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What Speaking Up 13 Years Later Feels Like

September 26, 2018

I feel like I am in a good enough place today. I wish things were easier, but I’m thankful that they are not as bad as they used to be. Yet I’m still learning to accept that I can handle whatever place I’m in and ride the waves until the storm passes. There will be storms. There will always be bridges to cross. I remind myself every time that I feel like I have crossed a bridge and gotten past the next hard thing, to enjoy the calm. Life is not one bridge but many bridges. Walking uphill hurts. But it strengthens our muscles and builds our endurance. We will be able to breathe through the next bridge just a tiny bit better than we could for the one before. Hard things will just keep happening in this beautiful life. And I will not be consumed.

 

Yesterday I did the bravest thing I’ve ever done. I launched my blog with an extremely vulnerable post detailing my past sexual assaults. Launching it on an impulse was one of the few good impulse choices that I have made in my life. If I had taken more time to process whether or not to share, I would have chickened out. 100%.

 

I wrote the post for the first time this weekend. After writing it, I promptly and instinctively vomited. There were several more drafts over the weekend between sticky hugs and tiny loud footsteps and “Mommy” being shouted between sentences. But by the end of the weekend it was ready.

 

I felt sick again after clicking the button that says, “Share on Facebook.” My heart beat faster, my palms were sweaty and my breathing became unsteady. But I left it. And I waited. Time passed and I kept checking in nervously. Comment after comment of everything I needed to hear at those darkest moments in my life but didn’t. My inbox has since been flooded with messages from survivors saying one simple word, “Thank you.” Other survivors who have never spoken their stories to a single soul are telling me their stories for the first time. They aren’t going as public as I am, but this is still a form of speaking out. The shame has been trapped inside of them all these years. Feeling safe enough to tell one person—me—what an honor. If any of you brave women need to get your stories out, I will listen and be a keeper of secrets that should have never been yours. It's okay to let them go. Sometimes speaking out is a whisper and sometimes it is a shout. Both are brave.  

 

Brenda, my dear friend of twenty years, was there for me the night of my attack. She is the one who called the police. Her husband is the one who brought me to the hospital afterwards. She messaged me shortly after the post went up to say, “Friend. My heart is broken for you. I’m so very sad. I don’t have the right words except, I BELIEVE YOU and I LOVE YOU and I am so unbelievably proud of you and so unbelievably grateful to have you as my dear friend.” We talked a lot about the way Calvin betrayed me. Brenda told me that the professor told the other students not to believe that I had really been raped. “I always believed you,” Brenda said. No wonder I became sort of a Pariah to everyone else. I wondered often why I didn’t receive more compassion from my classmates in those dark times. Now I know.

 

She and Brandon were dating at the time of the trip abroad and are now married. Brenda said she came downstairs to find him crying with his head in his hands and she knew he had read my post. The two of them had a long conversation recalling how inappropriately the professor handled the situation. They talked about how they wished they were seven years older and could have spoken out better. The professor was so shitty and none of us really knew better. She was the adult. Most of us were away from home for the first time. She was the mother figure we were stuck with. We don’t get to choose our mother. Brenda told me, “Erin, I’m so angry at Calvin. And I don’t want to do anything you aren’t comfortable with. But I want to call them out.” I agreed right away. “Let’s get loud,” I said. It is thirteen years too late but I am ready to speak out now. And I see why so many survivors emerge years, sometimes decades later to call out the people who wronged them. We make each other brave. 

 

I have learned that the professor still works there. I have learned that she continued to lead the study abroad trip for several years afterwards. This is the woman who told me after my assault that I had put myself in an ugly situation. This is the woman that told me the way I dressed was an invitation. This is the woman who asked me if I had been drinking. This is the woman who never hugged me and only judged me. This is the woman who told my classmates not to believe that I had really been raped. This is the woman who told me a few days later, “After everything, you’re really going to wear that?” I couldn’t tell you many details about that day. But I remember vividly that I was wearing a black tank top with a jean skirt and flip-flops. I remember the dirt road that I was walking on because I looked down at my feet as I watched my black flip-flops dig into the sand walking uphill. I remember after her moment about my clothes, I turned around and went back to my room, where I sat alone in layers of self-loathing and blame.

 

Brenda has reached out to a woman who works at Calvin that we were recommended to start with. Brenda said she was kind and receptive and wants to talk to her, Brandon, and me. I have been in contact with attorney, Liz about this whole thing because I’m not sure what to expect. She said she would come with to whatever meetings we have with Calvin.

 

I wonder how many other students this professor has negatively impacted in the thirteen years since my traumatic experience. I did my best to speak up at the time. I talked to the Spanish department. My complaint went to the president of Calvin College. But it is clear that there were no repercussions. No one at Calvin offered to help me through this. No one at Calvin linked me with counseling or resources. No one at Calvin held that woman responsible. I have blamed myself for thirteen years. But this was never my shame to hold in. It’s time to give it back. 

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