Three months ago, it happened to me. I encountered a boy’s hands I didn’t recognize and a voice I would never want to hear again. “How could a pretty girl like you be alone right now?” I should want to feel safe standing alone outside, being a girl who is standing alone outside, being a girl who is wearing a cute outfit standing alone outside. But I don’t feel safe, not anymore. The happenings of the world are unknown, and that doesn’t make anyone feel comfortable.

Sexual assault isn’t just rape. Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact that occurs without the recipient’s consent. It can happen at any time, at any location, in any situation. It happened to me, but I am not alone.

It isn’t rare to come across girls on a college campus who identify with what I went through. I have met other girls who have been in similar circumstances, girls who didn’t deserve to be taken advantage of. No matter where I go now, I fear running into him. I can’t enjoy my nights with my friends without fear that he’ll turn up, that he’ll somehow know my friends and I’ll be forced to leave the good times behind just to avoid him.

It has taken me almost three months to confess to the world what happened to me on a cold, lonely night in October. It has taken me three months to understand that this wasn’t because of something I did. This didn’t happen because I was walking alone to visit my friends, because I hadn’t looked in every single direction on my other side, because I deserved it. This happened because I was there.

This wasn’t something that I did wrong, or something I could have prevented. This isn’t a result of the butterfly effect; “If I didn’t take this street… If I didn’t have plans to go out with my friends… If I didn’t put on make-up…” This was the fault of my assaulter. There was nothing I could have done.

The best way that I have found to begin my recovery is by helping to protect others just like me from experiencing something that I grew up thinking was special for only those that you love. I never let my friends, especially those who are girls, go anywhere alone, I never enter questionable areas of town while my eyes are glued to my phone screen, I never believe the best in strangers anymore. I do the things that make me happy, but I am always cautious.

It is unfair for a young girl to have to limit her experiences in the world because she is afraid. It is unfair that she has to be careful of who she can smile at from the other side of the street. It is unfair that as a society we shame those who have been assaulted rather than accusing the assaulter. It is unfair that we are educating our children too late.

There is no excuse for sexual assault. We have a responsibility to keep our world safe. Why are we choosing to do the opposite?