I have come to realize how my silence, the cocoon that was supposed to protect me, has been suffocating me for too long and I cannot live with it anymore. I have lived with shame: for what my body provoked; for my inability to forget; for the nightmares, the depression, the anxiety; for my inability to let go of something that was either trivialized or deemed too distasteful to discuss. I have been living between two poles, one that deems sexual abuse against children too dark of a topic to talk about and one that deems nonconsensual groping, kissing or spanking in a social setting too trivial to focus on. These scenarios are seen as opposite ends of the sexual-assault spectrum, yet I experienced both with the same guilt, the same fear of retaliation, the same silence that muffled my screams of anger and the same desperation under poised smiles.
My silence has kept me accountable for their actions while allowing my aggressors to live their lives freely. I normalized living a life of fear. I elaborated intricate plans of places where I could go to avoid that guy who is too free with his hands when he is drunk, the one who fights when girls say no to him or the one who said he would gut me. When I saw them happy, laughing, being called wonderful people, I remembered that I was the oddity, the only one whom they had hurt. I wondered if that said more about them or me. I feared them, but I felt accountable to their friends, their families and all the people in their lives who would blame me for destroying their perfect image.
I rationalized my silence as my way of keeping some autonomy. I was not a victim if no one knew. I could try to live a normal life. Even more importantly, no one held me as the spokeswoman for every sexually assaulted person at Yale; I did not have to explain myself to anyone. My silence protected me from the looks of pity from strangers, the public invasion of the most painful moments of my life and offered me the solace of invisibility. I lived under the illusion that my decision not to talk about it was my way of taking the agency that was taken from me so often. That agency came at the cost of my sanity, and I have come to realize that it was not really my decision. Rather it was the decision of all the victim-blaming narratives in our society.
I wished I had a eureka moment when I let go of my shame and silence — it would be a better story if I did. However, it was a very gradual realization. It was being reminded that I did not “destroy their future.” They deliberately destroyed their own lives. It was being reminded that I was not broken, but bent. It was being reminded that it’s not the survivor’s fight, but everyone’s fight. At the same time, it was the realization that most people who assault keep on assaulting and that I owed the truth to my friends, to the generations of freshmen coming in, to my youngest sister and, most importantly, to the child in me who needs to be reminded of her innocence.
This is not my shame to carry. I won’t hold myself accountable for anyone’s lack of self control or feelings of entitlement to my body. Not anymore. I won’t perpetuate a social norm that oppresses people who have had so much taken from them. I won’t live as a victim anymore. I am a survivor. I am fighting to feel safe, loved and respected and I won’t hide the strength and perseverance that it takes to get to where I am, not for my aggressors and not from my friends and family.
I was sexually assaulted but this is not my shame to carry. I won’t carry it anymore.
Celeste Dushime is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .