Bridget Schilling, Class of 2017
You can spend years getting over it, but you never forget it. It’s an invasion or threat of invasion to your physical body and safety. You can’t unlearn that response. It sneaks up on you. Sometimes you are in a safe space with a friend and she mentions a drink that they were planning on making for a gathering. You freeze and your chest goes cold; it was the same drink that you helped make at the party the first time you were sexually assaulted. “Pink panty pull-downs.” The irony is not lost on you. You sit next to the boy who did it in calculus. He apologizes, and you let it go. You know he has a crush on you and he just didn’t understand what he was doing. You get it; you’ve done stupid things around a crush too and it’s nice to have the attention.
In high school, you stay overnight at a party because your parents do not want you to drink and drive. You wake up and the same boy, who sits next to you in calculus, is on top of you, trying to get you to talk to him. He asks why won’t talk to him. He won’t leave. You wonder if you should have just driven home.
The next time you are at a party, you sleep in your car. He assaults someone else in the bathroom and then comes to find you. You wake up to him knocking on your window. It’s just as scary as when you are stopped at a red light late at night and a man runs up to your car with a crowbar, except this time you can’t drive away and you are going to see him in calculus on Monday anyway. It’s like the men who followed you home on the bus from elementary school, except you can’t bike away, and he knows where you live. You can only run away for so long.
I know that my visceral response every time I hear “pink panty pull-downs” isn’t because it is offensive, or just reminiscent of rape culture, like I want to pretend it is. I have spent my time since then fighting to prevent sexual violence from happening to other people and helping people who have been subjected to that violence find resources. However, the times that I have the most crippling flashbacks aren’t when I hear other people’s stories. Those are times of empathy and solidarity. I feel the most alone when I am brought back to the circumstances of my own assault. When I hear his name brought up casually. When someone knows a friend has assaulted someone else and treats it like it is not a big deal. When my assailant pops up in a picture on Facebook that someone else posted, even though I have blocked him. When I put on a pair of boots and remember that the reason I stopped wearing them was because I could still see the pattern he scratched into them in calculus before I moved. When I think about the fact that I have no control over if or when it happens again and no space is safe. Not my room, not my friends, not my computer, not my car, not my conversations.