I was 14 when a man broke into my family’s house. My friends and I were having a sleepover, and after hanging out in my backyard talking until late at night, we snuck back in to go to sleep, and I forgot to lock the door behind us. I was about to slip into sleep when I heard the back door open, footsteps walking in. I was sure of what I heard, but I didn’t understand it. It didn’t make sense to me. Who would be coming into our house? My body and mind froze. I couldn’t think or move. I lay there until I finally fell asleep. My dad woke us up a few hours later to tell us someone had broken in and robbed us. Before any other questions entered my head, the first thing I thought was: Is this all my fault? I forgot to lock the door. For months after that incident, I lay awake at night afraid it would happen again. I got up in the middle of the night to double, triple, quadruple check we’d locked all of our doors. To this day I have to double check my door is locked before I can fall asleep. Even when I’m positive I’ve already locked it, I sometimes lay awake in bed and then have to get up to go make sure it’s really locked.
Is this my fault? I forgot to lock the door.
I was 19 the first time I was sexually assaulted. I had always been a romantic, a believer in fairytales and love stories. I had only kissed a few people, and I wanted to be in love before I experienced anything else. That choice was taken from me. “Do you want to go further?” “No.” He disregarded that no and went further. And further. My body and mind froze. I froze and just laid there, as I had at fourteen. Even as I knew what was happening, I felt like I couldn’t stop it. I just hoped it would end quickly. I couldn’t understand what was happening. It didn’t make sense to me. So many questions flooded my mind. Why would he ignore the word no like that? Why would he do this to me? But one question floated to the forefront of my mind, clearer and louder than the rest: Is this my fault?
Why would he ignore the word no like that? Why would he do this to me?
I was 20 when the nightmare happened again. And again. The word no seemed to hold zero power and I felt my understanding of love and sex and intimacy slipping away. I told them no, I made sure to emphasize and explain and implore they listen to me. They looked me in the eyes and told me they understood, that they wouldn’t cross that line. That the person who did that to me in the past was an asshole. But then they did exactly the same thing. Why were they doing this to me? How do I get back what was taken from me? And again, that question rose to the surface louder and more defined than the rest: Is this my fault?
The word no seemed to hold zero power and I felt my understanding of love and sex and intimacy slipping away
I was 26 when I was groped walking to my car after work. I felt him following me, looked over my shoulder a few times, convinced myself I was imagining things. And then he grabbed me. I spent weeks, months, checking over my shoulder every day walking to my car to make sure I wasn’t being followed. I recounted the incident to the police, standing in my apartment. I reported it. I reported it for my 26-year-old self, for my 20-year-old self, for my 19-year-old self, even for my 14-year-old self. I reported for every version of me I had been, and every version of me I would be in the future. I reported for every other person out there, who has ever wondered, “Is this my fault?” For the first time in my life, that question hadn’t crossed my mind. After all these years, I was finally done letting them steal my power. I was finally done blaming myself. It was finally clear to me: none of it was ever my fault.
I reported it for my twenty six year old self, for my twenty-year-old self, for my nineteen-year-old self, even for my fourteen-year-old self. I reported for every version of me I had been, and every version of me I would be in the future. I reported for every other person out there, who has ever wondered, “Is this my fault?“
My power and control were taken away from me during each of these moments. I’m finally taking it back the only way I know how. By talking about it. By reporting it. By standing up for myself. By sharing my story. I still don’t feel safe until I’ve double or triple checked my door is locked at night. I still have a hard time letting people get close to me, physically and emotionally. I still walk faster and clutch my keys in my hand like a weapon when I see a man walking near me on the street. I still wonder what someone’s intentions are, and if I can trust them, or feel safe with them, when we start to date. But what I don’t do anymore, what I refuse to do anymore, is blame myself. It wasn’t my fault. It was never my fault.
If you have experienced sexual assault or harassment or anything that made you feel violated or uncomfortable, I want you to know it was not your fault, and you’re not alone. Please feel free to reach out to me if you need to talk to someone.