I cross the street at night when there is a park or a dark alley. I don’t leave my drink unattended at a bar and I take them only from friends and bartenders directly. I don’t leave bars alone. And after two of my friends were pulled into cars, I started looking over my shoulder when walking to my car in the dark. I’ve had a bus driver drop me off in front of my house when I felt uncomfortable. I carry bear spray when I hike alone and I carry my phone in my hand in the city when I feel something isn’t right. I pay attention to my surroundings and who I am with. I am vigilant no matter what situation I’m in. I am careful. I have always been careful.
But being careful didn’t stop me from ending up in a bad situation. I went to a club downtown with friends years ago. We got drinks and we danced. When we left one of the guys, a friend, pulled me into a cab. When I protested he said it was okay, that we were all going to the same place. But we weren’t. Instead, he took me to his place. When I realized what was going on I pulled out my phone to call for a ride and he drunkenly pushed me against his garage and started kissing me. My phone was dropped and smashed on the ground. I didn’t know where I was, I had never been there before. He was insistent that we were going to have sex. He said I had flirted with him. I froze. I never said no. I did what I had to to get out as safely as I could. I let him have sex with me because I thought I had no other option. When it was over he finally called me a ride. A month later I apologized to him for making our friendship awkward by avoiding him. And after that, I just distanced myself completed until he was out of my life.
It is painful and embarrassing to write this because at every turn I can’t help but judge my younger self. Why did I get in that cab? Why did a trust this friend? Why didn't I just run away? But that fact is I did what I had to to survive. This isn’t a clear-cut situation and I doubt that he knew he did anything wrong. But I know the difference between sex that I’ve agreed to that is disappointing or regrettable and sex that happened to me because I thought it was my only option.
Trauma changes us. I learned from the situation. I became even more vigilant and began making an extra effort to be incredibly clear in my interactions with male friends. I don't get drunk in public and I usually go home early. I have continued to have the burden for my safety rest squarely on my shoulders. It’s exhausting having a vagina.
So when I hear that it’s a scary time for young boys, I think - finally! Finally, someone else can share the weight of this. Finally, men will have to think before they are too drunk. Finally, men will be the ones wondering what they should have done differently or if there will be consequences to their actions. What a wonderful time in history that women’s safety isn’t going to be their sole responsibility. Finally!
More women in my life than not are survivors of sexual assault. And it’s been hard for me to know when to share my voice in all of this. But I’m grateful for the brave men and women who have been strong enough to step forward and who have kept the conversations going. Everyone has a story that can educate and I hope you’ll all feel strong enough to share yours when you’re ready.