In this together: A second story on sexual assault

Megan Salo

Editor’s note: This piece is a part of ‘In This Together,’ which seeks to raise awareness about the complex issues of sexual violence. We asked the Iowa State community to share perspectives in various mediums as survivors, bystanders and allies. The initiative is a partnership between the Iowa State Daily, Green Dot and the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center. 

When Sarah Ashby, a former Iowa State political science major, was still a student, she was drugged and raped by a stranger. Although that experience was traumatic for her, that’s not the story that she wants to tell now.

“I kind of feel like sexual assault, like rape, is already a topic that’s being discussed openly and so I think it might be better just to tell a second story,” Sarah said. 

When she was still in school, she worked on a congressional campaign with one of her teaching assistants as an adviser. They saw a lot of each other during the campaign, in class and sometimes around Ames, so they friended each other on Facebook. 

Sarah said that he would sometimes message her about random things or about the campaign, but one day he suggested that they hang out away from work or school.

“I told him that I would love to hang out and I didn’t say ‘as friends’ because I thought that was implied because he was three/four years older than me,” she said. “I didn’t think that I was giving out any signals that I was interested.”

On a night that Sarah wasn’t feeling like going out, she messaged him and invited him to watch a movie at her apartment. He agreed.

When he got to her apartment, the two were having a few beers before they started the movie, when he spotted Sarah’s cat, which she said hated to be picked up. 

“He still picked her up and was trying to force her to be held and that just really bothered me,” she said. “Forcing someone into something isn’t how you’re supposed to treat a person or an animal.”

She shook it off and they sat down for the movie. After awhile, he started touching her leg, then her neck and then he started kissing her. 

“I didn’t stop him at first,” she said. “But then I was like ‘yeah, I don’t want to do this’.”  

But when she told him it was time for him to leave, she said that he resisted by playfully arguing, bear-hugging her, picking her up, trying to kiss her again and trying to pull her onto his lap. 

She said that she never yelled at him, but she did tell him to leave or to stop in response to all of his advances. 

“He finally left and the moment I closed and locked the door, I just started crying,” she said. 

She said that this experience was more traumatizing for her than when she was raped for a few reasons. The first being that she remembers this experience, unlike when she was drugged. 

Also, she said there was more guilt associated with how she handled the encounter because she felt like she could have prevented it. 

“In my head I’m saying, ‘well I shouldn’t have asked him to come over, knowing that he kind of liked me, I shouldn’t have suggested that we have drinks and I should’ve said stop more forcefully,'” she said. “That’s the worst part about it because it’s so ridiculous. Just because you don’t say no in a yelling tone, doesn’t mean that no doesn’t mean no.”

Sarah described herself as strong and outspoken, and she surprised herself by not doing anything at the time. But in that moment, she said she felt like she couldn’t do anything because it was someone she knew and trusted and she didn’t want to ruin their friendly relationship as colleagues. 

She said that not only was the experience more traumatizing, but she’s more afraid to tell people about this because she feels like when she speaks out about it, people don’t understand that it is a big deal.

“When you speak out about it, you want people to notice and make a change, but if people are just kind of rolling their eyes at your situation, then they’re not going to make a change,” she said. 

She believes that not making a big deal out of this situation enforces the idea that women should avoid being victims more than men should avoid being harassers. 

“We teach girls that they don’t have a right to do what they need to do for themselves, we teach them that they need to do whatever they need to do to please guys,” she said. “The pressure shouldn’t be on women to avoid these situations or to say no stronger, it should be on the guys to not put us in those situations.”

Although this experience was hard for Sarah, she said that she doesn’t have any residual trauma or PTSD. 

“If I’m asking a guy over I’ll stop for a second, remember what happened and worry that I’m giving him the wrong idea, but I know it’s not my job to keep him from acting inappropriately.”