>> 25 July 2014
Ten years ago, I was sexually assaulted by my college professor. I was 17, a summer freshman, and new in a town where I didn't know many people yet. I'm not exactly sure why I decided that I needed to write about this right now, but it may be in response to the feelings that have been stirred up by this post. If I could talk to myself ten years ago, I would say similar things. Don't feel bad for being scared. Don't tell yourself to let it go, because it won't go away. You're going to be ok someday. The classroom will be a safe haven for you again.
The details leading up to the event don't really matter that much. He was young and cool, but married with a family, and in my youth I thought that meant he was safe. He stayed after class to chit chat with us and smoke cigarettes and in my naiveté I just thought that meant he was friendly. I don't remember anything he ever said apart from during the event, nor even the sound of his voice. I remember the papers I wrote for his class, but not what happened during class. I blamed myself for every outfit I'd worn, every conversation we'd had, every time I had smiled or laughed, or tried to put something clever in my papers.
The aftermath is what I remember the most. I cried and cried and cried. I threw up a few times for no reason. I had to sit in our small class every single day and face him. I told a few of my classmates, who formed a sort of protective barrier around me. I partied really hard with complete strangers; I got drunk and let a guy cut all my hair off with clippers. In the back of my mind, I thought that maybe he would stop looking a me like that in class if I was uglier. But the worst part came when I told my boyfriend. I had waited a few days, and I was convinced that he was going to be furious and break up with me. In my guilt, self-blame and self-loathing, I had construed the event as 'cheating', but my boyfriend nailed it for what it was: sexual predation on an underage girl. He was furious alright, but not with me.
Even then, it didn't stop me from blaming myself. I worked harder than anyone on the rest of my assignments to make absolutely sure that the grade I got in the class was the grade I had earned. I already considered myself a good writer, but when I got that A, I still didn't feel better. I questioned myself and the whole institution of college and wondered if the rest of academia was like this. For a while, I tried to take classes with female professors. Two years after the event, when I was failing Latin, I contemplated how much easier it would be to earn my grade in other ways (I had also just seen The Life of David Gale, which was set at my university and had similar themes). I realized that I was still not okay, and dropped Latin (and my Classics major) that very day.
Nowadays, I hardly ever think about what happened to me ten years ago, and when I do, it shocks me just how fresh that wound still is. I wish I had been brave enough to report him. I wish I would have known then how wonderful academia would be for me someday. I wish I had believed the people around me who said that it wasn't my fault, and that it didn't change who I was. I did change, but in good ways. I became more cautious, more watchful, and more caring, but I remained myself, which is who I still am.