According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly one in five American women are victims of rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes. One in five. Does that shock you? I’m guessing if you are a woman, it doesn’t. I’m guessing if you are a woman who is one of the four, you consider yourself lucky because you know it could have been you. Men have told you so a hundred times in a hundred different ways.
Statistics for sexual assault, which include any unwanted touching of a sexual nature, are harder to come by, but if a woman told me this had never happened to her, I’d suspect she really didn’t know what sexual assault was or she had led a sheltered life indeed.
The truth is, I don’t think sexual assault is under-reported just because women are afraid to come forward or afraid the authorities will do nothing or afraid that no one will believe them. I think women don’t report because it’s such a part of our day to day existence that we just don’t bother.
I am going to share my personal story with you not because it is special. I am going to share because it is not at all special. Between the time I was 15 and 24, the age range when most sexual assaults take place, I was sexually assaulted eight times. The thing is I don’t know if this is a lot because this isn’t something I have really talked about with anyone, not even my girlfriends. I just know it’s more than it should be.
I have a number. And that number is eight. Eight times a man used his physical strength against me to take something he wanted.
I’d love to be able to tell you that older women do not get assaulted, but this is of course not true. That’s a different blog. I will tell you however, that in my over-forty online dating experiences, which you can read about here, I have not had any problems. That said, being young and being a woman are the two primary risk factors for sexual assault.
Other than those factors, I don’t think I was especially a high risk. The truth is, I was a bit of a homebody. I never waited tables. My personal style of dress is on the conservative side. I went to parties, but I didn’t go to frat parties because that’s where girls got raped. I did not walk alone after dark or invite a lot of men over to my dorm.
The third biggest predictor, at least on college campuses, in alcohol. Other predictors of sexual violence are being in a sorority and being attractive. I was never in a sorority. I have no idea if I was attractive enough in my 20’s to increase my risk. I’d say I was pretty average, but then again I was busty and an early bloomer. I have seen no research that correlates bust size with risk of sexual assault. But you’ve got to wonder.
I was sober during each of those eight occasions, and so was my abuser to the best of my knowledge. All eight transpired in public places with people around. Only once did another person come to my defense. Two were on dates, which considering how seldom I dated when I was young, is a really crappy record. Once was at school in front of the vending machine. Once was at work. And once was at a club. The last three all took place the summer I lived in Spain in the middle of the day in the middle of the street. WTF Spain? Get it together. I realize different cultures are different but I assume even Spanish men know better or they wouldn’t run off afterwards.
If eight seems like a lot (and unfortunately, for some of you it’s a drop in the bucket), it’s only because we don’t talk about it. I didn’t report any of those men. It didn’t occur to me. I might have been momentarily frightened, but everything was over quickly, and then I was just annoyed. That’s not ok. It’s not ok that it happened; it’s not ok that they got away with it; and it’s not ok that I never talked about it. I want us all to talk about it. I want you to shout out your number, and if it is not zero, I want you to be pissed about it. I want you to ask your girlfriends and your daughters and your wives ”what’s your number?” I want you to listen to a hundred one minute stories of autonomy stolen, of boundaries breached, of trust violated. Then I want you to get angry. And I want you to ask, “What can I do?”