By: Jasmine Despain, IATG Guest Contributor April 21, 2016
I was raped my second year of college in August, 2012. When it happened, I didn't know what to do. I didn’t know who to talk to. I felt alone. I felt speechless. I felt dirty.
I was completely lost.
I felt these negative emotions for a long time and I didn't see how it could ever get easier. I kept my job, I stayed in school, and I had my friends but I still felt so...lost. After about a month I decided to press charges against my rapist, but I did so discreetly. I still didn't tell many people about my assault.
There I was at the local courthouse waiting to meet with my attorney, the police officer who reported my case, and my rapist's defense attorney. I was feeling scared, but I was confident that it would be resolved and my old best friend who raped me would be honest and accept the charges.
His defense attorney told me that my rapist said I, “asked for it,” and that we were dating at the time. The police officer stated that he thought my rapist had simply, “made a mistake,” and that he shouldn't be punished. The attorney asked the court if he was really a rapist or had, again, just “made a mistake” when he raped me. I’ll never forget that feeling.
I felt disrespected, unimportant, and I didn't know what to do next.
Feeling stuck, I decided the best thing I could do was write my feelings down and express myself in a space where I felt safe and validated. I decided I wanted to share what I had to say to show others how I felt. I wanted others to know what it was like going to court as a victim of sexual assault, and to ask people to stand up against sexual assault and rape. I remember vividly the moment I hit enter on my Facebook and shared my post.
The most incredible thing happened. I was sent more love in private messages than I could have ever imagined. It felt so good to finally feel the support that I so desperately needed. At the same time, it was awful, because in my messages of support there were multiple women and men sharing their own stories of sexual abuse and rape. It was heartbreaking to see just how many of my friends had been assaulted in their lives. I had over fifty people message me privately and forty-three out of the fifty had been sexually assaulted, sexually abused, sexually harassed, or raped.
I decided to share my story with others and with my courage to share, I inspired and entrusted others to share their stories with me.
From that moment on I decided that I wanted to change the way my community, my college, my state, and the world treats those who are sexually assaulted. I started working with Take Back the Night, the Vagina Monologues, I Am That Girl, and local non-profits helping victims of sexual assault. I planned Take Back the Night in 2015 and 2016 at my college in Utah and shared my story as a survivor. It was incredible because my story again prompted others to share their own stories and feel that they were able to talk about their assault too.
When I worked with a dear friend of mine to found a chapter of I Am That Girl, a women's empowerment organization, I knew that I could make a difference. Our meetings regarding rape and rape culture opened my eyes yet again. While we were bonding and supporting each other in our meeting, multiple women shared their stories. In some instances women would say that they had not been victims but they were so glad that they were able to attend our meeting to witness the strength and power of our members.
I know that I Am That Girl has changed my life because it has given me my voice back. This community has believed in me, helped me grow, and inspired me to change the world.
The other members of our meetings love to attend because they know that it is a safe place for them to go and feel loved. Although some days are still hard and followed by anxiety attacks and sorrow, my days will never be as dark with the light of I Am That Girl guiding me throughout the rest of my life.
Moral of the story: speak your truth, know your value, never back down, be an activist, and be That Girl.
According to RAINN, another American is sexually assaulted every 207 seconds. If you or someone you know has been hurt, don't stay quiet. Ask for help and share your story. To access help check out, http://www.iamthatgirl.com/resources or call the RAINN hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.
When we are open and share our stories, we help remove the stigma of being a victim of sexual assault and start to take control of our own narrative.
How do we create safe spaces where people can share without fear? What are ways that we can work to make sure that these crimes are taken seriously and punished appropriately?
Jasmine is the President and Chapter Leader of "I Am That Girl" at Utah State University. For the past two years Jasmine has worked to end violence against men and women in her community. Jasmine has performed at Rock Against Rape, performed as a chant leader at Walk A Mile In Her Shoes, and has hosted Take Back The Night at her university. She has also earned the title of Miss Indian USU 2016-2017.
Every girl is a work in progress. If you need more help, click here.