Growing into a young woman at 13 years old I was told, like all young girls are, "Don't wear that [insert article of clothing here] it's too revealing!" conversation with both my mother and my father.
It always irritated me. I was still growing into my womanhood, but I could feel my sexuality at the brim and I wanted to embrace it for no other person but myself. And if I wanted to show off a little bit for my crush, that was my decision to make. Let's not forget, I was 13 years old and "too revealing" was a sliver of my bra strap.
Their impositions got harder as I began looking more and more like a woman at 16 years old, where if I went out my dad wanted me to text him every hour in my native language, Bengali, so that he knew I was okay.
I also had to have multiple conversations where he and my stepmother both told me that I shouldn't completely trust my friends who were boys because there have been instances where friends turn out to be the "bad guys." Never once did they use the words rape or assault.
I understand that the statistics are that 1 in 5 women will be raped and 1 in 3 women will experience sexual violence and the majority of these perpetrators are people that women know. I understand that this entire time, my parents have been preparing me, trying to protect me. And I want you to understand that I'm not complaining about them. I'm simply sharing my experience that I know many, if not all, young women can probably related to and that sucks that that is something we share.
Getting ready to go to college was a whirlwind. It was mostly excitement, then sadness at the idea of leaving my family and friends. But every so often the thought would creep into my head about frat boys and handsy, entitled men at clubs and how I would handle myself in those situations and the honest answer was: I have no f**king clue. And eventually, I would just push those thoughts aside. I wouldn't become another statistic.
Well, ladies, and maybe some gentlemen. That night eventually arrived and I wasn't prepared. One night at a club, I showed interest in this guy and we kissed a bit. He took that as an invitation to touch me in whatever way he wanted. Without going into details, I was able to push him away and leave the area to go look for my friends. I continued to dance and have fun and the next day I woke up and I felt fine. It was like nothing had changed, and honestly, when it comes to my day to day life, nothing has changed. Except for the fact that I did become a part of that statistic.
About a month later, I was walking to my dorm when I passed by an acquaintance who was taking a study break and somehow we got to the topic of assault. I shared what happened to me at the club and she replied with an even more horrifying encounter of her own. The most disconcerting part was that neither of us seemed troubled while telling our stories. It was almost as though we were talking about seeing an ex unexpectedly at the grocery store, it wasn't something we never wanted to happen, but it did.
During Thanksgiving Break, I told my sister what happened and she shared how the exact same thing happened to her. Once again that unperturbed tone dripped from our mouths while we shared and it was unnerving. Neither of us seemed to be as angry about what happened to ourselves as we were when we found out that the exact instance happened to the other. Later in the conversation, she proceeded to tell me, "but it wasn't the same guy." I was confused for a moment by what she meant and then I realized: the man who assaulted her was not the same man who assaulted me, which was not the same man who assaulted my friend from my dorm. These are not the same men; however, not all men are assailants. So then which ones are good and which ones do we watch out for? How do we tell the difference? Can we even tell the difference?
This is where I began to understand the lectures my parents gave me more about who to trust and who not to. But it also made me think about the other conversations we could have had, the conversations we should have had. The statistics we see are from the numerous women who have bravely come forward about their assaults; however, there are many more out there who haven't said a word. And that's okay, that's your story, your healing and your moment to share or not to share. That being said, it should be acknowledged that this is an epidemic. This is a problem, not with women, but with society as a whole. Rape culture is rooted in how we raise our young boys and girls. Toxic masculinity is the idea that "being a man" means aggressively going for what you want in life. As little girls, we're constantly asked about boyfriends and marriage. Competition is encouraged amongst girls when going for a guy, rather than in healthier things like education.
The conversations I have had with the women in my life have given me a better understanding of why the world works the way it does towards women. And the women who surround me, inspire me to make it a better, safer and warmer place for my future daughters, sons, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.
I found that what happens when you speak up about assault is that you are met with a world of women ready to have your back and who are ready to fight for a safer society.
If you want to know more about the statistics for sexual violence, along with other information click this link to lead to you the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. And if you are a victim of rape or sexual assault, know that you are not alone.
I would also like to say that I am aware that men can be victims of sexual assault and that women can most definitely be perpetrators; however, I wrote this article true to my personal experience. The link above provides resources for both men and women, and men, please know your assault is valid and real and just as important to talk about.