An Unwanted Touch That Reminded Me Why It's Important for Survivors of Sexual Assault to Keep Reporting
Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
I’ve been unable to put together a cohesive thought or sentence since Monday, when someone I know sexually harassed me and my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was sparked again.
He was drunk, it was 7:30 a.m. and I was with my dogs in the yard. He approached me innocently at first, asking how I was doing, asking me about my dogs — the usual small talk.
And then he tried to hug me. And then he put his hand on my back. And then on my shoulder. And then on my arm. Again and again, until I could go back inside.
My body remembered how it handled this unwanted, drunken touching before when I was raped as a teen. This memory took over as my mind went blank. My PTSD was back, and it was helping me get out of this situation in the safest way it knew how.
By not saying anything. By being polite. By waiting until it was over.
I wasn’t thinking about going to the police while it was happening. About telling a drunk semi-stranger to get away from me. About starting a confrontation. I wasn’t thinking much at all, except how to get away without angering him, or hurting one of us.
That’s the reason the police won’t file a harassment report.
After talking to my dad (a police officer), my landlord and my husband, I decided to call the police and try to file a report. It became clear very quickly, however, that my borough’s department didn’t see the problem.
“Say you owned a house, and you had a front lawn. I wouldn’t walk on your lawn, because I see that as trespassing. But the law doesn’t,” the officer said over the phone.
He said that, because I didn’t make it known that the guy’s touching wasn’t welcome, it didn’t warrant harassment charges. Because my PTSD shut my mind down and put my body on autopilot to get me out of what I saw as a potentially dangerous situation, “it didn’t happen,” according to the law.
“But your body isn’t a lawn,” one friend said.
“So, if someone can’t say no, the person harassing them can do whatever they want?” asked another.
Many questions have haunted me since my last attack, and they rose back to the surface. What if I were drunk, too? What if I were too drunk to say “no”? Would the police still not help me? What’s the difference between being under the influence of alcohol, and being under the influence of a debilitating mental illness?
I’ve spent the last four days in a fog of shame, helplessness and depression. I’ve been on edge and jumping at every noise. I’ve washed myself twice every time I’ve showered since, and I’ve barely been able to look at myself in the mirror.
But that doesn’t appear to matter to the people who are supposed to help me, the people I was taught were the first people I should contact when something like this happens.
Then, this morning, a friend and co-worker approached me about a post I’d made on Facebook about the situation. He thanked me, and told me that, because of that post, he’s better able to understand his girlfriend’s struggle with PTSD. He said how disheartening it’s been to find out, as he’s gotten older, just how common harassment and assault are among women, and how they’re left to pick up the pieces on their own.
So, I’m here, writing this to all my fellow survivors, pleading with you all not to give up. Don’t stop reporting. Don’t stop sharing your story. Don’t quell that anger, and raise hell where you can to make people listen. If you need someone to scream to, to hug, to sit with you, to cheer you on — I’m here.
Another friend said this to me last night, and it’s been my mantra since.
“Keep your head up. We’re just starting this revolution.”
If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
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Thinkstock photo via ARTQU.