The following was submitted by Connorlynn Gaffney…
Manifesto to the taboo.
We are the men and women who have been violated. Our bodies and minds have been used wrongly at the hands of another for their own purposes. We have been abused mentally and physically, we have been raped, and we have rebuilt ourselves like the phoenix rises from the ashes because the only other choice was death. We moved past the memories, the flashbacks, the panic attacks, and the nightmares to become the strong independent individuals thriving in today’s society.
We are taboo. You don’t know how to react to me. You don’t know my full story, when and where and how it happened, so you don’t know what you are allowed to say or ask because you are worried to offend me. You have all these preconceived notions of what it means. You think it is black and white, but it’s not. Sometimes we don’t realize we are in the situation until it’s almost too late, or we are reflecting back. Other times while it’s happening you aren’t conscious, you think it’s someone else, or maybe you just made a mistake and trusted the wrong person. These things happen.
The problem is your reaction. You shirk away from us out of discomfort. The problem is your guilt; you want to do something but don’t know what because you are so uncomfortable. I know you are afraid to hug me because you don’t want to set me off, maybe you have seen me breakdown when a stranger walks too close, but your fear makes it worse.
We value, above all else, respect. We need you to respect us as individuals and not see us only through the lens of our assault. We value love and trust. We value looking into your eyes and being met with love, not fear. We do not want you to look at us full of pity, we want you to see the strength it takes to wake up and get through every day. We value strength. The strength to force yourself to wake up, to get out of bed, to get dressed and go outside feeling like the whole world is staring at you, like its written on your forehead. We value the strength to speak up: to say something, to face the consequences of the world, and to even face prosecution in some cases which requires reliving your experience multiple times, facing the assaulter and the skepticism of the situation. We value the strength to sleep at night when the nightmares are overwhelming, but more than that, we value the strength to trust again. To trust another individual so intimately into your life when the innocence and joy of those relations between two individuals have been so drastically stolen from you.
Solutions: We need to talk. The world needs to hear out stories. You need to know that the first time I was sexually assaulted, was in the basement of my best friend’s house. The second time was emotionally by my now ex-fiancé. The third was a man from who whom I reported which resulted in him being fired and judgment from my co-workers. The fourth was the first time I accepted the word. He was a Scottish man my father’s age, and he did it in my bed. The fourth was my best friends ex in the backseat of his car while I was unconscious.
I need you to respect me. I need you to look me in the eye and say I still love you. I need you to hug me and replace the feeling of his hands around my neck with the feel of light fingers and gentle kisses. Make me forget the cruel ways he used my mind and body with your own caring a nurturing ways.
I need you to take action. When you see this happen to someone, when you see someone who may be walking into a bad situation, you need to step in to intervene. When you see a woman stumbling home and a man alongside her, trust your instinct. You need to know when the scene you are watching is toxic. You need to know that when you see a woman hit a man, it is the same, when you hear an individual of a couple berating the other that it is a dangerous situation. Intervening at that second might not be necessary, but analyze it. Will the individual in question be hurt, physically or mentally, if someone does not step in? Would they not be more grateful for your intervention than not?
I challenge you to listen. You can cry, you can ask questions. Please ask questions, but do not judge me. Do not judge me for acting out of pain and putting myself in a dangerous situation. I feel the guilt over it already. Support me; tell me you will always be there, for anything I need, no matter what, no matter what time. That is what we need, and that is why we need the advocacy center. It is a safe space for those who have experienced sexual assault in an arena designed solely for that purpose. The counseling center is beneficial, but in different ways. Where the counseling center offered me support, the advocacy center offered me options. Secondly, at the counseling center I was required to fill out multiple forms and answer the same questionnaires over and over and over, before being greeted by a judgmental male who I was not entirely comfortable discussing my experience with. At the advocacy center, once I decided to go, I was greeted with a much more welcoming, subtle, and secure atmosphere where I immediately felt comfortable. I would not underestimate the power in having multiple safe spaces on a campus for those in need, it would be very disappointing to see places for students in need reduced.