Actually, That's Sexual Assault

Taylor Swift's groping trial helped me see my "weird night" for the nightmare it really was.

Stocksy

In the middle of the night after a bar crawl in college, while I was passed out sleeping, my roommate's friend crept into my bedroom, climbed on top of me, and assaulted me. He kissed me, he took off my pajamas, and put his hands on and in my body. It was not consensual. It was pierced with "stop"s and "no"s, and in the morning, after I sat in the shower with my arms around my waist—like you do when you feel like bits of yourself are sliding away—I chided myself for being so damn dramatic.

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"You're overreacting," I told myself each time I felt like crying. I told myself it wasn't that big of a deal, and that these things happen all the time, and besides, we were both drunk, and weren't you flirting with him earlier in the night? I invoked every excuse in an effort to quiet the shouting in my head that something very wrong had just happened…but then again, had it really? After all, it could have been worse—I knew the guy; I had even sort of liked him. It was just a hookup gone weird, I reasoned. I was touched, but I wasn't raped. I felt violated, but I wasn't raped.

We're desensitized to these everyday harassments; they don't align with how society views 'true' sexual assault.

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Because that's what women have been conditioned to believe, that some unwanted touches just, unfortunately, happen: You get your boobs grabbed in a club, or your thigh squeezed at a dinner, or a kiss planted on you by a stranger. That's life. It's just a war story you swap with your friends over drinks and group texts.

And even though, criminally, sexual assault is very clearly defined as "any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient," society's binary idea of sexual assault creates an all-or-nothing mentality: Either it's rape—in which case you should definitely report it, get help, and take action—or it's everything else, a muddled scale ranging from receiving unsolicited dick pics to getting your ass groped during a meet-and-greet.

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Which is why Taylor Swift's recent court case is so damn important. We're so desensitized to these everyday harassments that they don't align with how society views "true" sexual assault—which is often only in a violent, dramatized context—leaving victims, like myself, alienated from the cultural script, dismissing our feelings as melodramatic, unjustified, and embarrassing.

But Swift refused to accept any other interpretations of her sexual assault. It didn't matter if some critics thought she was "overreacting," or said the groping wasn't a "big deal;" it was sexual contact she didn't consent to—i.e. the very definition of sexual assault—and she refused to back down.

I told only one other person, another roommate, about the incident. "Yeah, the same thing happened to me once, too," she sighed, taking a bite of her granola bar and staring at her phone. And that was that. Another woman, another assault, another day. My night was a footnote in the same tired story millions of women had been telling for years, and I filed it away into the c'est la vie folder in my brain, where it sat like a dull ache that I learned to live with and refer to in only vague euphemisms and air quotes.

I had never allowed myself to label it for what it truly was: sexual assault.

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It wasn't until last year, when I mentioned the incident to my close friend, a rape survivor, that I began to understand and internalize that what had happened to me was sexual assault. "No, no," I argued with her, shrugging off the heavy label, "it was just one of those weird things."

"It was sexual assault," she quietly repeated.

"No," I shot back. "It really wasn't a big deal—we had been flirting anyway."

"It was still sexual assault," she said firmly.

And it was. It is. I had been so focused on trying to justify the night for what it wasn't (i.e. rape, or horrendously violent, or committed by a stranger in an alley), that I had never allowed myself to label it for what it truly was: sexual assault.

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It was as if I had been waiting for someone with authority, someone who had experienced a more culturally understood case of sexual assault than mine, to give me permission to mourn my own experience. Being told that my "weird night" wasn't just something I should accept as normal or unfortunate justified all of the emotions I had been ignoring for years.

And I think that's what the women—and men—in society need right now. We need a friend to sit us down, calmly grasp our arms, and tell us, yes, your experiences and emotions are valid. Yes, that unsolicited kiss, or grope, or touch that violated your body is sexual assault, and no, you don't have to be okay with it. Because it's not okay. Sexual assault is not okay.

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Taylor Swift just helped do that for every human who has ever spent a day crying in a ball underneath their bed, telling themselves it was "no big deal." Every unfaltering response in her testimony was a win for the women who have been told to stop overreacting, who have felt violated and don't understand why, and who live every single day with the belief that their bodies aren't fully their own.

Because it doesn't matter what your friend, or your roommate, or some internet trolls may think—assault is assault, and you can feel however the hell you want about it.

For confidential and free support about rape or sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 800.656.HOPE. You can also IM anonymously at online.rainn.org.

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