Catholic school. There are certain expectations you have when deciding to go to a Catholic College. Everyone has the same values you do. There are policies in place that make you feel safe; guests have to be signed in, no one of the opposite sex is allowed in your room after visitation hours, sex before marriage does not happen. Sexual assault does not happen.
In 2004, I went to a campus that felt like home from the moment that I was there. Everyone on campus was friendly and there was a certain feeling of safety when you stepped on campus. Upon my arrival in the fall, I quickly started to make friends during orientation. One night in early October, I was with a group of my friends in the men's hall. That is when I met a guy who was everything that I wanted at the time. That night he was paying me a lot of attention. After visitation hours ended we made our way outside where he asked if I wanted to go on a walk with him.
There was a maintenance shed about 500 yards from the men's hall and that's where the walk ended. He pushed me up against the wall of the shed and kissed me. I could feel the weight of his body against mine and his hands traveling from around my neck down the front of me and then to the front of my jeans. That was the first time I said no. He proceeded to undo my jeans and I continued to say no, and that's when he raped me.
It took me a week to wrap my head around what had happened. Things like this did not happen on a Catholic campus. Things like this were not supposed to happen to me. I first told my Resident Director, then I was asked to tell a campus detective, and file a report. When I came back to my room, my suitemate asked me what had happened -- she could tell that I was exhausted. I told her, and that's when everything changed. She disclosed that he had done something similar with her earlier in the year. Not only that but she had heard other women on campus had similar experiences with him as well, ranging from him groping them, to him making unwanted sexual advances. There were five of us total, and three of us that came forward.
No one would have known the depth of the situation had we all remained silent.
I was brought up to believe that when you said no to something that meant that the other person should respect your request. That was not the case, he had heard no from multiple women and did not stop. 6 in 10 assaults occur from a serial offender, something I wish I would have known before attending college.
The veil had been lifted and I began to see that sexual violence was happening everywhere, no matter how protected you may feel. I transferred colleges and started a Women's Empowerment Program at Mount St. Mary's University, where I worked to raise awareness about all sexual violence for the campus community. Attending a Catholic College and admitting that you were assaulted can feel so shameful, however it is not shame that you should feel. Rather, by breaking the silence you are potentially helping others to not become victims at the hands of their offender.
That is the most powerful feeling one should have.
Healing from any form of sexual violence is a long journey. Tonight we at Take Back The Night invite you to join our free workshop. Join a therapist and two survivors to take steps in the healing direction and move away from the pain! Visit www.TakeBackTheNight.org to join us tonight on April 23 (tonight) 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.