I lied to my friends about the extent of what happened. I lied to myself that my emotional binge eating was tied to my parents’ divorce. I lied to myself that he only kissed me. I lied to myself that I did not not feel violated. The worst lie of all: I lied to myself about the extent of what happened by trying to suppress my sexual assault for almost seven years.
When I was twelve years old, this guy – who I will call John – came to my lunch table in the cafeteria and asked to speak to me alone. I found this somewhat odd, as we were not friends and did not run in the same social circles. I followed to him to a space near the library, and there we were, completely isolated.
John said he really liked me, which came as a shock to me because I barely interacted with him. Before I could really process anything, John stuck his tongue down my throat and groped me. He then tried to force me into a bathroom, but I was able to fight him off.
He told me not to tell anyone.
I didn’t – for the most part. I told very close friends that John had kissed me, and it was weird. That lie that I had told my friends became my reality.
I tried to deny with to myself what was causing an increase in self-harming, which I had started at age ten to deal with my tumultuous relationship with my mother. I had to always be in pain because that was what I was feeling on the inside. Fortunately, I haven’t self-harmed in over a year, but I picked up another nasty coping mechanism that I have not been able to shake: emotional binge eating. Only a few months after that incident, I had gained twenty pounds. I have not been able to keep this weight off for a consistent amount of time due to my unfortunate tendency to eat everything in sight when emotional.
When I entered high school, I had asked my guidance counselor to not place me in any classes with John. My guidance counselor seemed to remember my request until my junior year, when I was placed in the same English class as him. I tried to suppress my frustration and triggers that came along with being as the same room as him. This only seemed to backfire through irritability and insomnia, where I slept a total of one to three hours per night for about six months.
My interactions with John increased my senior year, to the detriment of my mental health and my academics. I was registered to take Advanced Placement Statistics that year and was generally optimistic about the course, until I saw John enter my class. I started to panic when the teacher announced that seating would be assigned by last name, and fifteen seconds later – I was placed sitting next to him.
I failed every assignment. I could not pay attention in class because I kept on having flashbacks. One day, I went to my teacher to tell him I could not continue with the course because I was too overwhelmed. The lie continued.
Since the beginning of freshman year, I looked at our class list to see whether I would be walking with my brother or John at graduation, hoping with all my might that I would walk with my brother. Much to my dismay as senior year progressed, I learned the reality that I would have to walk with my assaulter. That I would have to wrap my arm around his, smile, and pretend everything was peachy and do and silly march down an aisle. I hid my pain at graduation the best I could, but all I felt like doing was screaming.
I still refused to admit to myself or anyone else about what actually had happened. I finally did confess to myself and others what happened during the spring of my freshman year, but it took a while to get there.
I recall that in the fall of my freshman year, I got into an argument with someone who thought that women shouldn’t drink if they don’t want to get assaulted was an okay argument on a meme page for my university on Facebook. I later got a personal message from John’s cousin, someone who went to the same high school and goes to the same university as me, condoning me for standing up to this person. The coincidence made me start to crack and remember truly what had happened.
In the spring of my freshman year, I broke down and was forced to start to confront what happened to me. I am fairly involved with campus journalism, and that also means I am very aware of scandals on campus. When looking at my newspaper’s twitter, I read that an executive stepped down who was accused of committing gendered violence against an ex. I had a full blown panic attack. I had an article due the next day involving the subject of mental health, which I knew I could not write in the state was in. After debating with myself for asking for an extension, I had messaged my editor asking for an extension due to the recent allegations triggering my own experience with sexual assault. I don’t think they knew that was a confession.
I am still very much processing what happened. I am aware of what happened: he stuck his tongue down my throat, groped me, and tried to force me into a bathroom. I think he tried to rape me, but I will never truly know. It is a game of “what ifs” – what would have happened if I hadn’t been able to fight him off? What would have happened if I reported what he had done?
Seven years later, I wish that hadn’t lied to myself. I wish that I didn’t lie to those who love me. I wish that I had a solution to not let John still have control over me, but the important thing is that I am being honest with myself and processing what happened.
— Julia, age 20