As part of our “Impact of 98 Seconds” series, the Butler Collegian is publishing a collection of letters from survivors of sexual assault to their perpetrator. Our hope is to provide survivors with a voice, even if it is anonymous. This is the second letter we have published. More will follow.
The author of this letter experienced sexual assault as a minor via coercion and online harassment. Sexual assault is not just a physical violation — it can also be “verbal, visual or non-contact. It is anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual activities or attention,” as defined by the government. Talking about online sexual assault can be difficult because of social stigmas and stereotypes, but the writer of this letter wants you to know that online assault can be just as impactful and traumatic as physical assault.
It’s been about a year since I first publicly opened up about what you did to me. For a special workshop in my acting class, we were given a task mainly focusing on movement on where we expressed a memory involving strong emotions of any kind. So, as I stood in front of my peers, I showed them this scar you’ve left in my soul. Through my piece, I essentially said with limited words, “Hi, I’ve been sexually abused.” After class, there was this unmistakable silence that hung in the air, and my stomach sank knowing that I had saddened my usually rambunctious classmates. I immediately launched into a panic. My god, they must think something horrible happened to me. This was a mistake.
That was three years after you hurt me, and I still hadn’t gotten myself out of this pattern of minimization, finding loopholes to our situation through what-ifs and misplaced blame. Because truly, something horrible did happen to me. But what I couldn’t tell my classmates in the small amount of script is all the details. The details that make our incident unaligned with what the public would consider “normal,” because it isn’t the way we’re told that sexual assault or harassment plays out. However, I know it happens more than any of us like to admit. I know that because you aren’t the only person who’s done something like this to me.
Now, in the four and a half years that have passed since you took advantage of me, I think the most ironic thing is that we were two silly kids looking to further our friendship. To move from sharing memes on each other’s dashboard into an actual conversation and connection. That’s why we reached out to each other in the first place, right?
If the goal was to connect, then we missed that by a long shot. I still don’t even know your last name! Hell, you were saved in my phone as “Nick Pancake” because you deemed it was more important to get nudes out of me than to try to get to know each other on the most basic of levels. This one fact, that I was digitally abused, makes it seem like nobody would care about what happened to me because you didn’t hit me, you didn’t pull my hair, you didn’t rape me, you didn’t leave a single piece of physical evidence on my body. I was just a scared and vulnerable fifteen-year-old girl on her phone begging and pleading with a twenty-year-old man to stop, having forgotten that the block button exists and feeling that there was no other way to escape the situation besides giving in to demands.
You’ve got me trapped, Nick. You wiggled me in to the perfect situation where the only option seems to be blaming myself. How do I tell someone all the details of our time together without facing judgement? I met you online, but I should know better than to trust a stranger on the internet. I gave you my social media, but I should have talked to you more beforehand. You immediately made things explicit, but I should’ve done more to stop you than just trying to change the conversation. You asked for pictures of me, but I should’ve told you that made me uncomfortable. Even when I told you I didn’t want to participate, you still pressured me and made me feel guilty for not giving in, and I should’ve ended things right there. All of this culminates to an unforgettable night of being assaulted by picture after picture. The only tactic to get you to stop was to respond and respond, spiraling into a place of worthlessness, while you felt satisfied. Even then, there’s a whole slew of things that I “should’ve done differently,” and I’m so scared to hear those regurgitated at me that I just refuse to talk about it at all.
Quite frankly, I’m tired of listening to all these distorted thoughts. I am not the one responsible here. I didn’t cause any of this. You’re the reason my blood pressure spikes when my friend says she’s dating someone four years older than her. You’re the reason I can’t enjoy my partner saying that my butt looks nice in those jeans. You’re the reason one of my favorite songs takes me back to a night of wailing in my bed because of sheer and unadulterated pain I didn’t know how to process.
I’d like to think you meant it when you said sorry, that you know what you did was wrong and that you have vowed to never treat another woman the same way. I hope that in these four years, you’ve reformed your approach toward healthy relationships and have maybe even solved some of your potential internal conflicts that may have made you blind or ignorant to your actions. Truthfully, I have no way of figuring this out. In the spirit of Snapchat’s mascot, I ghosted you immediately after realizing you were only going to hurt me more. And I certainly know that with the many miles I’ve been lucky enough to put between us, your chances of even reading this are slim to none.
Yeah, I really would like to think you do feel sorry, that you know your actions have forever traumatized me despite our lack of physical interaction. However, looking back to those days before you pushed me over the edge, you never once asked if I wanted to flirt with you, you just made it happen. Your apology was perfectly timed- you said sorry only after you got what you wanted. And despite that apology, in the days after you pushed me, you still had the audacity to try and make something else happen. Sorry I sent you an unsolicited video of me jerking it to a picture of your body that I pressured out of you,you seem to say, and I know you told me to stop a bajillion times. But how about a round two tonight?
So, tell me if I should forgive you. Is this going to be your long overdue lesson learned, or just another cautionary tale?
— Sarah, Class of 2021
Free counseling services at Butler University are available at https://www.butler.edu/counseling-services
(Toll free) National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: 800.656.4673
Information about sexual misconduct can be reached at https://www.rainn.org/about-sexual-assault
Please contact Bridget Early at firstname.lastname@example.org for anonymous submissions.