This is the fourth installment of the Marionette’s series on sexual harassment.
Merriam Webster defines rape as “Unlawful sexual activity carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will.”
They also offer the following definition of sexual assault, “Illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent.”
As a society we often associate rape with college campuses or bars, but younger people are also incredibly vulnerable to assault.
Jane was first sexually assaulted in seventh grade while at a halloween party. Since Jane went with a friend they were unfamiliar with their surroundings.
“I have now since I’ve blocked out a lot of it. I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on or what happened, and it’s hard to think about sometimes.”
Jane was hesitant to tell anyone about their assault.
“Because I didn’t really have anyone to talk to I didn’t really know how that was going affect my life. I kept it to myself, that secrecy of that pain and that fear, because I didn’t know what had happened, and I didn’t know what was going to happen. I felt really alone, I felt really isolated ”
Although they remember very little of the actual assault it had a profound effect on them.
“I just remembered walking down a hallway and then being pushed into a room and then waking up the next morning in pain, like physical pain, feeling like I was going to throw up. There was a little bit of blood but that was… I don’t even know. It was like really gory and it… I didn’t know how to talk to anyone about that.”
When Jane initially opened up to their friends and family they received very little support, and even hostility
“Once I finally started reaching out to people that I was close with, like a boyfriend of the time, it backfired. It felt like everybody I’d ever loved and trusted spit in my face. Because there wasn’t a positive support system to help me get through that and process what had happened and find new ways to deal with it I got really bad depression, I felt like I meant nothing to anybody.”
This state of mind left Jane Doe vulnerable to manipulative and relationships.
“Low self esteem ended me in an abusive relationship for a year with somebody who had lived in an abusive household, so abuse was all he knew. He tried to show me love in the only way he knew how and that was through violence and belittlement.”
This relationship eventually lead to problems of its own. Jane was assaulted twice by their boyfriend.
That [lead to] fear and anxiety of not knowing where to go or what to do, because I didn’t feel like I could reach out to my family. That would mean having to tell them that I lied to them which would make them more mad that I lied to them than being angry at whoever had hurt me.”
When the relationship ended it both solved and created problems.
“The guy I was with left me because he believed in the concept of virginity and was like ‘that special part of you is gone, tainted, horrible. You’re broken.’”
It was a whole big mess that I had to overcome and like this big angry ball of horrific thought that I had to undo and unlearn, and perceptions of me that I had to unlearn. Because I transitioned from somebody telling me I was broken to someone who made me feel like he could fix me I ended up staying as long as I could.”
This resulted in Jane nearly missing the opportunity to come to Harding. Jane came from a different school in a different district which made finding Harding a challenge.
“Nobody at my school knew about Harding, and once I realized how horrific of a relationship I was in I realized Harding is my safe haven. This is where I need to be so I ended up actually transferring districts to get away from that.”
Transferring districts meant leaving their community and friends they had grown up with, as well as leaving behind the opportunities open to them at their local school.
“I had a lot of doors open for me at the high school I was supposed to have gone to and a lot of opportunities waiting for me, and I had to leave them behind to be able to be here and to protect myself. I had been raised to believe I had to build my own paths to make something of myself. I felt like they had told me I had to abandon everything I had done.”
Once they realized they would have to go to school with their abusive ex-boyfriend they were forced to make the choice between community and security.
I realized that I would have to see somebody who hurt me, who assaulted me and made me feel like I was nothing. Realizing I had to see that despicable person everyday for the next four years made me feel like none of those paths that I had built for myself were safe. I realized coming to Harding would be my opportunity to build new paths and to start completely fresh.”
As Jane started school at Harding they still maintained some friendships from their old school.
“I stayed friends with a few people that lived near me and one of those friends betrayed vulnerability I showed him and he also assaulted me.
By the time Jane came to Harding they had been assaulted four times.
“I don’t really think that it’s easy if at all possible to truly forgive someone who betrayed the trust and vulnerability that you put into them. For me this friend was one of the few people that understood the severity of the abusive relationship I was in and he helped me get out of that. He was a constant through a really dark time and when I trusted him with a vulnerability that I didn’t know how to show to anybody else because I needed someone to help me, and someone to just hold my hand and tell me it was going to be okay and he took advantage of that.
As Jane found new friends at Harding they have been able to work through the trauma of that experience.
“Something that I’ve thought about a lot that helped me overcome this resentment for one of my best friends who took advantage of me was thinking about all of the things that he had going on in his life that made him feel like that was okay – and it’s not ok. One of the worst things about supervillains is that writers will let supervillians have a backstory as their reason for doing something bad. Your bad motive and bad backstory shouldn’t contribute, or it doesn’t mean anything. You have the ability to make your own decisions and if you choose to do that to someone then that’s an awful thing to do.”
Jane cut off all ties with their friend for three years. With distance and time Jane was able to think about the experience from a different perspective.
“That was one of the only ways I could comprehend what he had done, why he had done it. It helped me gain a little bit of clarity because after it happened I cut off all ties. I never answered the phone, I couldn’t talk to him I couldn’t face him, because I was scared of him, [I thought] I was going to be lied to and manipulated into staying in whatever abusive friendship or relationship had begun to develop. I had no opportunity to find clarity or closure, and so thinking about it from that perspective helped me gain that [closure].”
Thinking about the situation from multiple perspectives made it easier to understand the factors that played into the assault and the aftermath.
“I’ve told this story many times over the last three years since coming to Harding and opening up to people and telling my story. I’ve told it a lot and every time I leave the moment when I’m telling it I always have a moment of reflection and contemplation and I think about it again, but from a different perspective and I’m able to think about it I try to understand a different part of it. It was hard for me to forgive him, but after three years of working through that and telling this story, I began to realize all of the different complexities that play into somebody who does that.”