By: Teresa Sabatine, IATG ContributorJanuary 13, 2016
Warning: The following article discuses sexual violence and may be a trigger for sexual assault/sexual violence survivors
A lot of people ask me why I think women’s equality is so important. There are many ways I can answer. Sometimes I talk about the sexual harassment I received while working in the movie business and how I felt I had to choose between a lucrative career and standing up for myself. Unfortunately, at the age of 25, I thought it was better to choose the lucrative career. Sometimes I talk about how my mother raised me on a dream of “Hillary for President,” that women can do anything that they set their mind to, even lead a country. Sometimes I talk about anorexia and my struggle with an eating disorder. How the pressure to be thin and beautiful and perfect led me to a 15 year struggle of teaching myself that it was perfectly acceptable to eat more than 600 calories a day and to stop shaming myself in the mirror every morning. Thank you yoga, a stint on the west coast where I learned what real healthy food actually is, and many journal entries for my recovery.
The answer I never give to anyone outside my immediate family and close friends is that I fight for women’s equality because I was raped. Even as I type this sentence my whole body is shaking and my heart is racing.
Unfortunately 10 years later the shame that comes with admitting to anyone that I was sexually assaulted is still massively overwhelming.
I find it only comes up when whispered in closed-door rooms and intimate settings with a new partner who has to know in order to understand the way that I am. It happened when I was 19; these were the things that either went through my mind or were said to me:
What if people find out and you can’t get a job?
What if they won’t believe you?
What if you prosecute and you don’t win?
Do you realize the scrutiny you will go through in court?
Are you sure it was rape?
Wow, you’re lucky, it could have been way worse.
How did you let this happen?
Aren’t you going to do anything about it?
Were you really a virgin?
I asked for it.
I shouldn’t have been so trusting.
I shouldn’t have had so much to drink.
I shouldn’t have gone to Florida.
I shouldn’t have been in that bar.
And from the male doctor at the hospital, “What is it you want me to do for you?”
For a while it felt like I had a giant scar across my chest, the physical manifestation of this tragedy was rather confusing. “People can’t actually see that this happened to me, can they?” For a while it felt like everyone just knew by looking at me.
Eventually it felt like the scar went away. Not as if I took some magic pill and was immediately better. I did a lot of work, had a lot of support, and let time heal what it could. I have had an extraordinary journey since that terrible March of 2005. I have worked on major Hollywood film sets, lived all over the United States employed by successful companies and incredible leaders, and fallen in and out of love with wonderful men who treated me with respect and kindness. I have helped many women through breakups and career changes and family problems.
I have triumphed and for many years now, I no longer think about that man in that house and that night and the hospital and the aftermath of the tragedy and the effect it had on my family and on me. I have moved on with grace and strength and perspective refusing to let that experience define me.
But lately, as I reflect on who I am and what I stand for I no longer find it ok for me to only help women with breakups and career changes and family problems. It’s not that these things do not matter, because they do, they are very important.
But I also believe that there is more important work to be done.
I remember, back in 2005, standing in the hallway of the hospital feeling like I was completely exposed, waiting for the male doctor to write me a prescription while watching him eat a sandwich and watch a game on the TV. My mind was racing. Why did they give me a male doctor? Why did they send a male police officer? Isn’t there a woman who can talk to me? Why did they ask me if I was sure it was rape? Why would I be here if it wasn’t? Can’t he see me here waiting? Why won’t he just write the prescription and let me go? Why did my mom make me come to this hospital if she knew they would handle things this way?
In that moment, in that cold and lonely hallway, I vowed to do something about this process. I made a promise to myself that I would someday fix the healthcare system, demolish the stigma that comes with sexual assault, make it so no doctor anywhere in the WORLD could look at a woman and accuse her of lying as she sits crying and recounting the details of a horrific experience.
I vowed to do my very best to create a world where women are safe and respected and equal. I vowed to stand up for women, to fight for them, to enable them to use their voice, to help them when they are scared and ultimately to use this terribly dark experience to create a better world for women everywhere.
It is my duty to be there for women who are scared and have been assaulted and are alone. It is my duty to be able to talk about my experience in a way that makes other women feel comfortable to share their own experience (if they so choose). It is my duty not to let that man in that house and that experience make me angry or bitter or turn me into a victim.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so profoundly said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
To all of the women who have been here before or are here now, I am so sorry. I understand. I know you are scared, I know it is dark, I know it is lonely. But you are not alone. You are not worthless or to blame or a stigma. You are a strong, beautiful, profoundly important person. You are in control. You get to choose lightness or darkness. You can and you will come out on the other side of this. How do I know? Because I did.
For the women afraid to tell anyone, afraid to admit this happened, afraid that it makes you weak or damaged or broken; it does not.
You do not have to tell anyone, but if for some reason you are tired of carrying it alone and you are not sure where to go, please know that I am here. I will listen. I will hold you when you are scared and comfort you when you are sad. You are not alone.
It will get better. We will find ways to make this stop. Maybe we only move the needle slightly in my lifetime, but I think that is worth the fight. And if by doing that we find ways to make the process better for women who are dealing with sexual assault that is half the battle.
The next time someone asks me why women’s equality is so important to me I will simply tell them the truth: It is my duty as a strong, experienced and influential woman to make the world a safer place for women everywhere.
Have you or someone you know experienced sexual violence? Know you are not alone and deserve support, compassion, and understanding. Visit our resource pages to find the support and help that is right for you.
Teresa is a passionate storyteller who has made a career out of producing film and television all over the United States and honing her marketing and business skills at Nike. When she isn’t budgeting and strategizing, she is busy running her company Tiny Little Robots and writing for her blog. TLR is a full service mentorship and consulting company focused on the development and empowerment of women. They focus on helping women identify where they want to go and connect them with the people and resources that can get them there.
Every girl is a work in progress. If you need more help, click here.