There are times in life when each of us must choose. Sometimes the choice is between paths that we lead ourselves to; maybe two, maybe three, or maybe more. And sometimes there are paths that are chosen for us; paths, that no matter which we choose, lead to a road that we wish we never had to walk.
For me, that choice came a little over ten years ago. I’m sure some of you might be wondering why, if the choice was so long ago, that I choose to speak now. And that’s a fair question; one that I will answer honestly.
I chose to run.
I chose to leave my family, almost 500 miles away so that I didn’t have to face it.
I chose to leave so that I didn’t have to go to church and risk running into someone… running into him or his family.
I chose to leave so that I didn’t have to be in a community where I would have to face it over and over.
I chose to leave because I had already learned the hard way what happens when people like me, a survivor of sexual assault, speak up.
I chose to create a barrier of space where I could try and start over.
And God… He has been so good to me. The road I chose has not been easy. My entire family is two states away.
I have missed holidays.
I missed my cousins growing up; cousins who I had Nannied for and who I considered to be like siblings.
I still miss out.
My whole life I wanted to be a school teacher. But not just any teacher. I wanted to be like my teachers from my small Lutheran school, who were like my family. I wanted to be what they were to me; they were my family. When my Mom became ill and nearly died, they took care of me; they knew me. And man did I want to be a part of that. I longed to be a part of that community as an adult.
But I was wrong. The community that I had been a part of my whole life; it wasn’t what I thought. I thought that when I shared with college administrators about my fear, my pain, that I would find the community I had experienced growing up in that synod.
I was wrong.
The school admin questioned me. Blamed me. Made me wonder if it really had been my fault all along.
But it wasn’t.
“Why did you stay with him if this was really happening?” he asked me.
“Are you sure you didn’t want this? Sure you aren’t doing this for attention?”
And so it began. I became quiet. I went home and was prescribed anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. I slept for so long. I felt like I could never sleep enough. They were strong meds, but I still got good grades. Still made my classes.
But he kept following me. I played co-ed volleyball and I passed out. My friend caught me. He rode in the ambulance with me. It was the first time; it was not the last. My parents didn’t know what was wrong with me. I took three trips in an ambulance because of my fear that I had in his presence.
Until it spilled out over Christmas Break – the secret I never wanted anyone to know.
But then Winter came and Spring Break and still. Still he called me. Left me messages. I remember the time he called after Spring Break and asked me if he could come over to see my tan lines.
He called my neighbors in the dorm looking for me.
He left me messages. Messages that were so bad that my parents got in their vehicle and drove overnight to talk to administration. They had me play the messages for the administration and then… then the administration made excuses for him.
I ended up taking out an OFP, Order for Protection. He didn’t fight it. It went into effect. I’ve attached it and blacked out his name, because this isn’t about him. This is about me. This is about proving that I “wasn’t just making it up”. And the reality is that for every person who keeps shouting “I Believe Her”, that isn’t reality. That has never been my experience. People don’t actually believe without evidence or corroboration of some kind and rightly so. I kept the letters from him -the voicemails – and I went to Brown County Victim Services and I sat there nervously until she finally said to me, the worker, that it was safe and that what I wrote on that paper wouldn’t be public. That my description of the graphic things he did to me wouldn’t be viewed by the world. That no one would hear him screaming on one voice mail and then hear him cry and beg for forgiveness on the next. Because that is the reality of narcissistic, manipulative behavior.
We had to go to court a few months later because he wouldn’t stay out of my dorm. And the administration sat on his side. I sat with one of the only people who stood by me. It felt like some sick movie plot. Only it wasn’t. I was living it.
And then one day I opened my mailbox, and there it was. The letter.
He had written to me and violated the OFP. The Campus Pastor’s Office was right next to the mail area and I got pulled in to a meeting with the Campus Pastor, the VP and him. They put him in the chair next to me and asked me if I wanted to do this to him. If I filed a police report it would mean that he violated his OFP. It would hurt his chances of being a teacher. He cried and they made me look at him. If you see pictures of me in college I was rail thin. Now you know why.
They asked me if I wanted to be responsible for ruining his life.
So, I didn’t tell.
While everyone else was enjoying college, I was going to the New Ulm Police Department to fill out police reports.
Adding to the collection of pink carbon paper slips – the copy they give you to keep for your records.
I changed my Major and dropped out of the Music Program, so I didn’t have to stay another year – and because I was afraid of going to the music hall by myself at night. He liked to see how close he could get to me without anyone noticing.
I graduated in 2007 and I declined a call. Because not only had I been told my “behavior” wouldn’t warrant a call to teach; but I also didn’t want to run into him anywhere. Apparently my behavior of “not taking it “from an organization of arrogant, men who demean women wasn’t behavior worthy of taking a call.
But he… he got a call. He is a teacher in the Lutheran School System.
There is so much more to this story. It was over 4 years of pure hell. But I wanted to share enough; enough to clear my name.
You read that correctly.
For years I’ve carried this – I don’t go home often. I hate going into my parent’s place of business – and that’s another story for a different day. If I have enough courage to ever address it.
Right now sexual assault is at the forefront of our nation.
Not because it matters; not because people care about us – the survivors of sexual assault. No, it’s because America has a dirty little secret that’s not so secret. It was just played out across the world on Live TV.
America has a problem of using domestic assault – rape – harassment, as a weapon.
It’s never been about us. Me Too Movement or not, it’s never about us.
It’s always about how it can be used and who stands to win.
But most often, it’s about who stands to lose.
Well America, the ones who are really losing are people like me – survivors of sexual assault, harassment, all of it.
Today in the news, the Democratic nominee for Minnesota Attorney General, has been “cleared” of wrong doing against his ex-girlfriend because there isn’t enough evidence to corroborate the story. Cleared by an attorney hired by his own party…. draw your own conclusion.
Yet at the same time, the nation is crying “We Believe Her” for Ford, for a case that no one has been able to corroborate; a case that is over 30 years old in the midst of appointing a Judge to the Supreme Court.
What really happened in each of these cases? Ultimately only God knows. But what a true picture of what America feels about sexual assault. A double standard that proves it’s all a game.
And so, I chose to share my story. People keep saying they feel powerless under this administration.
I felt powerless under the former administration. Each of us has a different perspective; a different story.
But we do each have a voice. And this is how I choose to use mine.
Even if you can corroborate your story, it won’t matter.
I would know.
When someone is sexually assaulted they are instantly placed in a position where no matter which road they choose, they lose.
The choices are to tell and seek help, or to keep it to yourself.
I sought help.
For me it was never about winning; it was about being safe.
And to this day, there will be people who read this and say to me “You shouldn’t have shared. It’s going to destroy his life.”
He chose to destroy his life the day he chose to sexually assault me.
He chose to destroy his life the days he followed me from the parking lot.
He chose to destroy his life the day he violated his OFP.
He chose to destroy his life the day he left me threatening voicemails.
I chose to survive.
I chose to leave a job I had dreamt of my whole life, because I didn’t want to fight to stay in a system, in a synod, that protects people like him and makes examples out of people like me. How I wish the story ended there. But it doesn’t. And I don’t have the strength to go down that road right now. All I know is that I’m not alone. There are others like me who have names. But that is their story to tell, not mine.
Sexual Assault holds no political party; no religious affiliation. It does not discriminate.
America is at a crossroads. Allegations are floating everywhere. I have evidence, I proved it and still, still it didn’t matter to the college admins. It won’t matter. Maybe that is hard for people to read, but it’s the truth. It is hard enough when you are sexually assaulted; but it is far worse when institutions and organizations choose to use it at their convenience. When it is used as a weapon.
My choice to say “enough” came with a cost; an over 500 mile choice with enough of a gap that I can sleep at night. And God has blessed me. The road I walk is not easy, but He keeps me close to Him. I eventually recovered from my church hurt (again a story for another time; after all how could one not be hurt when an institution yields God as a weapon?) I found a church I love; with people who are truly God fearing. I made a choice to not only survive, but to thrive.
The question is, when will that choice come for America?