Trigger Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.
My decision to go to graduate school for Student Affairs was made for the wrong reasons. Now, as a Graduate Assistant in a Career office, I meet with students looking into grad programs and discuss with them their motivation behind going to graduate school. I applied to a grad program because I needed an excuse. I needed an excuse to quit my job and I needed an excuse to put an absolute end to the relationship I was in at the time.
That relationship was defined by the question “What are you doing?” From the first question he asked me before we went on our first date, “What are you doing after work?” to the catalyst for our breakup, one of us was always asking what the other was doing. Usually he was asking me what I was doing, in an accusatory tone, asking me to account for every moment I wasn’t in his presence. After a while, I started lying and finding excuses in order to spend time with and call my friends back home.
New Years was the breaking point in our relationship. He invited himself along on my 8 hour trip home to my parents. During the trip, I spent a lot of time asking “What are you doing?” as he was confrontational with my friends and revealed to my mother information that no mother needs or wants to hear about her daughter’s intimate encounters. The trip back was made in stony silence.
The next few months, I spent much of my time looking for any excuse to move back to my parents’, including applying to graduate school, and he spent that same time trying to get back together with me. He often showed up uninvited to my apartment to see what I was doing and to attempt to get me to see why we needed to get back together.
One day he showed up to return a piece of my bed frame he had been fixing for me. I let him help me put my bed together and let him hug me before he left. The hug turned into a kiss. After he started kissing me, I stopped and asked him what he was doing. He shushed me and kept going. I was scared. He wasn’t violent. He wasn’t forceful. He also wasn’t predictable and so I didn’t fight back.
Shortly after, I moved back in with my parents, putting three states between us. I spent a long time thinking I was at fault. It was my fault that I let him in my house. I had had sex with him before, so he assumed it was okay and it was my fault for not telling him otherwise. It was my fault for not explicitly saying no. I also feared telling anyone because I hadn’t said no. I was afraid of being told it wasn’t a real concern because I had had sex with him before and I didn’t tell him to stop.
A year into my graduate program has brought me much personal and professional growth. I am so thankful that, even though my original motivation may not have been the best, I have had this wonderful opportunity to continuously grow and to help students. Along the way, my program has made me realize that it wasn’t my fault. I did not give him permission to my body that day. Not fighting back is not the same as giving permission. I have the right to deny someone consent every time, no matter whether I gave permission the time before or not. I am the only one who has a say in what happens to my body and I am the only one who decides how I feel about what happens to my body.
As I start my second year and look to become a S.A. professional, I hope to bring this message to other young women. A woman’s body is hers and only hers. No matter the situation or circumstances all women have the right to say no at any time.
If you are a survivor of sexual violence, know there are many resources available to help. For current #sagrads, your campus counseling center is a great resource. For #sapros, you may have access to an Employee Assistance Program as part of your benefits package – check with your Human Resources department if you’re not sure. Additionally, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is available to 24/7 at 1-800-656-4673. Lastly, anyone can search online for their nearest crisis center at http://centers.rainn.org/. Please take care of yourself and know you’re not alone.
If you would like to contribute to this series, we do have slots available, and we will post contributions anonymously. Please contact us at email@example.com for more information.