This piece was published on October 25th, 2017 for my Magazine Reporting and Writing Class.
I flew into Colorado on a warm, dry summer day in June 2012. I was fifteen at the time, and was out to visit my dad and my best friend, Ily (yes, like the acronym for “I love you”). Despite moving 800 miles away, I made it a priority of mine to stay in touch with Ily, who is two years younger than I am. We texted, messaged on Facebook, and would occasionally Skype; but our realest, most raw form of communication was through what we called “The Notebook.” It was basically like being a pen-pal, except we filled an entire notebook with all of our letters rather than sending each one individually. I had one, and Ily had one. Whenever we saw each other, we switched notebooks.
I could tell that something was off about Ily as soon as I arrived. She was always the cute little innocent friend of the group, with her bubbly personality bursting at the seams. I knew her as the girl who loved listening to Hilary Duff and gushed about her middle school crushes. Her medium-length blonde hair swept over her brilliant green eyes, and she was always rocking some kind of neon-colored nail polish. She was never afraid to hide who she was. Her appearance was merely a reflection of her personality, and looking at her felt like reading an open book. But I knew that something was off when we were sitting in the backseat of my dads’ truck – her once glistening eyes seemed to be dulled from her under-eye bags, and her chipped, polish-less nails had been bit to the nub. She wasn’t so easy to read anymore.
Nonetheless, we had a great time once we arrived at our usual campsite. Ily laughed as we struggled to put our tent together, she danced to the classic rock playing as we made dinner, and she chowed down on her burnt s’mores. Under the dazzling night sky that shined brighter than the city, we sat cozied up around the campfire with a blanket draped around our shoulders. As the night began to wind down, so did Ily. She went into the tent, looking exhausted, before reappearing with her notebook. “I want you to read this,” she said, appearing somewhat uneasy.
She set the notebook on the folding chair next to me, a small smile on her lips fading before going back into the tent. I picked it up, looking at the worn cover, listening to the cackling fire and soft waves from the nearby lake. I read through her entries, which mostly talked about boys and middle school drama, but most notably, her on and off crush on this guy named Cole. I knew about him, as she had told me over text months ago. I finally flipped to the last page, which was brittle from dried tears. I furrowed my brows, not knowing what to expect.
“So you know how I told you that a day last week was the absolute worst day of my life?” I felt my thumping heart beat viciously against my ribcage. “Well. . . Cole raped me last Tuesday.”
That was the first time I ever learned about a close friend of mine being sexually assaulted. My heart broke for her – she has never been the same since that day. She looked down on herself, blamed herself, hated herself. Despite the counseling and the fact that Cole ended up at a juvenile delinquency center, Ily turned to the razor to feel again. She had problems trusting the men in her life, and guys frequently used her. Sex became something that didn’t mean much to her, because Cole took that away from her when she was barely a teenager.
Soon after I learned about what happened to Ily, I found out that it wasn’t just something that happened to her. It happened to Erin. It happened to Sydney. It happened to Melinda. Emmy, Brionna, Megan. As time goes on, the chances of a woman being raped at some point in her life become larger and scarier: 1 in 5 women, 1 in 4 women, 1 in 3 women. . .
I started to question every uncomfortable interaction I’ve ever had with a boy. That one time in middle school when Jeffrey, the new guy at school that I barely knew, slid his had across my butt in the school lunch room. Or that time in high school when I was at Drew’s house in the middle of the night and he forced my hand down his pants. Or the numerous times I’ve been at the bars where a drunk guy thinks that just because I’m wearing a skirt, it’s okay to stick his hand up there.
As I remembered those events, this time under a metaphorical magnifying glass, the blurred lines became crystal clear: these unwanted, uncomfortable advancements towards me were forms of sexual harassment. It was not just “boys being boys.” It was not just a hormonal high school boy wanting to get off – it was sexual assault. I never thought of that as sexual assault because I didn’t feel like a victim. I thought about what happened to Ily – she was a victim. While I still think that what happened to her was worse because of the physical and emotional repercussions it had on her versus the lack of repercussions on me, I was still sexually assaulted. Even today, it doesn’t feel right to say it. But that’s what happened.
And that’s part of the problem. We see sexual assault and sexual harassment as something that we can measure. We don’t think that being fingered at the bar compares to being drugged and raped behind a dumpster. While I feel uncomfortable thinking about my experiences, I never had to go to therapy for it, or file a restraining order, or carry myself through a hefty trial with no guarantee of justice. I never felt that violation that so many other men and women have felt. Part of the reason the lines are so blurred is because there are different levels of sexual assault. . . but that doesn’t change the fact that those acts, no matter how little, are assault.
The response to the #MeToo Campaign is surprising to me, mostly because there isn’t usually a collective outcry when a big scandal like this happens. The response is usually “Well, she was probably drinking too much,” or “Her shirt was probably too revealing,” or “It was only 20 minutes of action.” But this time, men and women across the globe are putting a foot down and saying “Enough is enough.” In response to #MeToo, many men have tweeted with the hashtag #HowIWillChange. It seems as if slowly, but surely, we’re taking a step in the right direction. With this spotlight shining down on Hollywood right now, I hope that this light will burn holes through the black-out curtains we put up to ignore the issue.
Yeah, me too.