By: Dana Zillgitt, Regular Contributor
Warning: This article contains frank discussion of sexual assault and may be a trigger for survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence.
On paper and in the beginning, he was flawless. He was brilliant. He oozed manliness. He was complimentary and made me lose my breath just by looking at me sideways. But more importantly, he made me feel safe, which is tough for a girl with walls the size of the Great Wall of China. But now I’m starting to think he was too good to be true from the very start. And maybe I was too optimistic. But it’s been about three months since he raped me and I’m slowly starting to heal. To fill my tear ducts back up and realize there is glory still left for me. I’m starting to sleep again and this freeze is thawing.
We got drinks and went to a get together afterwards, leading to a night full of adventures filled with Mexican food, a couple margaritas, and side-splitting laughter along the way. I took him aside momentarily and mentioned, “just so you know, just because I’m drinking, doesn’t mean I’m going to sleep with you.” To which he retorted “We’ll see. I’m pretty convincing at times. And I’m not afraid to take what I want or take no for answer.” And I’m pretty sure he put something in my drink but I can’t be sure. I should have bolted right then and there when he said that but I couldn’t. I was having too much fun, I was laughing far too hard to second guess his motives. Things took a turn when I somehow ended up in a room alone with him. And all I remember is saying no, consistently. Even smacking him and pushing him away several times. But apparently my consistent “no” and trying to get him off me made him want me even more. And it was clear, he wasn’t afraid to take what he wanted and he sure didn’t like hearing no.
When I got home, the first thing I did was hop in a burningly hot shower to wash away all the disgust I felt down the drain. I needed to scrape the slime off every crevice of my body. I could barely look at myself in the mirror afterwards. But something in me went off. I messaged two of my best friends detailing explicitly what happened, needing to know if it was what I thought it was. I needed to know they would still talk to me. And I lucked out, the people I reached out to believed me. Even with the support of the handful of people who know what exactly happened, I still couldn’t report it. Even with a stellar system, I couldn’t walk in those police station doors.
I drove to the parking lot, confident I would report this, fully believing I would bring justice to one assault. But I couldn’t open my car door. I was stuck. And even with all the people who believed me, standing by my side, there was one voice ringing in my head. It was the voice of a man I greatly respected blaming me for the assault. Slut shaming and victim blaming me for something I had said “no” to all night long. I was breaking and I could only hear the negative in something I should have spun into gold. He asked all the cliché questions “You must have lead him on. What were you wearing? How were you acting? How could you put yourself in such a precarious situation? You brought this on yourself, you silly little girl.” And as awful as it is to admit, that was what prevented me from reporting. Why would they believe a girl like me? With a raunchy sense of humor, a sordid past, and a knack for holding onto the good in people for far too long.
Not reporting my assault and bringing him to justice is on me. I let my fear of societal acceptance and refusal to even acknowledge its occurrence get in the way of truly healing. And to be honest, unless I’m on an episode of SVU, I probably never will. At least not officially. But even with not reporting it, I needed to let this event out—it was becoming a cancer I needed to cut loose before it took over me for good. And in a way, this article is a method of acknowledging what he did to me and that it is not okay to take no barely at face value and disregard its significance.
Thus, this article was the jumping off point to starting the healing process, my way. I needed to let it out in hopes of finding at least one other person who’d been there, who’d gotten to the station and was unable to go any further. I’m reaching out to people who care about me as well because I know I can’t do this alone. I’m trying to tune out the negative and hold onto the good as much as possible. This changed me but I’ll be damned if it’ll change me for the worse.
And I understand I’m luckier than some. My best friends are amazing for listening to me scream, cry, drink it out all in hopes that I start to realize this is not and will never be my fault. And they are still continuing to make me laugh even when it hurts, even when I can’t say anything. Because they’re reminding me every day that as long as I keep moving forward, this is not my fault, this will never be my fault. But I knew I needed to write about when I picked up a pen at work and happened to have a clean sheet of paper. And I just started leaking out words on words everywhere.
I found a light to hold on to again within writing and I grabbed it. I picked up a pen and started bleeding ink onto whatever mode of paper I could find. And I kept my hands busy. I kept my mind busy. And I reached out to the people who knew for help, for guidance, for mere reassurance that I wasn’t as disgusting as I felt. That someday, I’d even find love, as cheesy as that sounds. I needed to know the men in my life still found me beautiful and whole, not something lesser. I hate that I let the voice of one man ruin what could have been justice. But it happened, it’s an event I cannot change but I am learning from it.
I’m about to go to my first support group this month and I’m absolutely terrified. But I know that in order to heal, I need to continue holding onto the good, no matter how dim or small it may be. I need to continue putting one foot in front of another and realize that there are people out there who have been in a similar situation. I’m in the process of healing, of mending, of realizing that this does not have to define me, and that while I may not have reported it, I can still use this story as inspiration to others to maybe do something differently than I did. I’m using words-both written and verbal-as motivation this time to keep healing, to keep reaching out, and to always lift off whenever possible. And I may never fully heal from this but what I can do is pick up the pieces one by one to build something even better, faster, stronger (oh hey Daft Punk!).
To end, if you’re finding yourself in a similar situation, please know you are not alone. Hold onto the light, no matter how small or dim it may be. You are not as filthy, dirty, or disgusting as you feel right now. But knowing that is quite different-and far more difficult-than actually believing it. You will find your way through this. Call a hotline, find a support group. I promise they’re not as terrifying as they seem. And if all else fails, know you have me. I’m on your side. I believe you. And I always will.
Unfortunately, Dana's story is not unique; many sexual assaults go unreported everyday. Know you are not alone in your experience and you CAN get help. If you or someone you know is the survivor of sexual assault, consider visiting RAINN: Rape Abuse and Incest National Network.
Dana has her BA in International Affairs & Spanish as well as a mild obsession with rescue animals and all things caffeinated. She’s mastered the art of the selfie, fort building, and even the sass battle. Plus, she can quote 95% of Anchorman and Zoolander.
image via dcmilitary.com