‘I am there with you’: A first-person experience of dealing with sexual assault

Jacey Goetzman

Trigger warning: This content uses language that may trigger sexual assault survivors.

Sexual assault is a complex and horrible issue. It is personal, it is heartbreaking and it is different in every case. But if we ever want to put an end to sexual assault, we have to stop letting its complexity get in our way.
“I am there with you” is the story of an Iowa State Daily reporter’s experience in dealing with her assault. Every sexual assault survivor will have varying experiences coping with their situation and the decisions they make in whether to report or seek help, all of which are valid. “I am there with you” is the story of one individual’s experience, but we hope it will raise awareness about an issue that affects this entire community. 
This is the first story in a semester-long series where the Daily will publish a multitude of stories related to sexual assault, including discussions about various resources survivors can obtain if they are comfortable doing so. 
— Emily Barske, editor in chief 


A first-person experience of dealing with sexual assault

I didn’t consider myself a victim of sexual assault until my perpetrator texted me.

“I guess I want to start off by apologizing,” her message said. “I want you to know that I NEVER meant to make you feel pressured or uncomfortable.”

Until I got her text, my experience felt like a story I was telling myself.

She was my close friend. She was the friend of my friends. She was a reliable member of our shared community, known to be kind, to be funny, to be loyal.

I trusted her.

She picked me up when the roads were icy. She held my hands when they were cold. She listened to me when I cried. She laughed at all my stupid jokes. She bought me ice cream when my paycheck was too tight.

She was genuine. She was gentle.

I never thought she was capable of hurting me.

It started out as a little joke between us. We were two openly queer women at our school and, with our friendship, of course we joked about dating often.

She’d mention falling in love with me. I’d quip back, “I’m a mess. Don’t.”

And just as lighthearted as the conversation had started, it would stop.

I thought.

Our friendship started back in the fall of 2015, when I was a senior in high school. It was a year after my father had died, and at the beginning of my realization that I had an eating disorder. I had began cutting again. I hated being home and I couldn’t talk to most of my friends without a giant weight sitting on my chest.

She was one of the few who I could.

I spent a lot of time at her house doing homework that winter. One evening, I collapsed onto her bed after a long day and laid there, exhausted. She didn’t bother to pull her notebooks out; instead, she laid on her side and peered at me.

She pushed my hair out of my face.

She smiled. She leaned in, attempting to kiss me.

Alarmed, I pulled away.

The rest was a chorus of no’s. A symphony of persistence. And after that, a stillness.

I was sexually assaulted again several times over a span of weeks.

She would try to kiss me. I would dodge her kiss. In an attempt to remove my clothes, she would tug at them. A sweater. A skirt. If that didn’t work, socks. I would push away her hand. Sometimes, she would wait before she would try again.

But once one item came off, she would work at the next article of clothing with a sickening diligence.

I laid there silently each time. Imagine being young again, when there was nothing better to do than to hang upside down on furniture and let all of the blood in your body trickle to your head. Remember that quiet disorientation? The uncomfortable anonymity of your senses?

That’s what it felt like when she put her mouth on me.

The feeling you get before you gag or vomit? That’s what it felt like when she pushed her fingers into me.

These are only the details I remember, the remnant memories that haunt me.

My body was statue-like. I didn’t feel present. Think of blankets of untouched snow.

Think of the first step into it.

That was my body.





And again.

And again.

I know that I was assaulted at least three times. Past that, there is a static void that I can’t tap into. Past that, I am scared, standing knee deep in a winter I didn’t want into.

Past that simple fact, for all my anxiety knows, I still lay naked, shivering on her bed. Frozen.

And for some reason, I never considered it rape. Rather, I blamed myself.

I would sit in the bathtub for hours, well past when the water got cold.

I would rethink the events over and over again. Each time, I would mull it over with skepticism, as if there was a checklist which would explain the experience. Did it make you feel skeevy? Check. Did you consent? I would hesitate. I had said no, repeatedly… but I hadn’t stopped her as she incessantly pressured me. It was enough gray for me to skip over. Did you kick? Did you run? Did you scream?

The answer, of course, was no. So, by the logic society had taught me, it wasn’t rape. Rape is the man who follows you down a dark alley. Rape is loud and violent. Rape doesn’t happen in a best friend’s bed.

Only it does.

Here is the brutal reality: Sexual misconduct is multi-faceted. Every case is different. For some, their rapists are exactly that: Strangers, the people who follow them down dark alleys. For some, their rapists are the people who they danced with at a party. For some, their rapists are their friends. For some, their rapists are their significant others. For some, their rapists are their family.

Yet each case — and each victim’s experience — is valid.

Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). Nine out of 10 of these victims are women. And of 1,000 rapists, only six will be convicted.

On college campuses alone, 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted during their time in college. For men, it is one in 16. If you are a minority of any sort, this statistic rises. Gay and bisexual men are more than 10 times more likely than heterosexual men to be assaulted. For bisexual women, the rate is a staggering 46 percent – a percentage that also holds outside of college campuses.

I am one of them.

I didn’t know that I was a victim until I got that text. I had pushed the assaults so far away from me, so far out of my mind and out of question that I could survive that winter and the cold months that followed.

She was my friend.

 “I want you to know that I NEVER meant to make you feel pressured or uncomfortable,” the text read.

She didn’t mean to. When I froze like a deer in headlights on her bed, on her couch, under her hand, was I not uncomfortable blatantly enough? When I said no, pushed away her hand, when I crossed my legs, was her continual effort to change my answer not pressure?

“The only thing I wanted was to make you feel loved and wanted,” she said, “and I obviously went about it in the wrong way.”

In the wrong way. Today, I am still paying for her mistakes. I flinch on first dates. I head home early when my friends stay out late. I do not feel safe until I am alone. Each tear I cry feels like a drowning.

“I honestly loved you so so much.”

It was a punch to the gut. It was a wrecking ball to the foundation I had built after she had ruined me. It was another layer of guilt that kept me silenced.

“And when you stopped talking to me it absolutely broke my heart.”

My stomach was tight, acidic, a slow boil; I broke her heart? She shattered my world.

I used to be so extroverted that I despised being alone. Now, I crave solitude even among the people closest to me. I have trouble trusting people with the best intent. After moving into the dorms, I struggled to feel safe with a roommate. I fought to speak with my friends about what’s troubling me because the memory still burns me with shame.

“I was young and stupid and thought I could get away with things without repercussions,” the message went on. “You taught me [that’s] not the case.”

Should I be grateful? Should I be happy I was the victim who may have prevented other victims? The weight this has forced me to carry has changed me. I want to cry when I feel crowded. My hands shake when I grow restless. My throat closes up when the wrong person reaches out to touch me. More often than not, I want to fold in on myself like origami until I am too small for anyone else to see.

It is not tiring. It is exhausting. It is heavy, and thick, like quicksand. My friends did not know how to comfort me, and could not comfort me, if I mustered enough courage to tell them. It took me almost a year to find the voice to tell my mother.

The resources I have been offered following this have not felt like solutions for me; they have felt like the debris of my trauma. In such a state of helplessness, even help can seem like a threat.

The aftermath is lonely. It is dark. It is the ugly aching of my ribcage after sobbing. It is the dirt under my fingernails as I try to pull myself, and my things, together to go to class. It is a shadow constantly covering me, the tremble of my voice when I try not to cry while calling my mother.

I would not wish it upon anyone.

Still, I didn’t want it to be me.

“This isn’t something to make me feel less guilty, I don’t need pity…”

Did she expect to find any?

“I just need you to know how I feel and explain things.”

Here is how I feel: Scared. Ashamed. Broken.

Did she ever ask how I feel or say flat and outright, “I’m sorry?” No.

“I’ve spent so long feeling like I’ve hurt you. I just want you to know that wasn’t my intention.”

Was I supposed to care about her intentions?

She knew what she was doing. Her actions were deliberate. They were not accidental. Whether she meant to hurt me or not — she pressured me into having sex with her — how could she expect any other result?

“I’ll always care for you, no matter what.”

The statement makes me feel sick despite how many times I have read it.

I do not want her to care for me. I would tear myself apart and become someone entirely new if it meant she would not love that person; I would give anything to have never known her. I feel like I am stained by her fingertips.

I wish I could wash them out.

Her interspersed compliments, “words cannot express how beautiful and intellectual you are,” reminded me of why I stayed silent in the first place.

I am not alone in this. Of 1,000 rapes, according to RAINN, only 334 are reported to police. That is a mere one-third.

One study found some of the reasons for this silence to be “self-guilt or blame, shame, embarrassment, or desire to keep the assault a private matter, as well as fear of not being believed,” according to the National Institute of Justice.

Some victims from sexual violence crimes during 2005 to 2010 said that they “believed the police [would not or] could not do anything to help,” while others said they “feared retaliation” or “believed it was not important enough to report,” according to RAINN.

I did not report the sexual assaults I suffered.

Now, I have an apology — I guess — which proves my past, and could be used against my perpetrator as evidence.

Still, I have no plans to file a report and have no wish to do so in the future.

All I can think is: Who would take my side?

It would be painful. It would be a long, drawn-out torture, and even if she were found guilty at the end of it, I couldn’t see myself feeling any sort of relief.

It would be pointless.

Even writing this piece, I have thought over and over again of how my message will be received. I have thought of how people will be quick to denounce my experiences, of how airing this torment will feel, of what people back home may think.

I have not only second-guessed myself. I have doubted myself. I have cross-examined myself.

I have stood at this fork in the road and tried to anticipate what either decision may bring.

Yet, for me, I feel to stay silent would be worse. I am already carrying this weight, and from what studies show, a lot of other people are, too. A lot of these victims, like me, have not reported and most likely will not, either.

Only, unlike me, a lot of these people won’t get any sort of acknowledgment or apology.

When I sat in my residence hall director’s office sobbing for what seemed like hours the night I got my perpetrator’s text, my director pushed me to confront the reality that if I were anyone else, I would not be invalidating my own experiences nor blaming myself.

I would believe them. I would tell them I am sorry. I would tell them that it wasn’t their fault.

I would say that I know the baggage it brings, how it, too, scares me to look around and not know who to trust. I would say that it is OK to be scared; it is OK to need your own space for your safety. I would say that when you get anxious, do not feel ashamed.

I have been there. Right now, I am there with you, a gaping wound of a thing.

If you said no, if you stayed silent, if you were pressured into your decision, if, in any way, you had sex that you didn’t openly welcome, it is sexual assault.

And you are not to blame.

I am not to blame.

If you would like to share your story, thoughts about the content or topics related to sexual assault that you would like to see covered — on or off the record — please reach out to Emily Barske, the Daily’s editor in chief, at [email protected].