When I walked into the campus police station, I was told to wait in the lobby for the officer who would be out shortly to take down my story. The station walls were made out of the same material as the walls of the room where I had been raped by a fellow student less than a week ago. My stomach was already sick.
A female officer appeared wearing black pants and a white shirt. My brain processed this data with alacrity: she would be nice to me because ... our anatomy matched? I followed her into a very small room. At least I got to sit by the door. Her questions were manageable. Then, she said that another officer would need to come in to ask more questions and they might be difficult questions.
The male officer came in wearing his uniform. He looked like the star from an action film, or like a toy police officer with movable arms and legs. He looked confident. I felt not-confident. I was wearing blue pants and a red and white striped sweater. I looked like a girl on a sailboat in Nantucket and felt like I was going to get seasick.
He had a blank pad of paper and a pen. The pad of paper looked brand new, fresh out of the storage closet. Maybe he had never asked anyone what they were wearing on the night of the "incident" before now. Maybe he had never interviewed someone who said she was raped by a guy who was really good looking, really rich, really smart, and really talented. Maybe he had never had to ask if the sex hurt.
Victimology is the study of victims of crime. What is it really? It's me answering those questions and focusing on being precise, but choking on bits of adjectives and adverbs as I taste, smell and feel them all over again. These details are not even fully infused in my brain because I've been fighting my synapses on them every day for the last six. I have been stoppering their landing spots because I know that I just don't want to feel afraid for an indeterminate future whenever I see cement walls or eat broccoli like I had that night.
I am not writing to critique law enforcement. I am writing to explain how it is to tell anyone the story of your rape, assault, or abuse. This is how hard it is to describe what happened, because your brain has barely let the facts into your head. I write to anyone who may need to listen, respond, or need to ask questions.
By listening, you can help us achieve some sense of justice after being violated so personally. When we tell you; you represent our hope that our victimization will not be in vain -- that our perpetrator might not harm a dozen more women, or men, after us. Everything that you do teaches us about how the public might respond when we tell others our stories. Many of us use your body language, questions and attitude to gauge our responsibility for our own victimization. We sense how much we "should have known" based on your assessment of our situation. We often feel guilty, embarrassed and weak.
There are many ways you can be helpful: not interrupting; waiting to clarify until the end; asking questions with a gentle voice; letting us sit by the exit route; not sitting behind your desk opposite us; letting us have a break when we need it; sitting with an open posture and not crossing your arms or legs; asking us where we'd feel comfortable talking; making sure that we know to whom we can turn for support and counseling; following up to see if you can do anything to help. If we really want to have more people come forward and report, those who listen will need to your part, too.
Learn more about how to help someone: We at Take Back The Night invite you to join our free workshop to go from Hurt to Healing! Visit www.TakeBackTheNight.org to join us on April 23 at 9PM EST.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Take Back the Night in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about Take Back the Night and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-866-331-9474 or text "loveis" to 77054 for the National Dating Abuse Helpline.
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