you feel better or whole.

I don’t mean for this to sound preachy or judgmental. Trust me, I get it. I’ve been there, and I’ve sunk into the easy way out – “I feel bad about my life, so I’m going to make this other person feel bad about theirs”. The fact that I’ve been cruel to people I should be supporting is exactly why I am so passionate about this. I didn’t feel my world open up until I made a conscious decision pre-college to stop being rude and petty. Sometimes it’s something as simple as seeing a coworker succeed when you haven’t been promoted yet. It takes more energy, but not allowing someone else’s triumphs to bring you down is always the better answer. On the flip side, mocking someone’s failures is also certainly not going to make you more successful. I would hope we’d all rather live in a world that’s functioning better as a whole because we help others pick themselves up when they fall.

It’s hard to figure out how to end this – do I finish up with a reminder to be a good person, or the quote from Mean Girls about how calling someone else fat doesn’t make you any skinnier? All I can do is apologize to anyone who has felt hurt by me in the past, and promise to do better in the future – because no matter what, no amount of pain any of us will go through in life will excuse hurting someone else.

(Disclaimer: this does not mean that if someone has hurt you, you have to continue being excessively kind to them. Do no harm, but take no shit. We’ll save that post for another day)

2/3/17 resolution (a little late, I know)

I’m used to being a workaholic. I worked full time most of my years in college, and while I was constantly sick, run-down, and miserable, at least I had a clear-cut purpose. But recently, I’ve been trying to take care of myself for once. I’m going to the chiropractor, actually scheduling appointments with specialists for my many weird chronic health problems I can’t seem to solve, and even getting a massage once a month. I also got engaged, which is definitely hyped up throughout your entire life as the-event-that-changes-everything (not that my fiancé isn’t absolutely amazing and life-changing, because he is, but we’ll save that for another post). I should feel amazing.

Instead, there’s this sense that I’m not accomplishing enough. I’ve somehow built up the expectation for myself that if I’m not absolutely killing myself working constantly and being hyper-productive, my life is being totally wasted. Maybe some of you can relate. Maybe you can’t relate, in which case, I’m jealous. I’ve always found it so difficult to open myself up to the whole light and happiness thing and just accept some self love (or even love from other people).

This has gotten me thinking a lot recently. I might not be able to fix my internal expectations for myself, or the harsh way I talk to myself, but I can try. From now on, I’m going to make a commitment to being gentle with myself. I’ve tried writing out ideas for this a million times, but it always ends up sounding like some cliché Pinterest-worthy quote that isn’t really actionable. “Love yourself endlessly.” Sure, once I figure out how that works, I’ll get right on it.

Instead, I’ve decided that every morning when I wake up (and probably every night before I go to sleep), I’m going to make a point of telling myself: “what you are doing is enough”. I won’t try to assign value to all the different things I’ve done, or constantly wonder what I could’ve done better, but instead I am going to tell myself that I am enough. This might be a totally weak move, but it’s where I’m starting out at, so I’ll be sure to let all of you know how it goes.

PS – if you’re strong on the whole self-care thing, please feel free to pass on some tips. I would greatly appreciate them and I’m sure anyone reading would too 🙂

Introduction

I’ve done a lot of writing in my life, but for some reason, blogging has always felt awkward to me. I don’t really know why anyone would care what I have to say about things, and I’m such a natural rambler that separating my thoughts seems daunting at best. However, enough people who are close to me have told me how good this could feel, so I’m doing it.

Some of you know me very well, others just know of me, and some of you might not really know how you ended up reading this (hi!). I’ve included more about myself on my about me page, but I think the most helpful place to redirect people to is this article. It covers everything I don’t want to go over multiple times. I’m probably going to reference parts of this fairly often, but I just don’t have the strength or desire to write it all out myself.

Since this article came out, my already-busy life has gotten even more hectic. I’ve been really honored by the support, even though it was overwhelming at first (so overwhelming that I had to take a complete break from working and going to school). I don’t know if there’s a good way to describe what it feels like to have millions of people know all of the worst things that have happened to you. I didn’t really think that part through before deciding to share my story. It’s definitely been hard to watch everyone I went to school with as they graduate, get new jobs, start fresh careers, and be stuck feeling like my worth is tied down to this one horrible part of my life. But now that I’ve had some time to adjust to my new reality, I’ve realized that I need to do everything I can to help change our culture around sexual assault while I have the momentum to do it. It certainly wasn’t my original calling, but things happen in life that change our trajectory all the time.

With all of that said (even though I haven’t really said much yet), thanks for being here. If you ever want me to write about something specific, please just put it in the comments or send me a message. I’m probably going to expand on a lot of different topics, but I always want to be talking about what’s most helpful for other people – especially fellow survivors of sexual assault. It can be a lonely world for us, and I want to help make it feel more welcoming.