Lisa Sendrow

I’ve never felt more like a liar than the times I have talked about sexual assault and rape. I’ve never felt more vulnerable, alone, silenced – not in the process of being assaulted, but in the aftermath when I told my family and friends. Why couldn’t I have kicked or screamed? Why did I drink so much? Was I wearing a miniskirt to that party?  I was asking for it. I shouldn’t have gotten drunk. I shouldn’t have gotten into bed. I should have been able to avoid every instance of rape and assault by the various individuals who have come for me. The constant wagging of fingers and shaming and being put at fault – it was my fault.

I’ve never quite had a healthy relationship with a man before. I have never really felt in control of my emotions and was always made to feel bad about my insecurities and triggers due to sexual assault and rape. I never imagined that this battle would be so difficult. I often question if what I’ve been through has actually happened – with various people telling me that it is untrue, I wonder if my feelings and triggers and traumas are valid. I look back at relationships where I’ve physically or mentally created an attachment to an individual, and if someone else treats me in the same manner unknowingly, I become paralyzed. I can’t speak or move and I feel like I am being punished all over again.

I have never been stalked into an alley at 2 a.m., all alone, caught off-guard by a stranger who held a knife at my throat. The experience that everyone pins on me is one where an ex-hookup raped me after pulling down my pants in my bed after I told him “no” several times, which is very far from the cliché view of rape in our society. There was no screaming, no fighting. Just lying there, letting him come inside of me as I watched my clock while counting down the minutes before I could go to bed and forget that it ever happened.

But he’s not the only one to have raped me, and this is why I always question myself. As hard as I try to avoid situations, I am constantly caught in this same web of vulnerability. Because at the end of the day, I am too paralyzed with fear and confusion to fight. There’s an undefined line that we draw to make victims and survivors feel helpless, telling them that their experiences aren’t legitimate. So it’s not legitimate to be afraid that any man I enter a relationship with will pull my panties down when I’m sleeping and put his dick inside of me and not allow me to get up. It’s not legitimate for me to be afraid that a stranger on a different campus will take me further and further away from my friends and not let me get my phone back until we had sex (even if he later tells me that he didn’t mean for those experiences to occur). It’s not legitimate for me to feel taken advantage of when I am drunk enough to be in a hospital bed and end up on my floor with vomit on me and blood coming out of my vagina.

At the end of the day, there is a lack of support from the friends and family of survivors, and especially from our campuses who want us to forget. I don’t blame the schools — they don’t want to believe that their students feel unsafe or that there are students who are there creating unsafe spaces. But this avoidance is showing us that our experiences when we have to pass by our perpetrator’s windows to get to our rooms, or see them at our solitary dining hall, or run into them on the way to class, or see them at parties while we are having fun and trying to relax after a stressful week don’t matter. It doesn’t matter if we are triggered or don’t want to get out of bed to go to class anymore. It doesn’t matter that when we are getting A’s before, we were suddenly skimming by with B’s and C’s.

This is the narrative a lot of people refuse to see. Because our view of rape is so physically violent and because this is what we see on the news, we are often forgotten or further put into the spotlight and further threatened by people who tell us we deserve to be truly raped. We are seen as weak and vulnerable, and for some of us the thoughts going through our minds at the moment are “what can I do to forget this ever happened?” or “what will help me live through this a little longer?”

What evidence do I need to make my experience any clearer? Do I need a camera attached to my pussy and a recorder strapped to my mouth to show you that I said “no” or demonstrate that I was bruised and how it happened? People don’t lie about rape and assault. It’s not a privilege to be afraid during and post rape. My life didn’t emotionally or physically improve. I wasn’t told by my professors, “oh, you were raped? I’m sorry. Let me make your life easier by giving you extra time to write your thesis so you don’t fail out of Swarthmore.”

I’m still angry. I feel betrayed by my school and some of my friends who decided that because my pussy was invaded we couldn’t be friends anymore. I don’t trust people as easily, and I am wary of relationships. I often tell my partner that I don’t deserve the happiness he gives me and that I don’t know why he sticks by me. In the past, I would often end anything before I could get emotionally attached because I knew that they would not be able to understand.

I still often dream about these instances. I am still trying to reattach triggers so that I no longer feel afraid of being touched. There are still years of healing before I can trust people again. I still have to learn that it wasn’t my fault.