Each week the Honey newsletter includes a column from women and LGBTQ folks in the South, in collaboration with See Jane Write. This month it’s all about bodies and how they’ve carried us and helped us tell our stories. We’re always looking for more stories from you. Click here to learn more about how to get published.
By Monique “Nikki” Murphy
What do I do?
If I report, will everyone find out?
Will he be made to leave?
Will my mom find out that I’ve been drinking/partying?
Who all is going to know?
Will this be on some record?
Will I be required to talk to a shrink?
Did I do anything to contribute to this?
Will they see it the way that I do?
It’s not like I’m a virgin.
Does “sexual assault” or “rape” apply to me/my situation?
I heard about that happening to a girl back in high school/on TV/ in a movie, but what happened to me was different.
Where is that girl now? Exactly.
Besides, this wasn’t like brutal brutal.
I’m just young/inexperienced/new here.
Don’t go crying about something you got your own self into.
I think this happens all the time.
It’s just how some guys get when they are turned on…
I should have never…
I don’t talk about sex with any of my family or friends.
Who all is going to know?
My parent(s) would be devastated.
I’ll just avoid doing [insert the last action that was in my control] next time.
I think I’m fine. As a survivor of rape and sexual assault, I know all too well the complicated emotions, questions, fears, and reservations surrounding sharing or reporting these crimes.
In the days and weeks after I was raped by an upperclassman in college, I publicly presented normal— happy, dancing, all jokes and smiles.
Then I grew to hate the environment and waking each day and wearing my “normal” self like a school-issued uniform, I traded my full scholarship for a mountain of student loan debt and transferred to a more prestigious university. I bought (well, financed) a fresh start.
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network,) sexual assault is defined as sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include attempted rape, fondling or unwanted sexual touching, forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, and penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape.
Sexual assault is a serious problem in the United States and it affects over 20 million people, with one in three women and one in six men being survivors of sexual assault. Further, an estimated one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. These statistics are astonishing, but perhaps more shocking is the fact that this reality permeates college campuses. Among undergraduate students, 23 percent of females and five percent of males experience rape or sexual assault. However, more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.
Many survivors of sexual assault still have to go to school, to work, or live with their perpetrators. The choice often comes down to whether to will themselves “okay” or risk social, economic, and/or reputational ruin by revealing they are not. These risks are compounded by lack of means (e.g., I cannot afford to quit, lose my scholarship, relocate, take time off to process, therapy, and court—who’s paying?) and by the lack of knowledge and the crippling fear that it produces.
We all have a desire to maintain normalcy, to limit disruption. This essay finds us all together in the throes of a pandemic and anxiously craving the “return to normal.” We hate to be inconvenienced, especially when it threatens our picture of the world (and people) we have come to endear. We only want to be informed to the extent that we can prevent it from happening to us. If we decide that it would never happen to us, we all too often hold a mirror to the victim and magnify all the ways in which we differ— deem them as imperfections, as asking for it, as deserving.
When faced with the reality that the world as we knew it has shifted, we don’t even pause to allow ourselves to grieve, let alone comfort those most affected. Overnight, we just transition to working from home, schedule Zoom calls with our friends, have parties on Instagram live, get lost on our phones and Netflix—holding tightly the edge of normal. To avoid listening to the earth scream “I will never be the same.”
We make sure to tuck our panic inside our stretchy pants and run to the store to buy a thousand rolls of toilet paper to mask the shit. This is what we do.
I implore us all to take better care of ourselves, to pause, to show ourselves compassion, to create safe spaces where we live and work, to create room to rest, to not shy away from conversations because they make us feel uncomfortable, to deal with our own stuff, to educate each other–formally or through sharing our own lived experiences— to listen to the cries of people that say they are not okay, to share that you are not okay, to reward authenticity and question perfection.
I accept that I was selfish in ways that kept me silent. More than justice, I wanted peace. I wanted normal. I wanted to survive. I chose to save myself over anyone else.
In serving others now, I am learning there are layers to survivors’ remorse. I learned that there are steps between running away and finding the light to lead others. In the space between giving back and giving in, I found healing. I found peace.
Monique “Nikki” Murphy is an awarded Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Leader who began her early education in Columbia, SC. Home For Hurricanes: A Memoir of Resilience in Poetry and Prose is her award-winning debut written to remind us that we are built to withstand.