It’s been over three years, and this blog is the avenue in which I’m first sharing my experience.
I hadn’t actually realized I’d been sexually assaulted until I started my journey as a volunteer with the SASC. Like many other people in our society, I was operating under the myth that sexual assault is only rape in the form of penile vaginal penetration. I now understand that this myth is rooted in heteronormativity, which asserts heterosexual relationships as the norm while simultaneously erasing experiences that transgress these boundaries.
As part of the volunteer program, we were required to participate in a weekend long training session where we discussed healthy relationships, how to be an anti-violence ally, and of course, what it meant to be sexually assaulted. The Canadian Criminal Code describes sexual assault as “any unwanted act of a sexual nature.” This can include anything from unwanted sexual touching to rape and sexual exploitation.
Yup, what I experienced was definitely unwanted sexual touching.
It was Halloween, and like many other Place Vanier residents, I attended the party in the basement ballroom. I was dancing with a guy and generally having a good time, but then he went too far. The first time, I gently pushed his hand out from underneath my dress and continued to dance. Then he did it again. Without turning around to face him, I walked away in search of my friends.
I didn’t know what to do. I was uncomfortable. I was embarrassed.
When I found my friends, I told them what had happened. They asked me if I was OK but didn’t seem too concerned. So I tried not to be either. In the days to follow, I was still upset. But I didn’t know how to bring it up. I felt that if I brought it up with my friends again it would be overly dramatic. I felt that if I told my family they would be overly protective. I felt that because I wasn’t physically harmed, it wasn’t a violent act. I felt that my experience lacked credibility. I felt that because I wasn’t raped, my emotions were invalid and that I needed to just let it go.
I’ve realized that violence doesn’t always feel violent.
Two years later, when I’d realized that what had happened was actually sexual assault, I started to experience a whole new set of emotions. I felt stupid. How could I not know that I had been sexually assaulted? Because I too, lacked an understanding of consent. I started to try and deal with some of my issues that had developed after the assault. In second and third year, I was angry. I hated a lot of things about myself, and developed a bad body image. I didn’t go out that much. And I had little desire to meet new people. Sometimes I still victim-blame myself, thinking that I shouldn’t have been wearing a dress or shouldn’t have been dancing with him at all. Sometimes I think that I was asking for it. I’ve been terrified to tell people. Worried of how friends and family will react and what future partners will think.
My involvement with the SASC has not only been vital in validating my experience, but also contributing to my process of healing. I’ve learnt that no matter the severity of someone’s sexual assault, it is never the fault of the survivor. And everyone’s experiences are equally valid and deserve to be heard. I have learnt that rape culture is very much alive in our society, and that many people still have a misunderstanding of consent.
I’ve struggled with the decision to tell people about my experience. Mostly because I’m scared that people will say or imply that it wasn’t that big of a deal. I’ve been told that I’m strong, in the way that I have a tough skin. One friend once said to me “if we went to Hogwarts, you would definitely be in Gryffindor because you don’t take shit from anyone.” Although some days this is true, acknowledging my own emotions has taught me that sometimes it’s OK to be vulnerable. It’s OK to feel weak.
It is also important to recognize that my coming out with my experience has been from a place of privilege. Because I am white, female identified, cis-gendered, have economic stability and a sufficient health care plan, I have access to support services and counseling if I so choose. I do not have to worry that my gender identity will prohibit my access to support. As a former volunteer and current student staff at the SASC, I have received ongoing support throughout my healing process. This is not the case for many. It is all too often that disclosure of sexual assault results in slut-shaming, victim-blaming, invalidation, questioning, and job termination – just to name a few.
My intention with writing this is partially to share my experience with friends and family. But more importantly, it’s to contribute to the discussion on sexual assault and consent within our society. I hope that when my friends and family read this, they will not only have a better understanding of me, but of the importance of consent in all sexual encounters. I hope that through this Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we can discuss, learn and work towards a better future where sexual assault and rape culture no longer exists.