TW: Rape, Sexual Assault
Those people who rail against trigger warnings on the internet have obviously never tried to be the rape victim of an elite athlete this week. I, too, have read just about everything I could get my hands on about that atrocious event more than a year ago at Stanford. My blood has boiled at the lack of remorse or understanding on behalf of that rapist and I’ve sat in awe at the bravery and strength of that young woman.
But I’ve also felt something deeper. Let’s call it a horror show of deja vu.
I was once a young woman staring down two paths. To the left: say nothing, try to pretend nothing ever happened. To the right: press charges and have the full weight of the IOC question my credibility for a tiny chance at justice. Guess which path I chose? I crumbled and crawled down that path that lead me to a medical leave from university and him to the Olympics.
I haven’t commented publicly on the case yet. I haven’t commented because every time I want to respond to a discussion on the topic, I want to cry, beat my fists on the wall, and collapse in a tiny pile in a corner. I want to scream “It happened to me. And I couldn’t do anything about it.” Interestingly, I haven’t done any of those things.
The weight of doing nothing in that moment feels like I might crush me some days. I know the statistics: the average rapist assaults more than 4 people. In the moment, I couldn’t do anything to protect myself, and I often think of my inability to protect the next ones, of which I vehemently hope there are none. I’m not a person for regrets, but for that I make an exception.
And I’d love to report that those 5 minutes 7 years ago no longer haunt me. But I’d be lying. I’m no longer crippled by anxiety, tortured by weekly flashbacks, or driven to aggressively diminish my eating as a means to find some semblance of control. But PTSD isn’t something that really goes away, it just hides in the shadowy recesses of your mind for the least convenient moments. When a shadow moves too quickly across the wall during a middle-of-the-night bathroom run. When a male coworker touches your elbow to get your attention because he has a quick question. When you’re watching a movie with your family and an unexpectedly coercive scene sends you scurrying for the bathroom so you can cry silently before re-taking your place on the couch.
Most days, I sit down at my desk and begin to make up for the choice I didn’t make. I work every day to try to dismantle the structures that forced my silence. To muffle the deafening roar of a system that was created to make us believe in the potential and good intentions of the powerful — or those who resemble the powerful — and to question the words and reputations of the marginalized when we bring claims against them.
I only found my voice when I was silenced. Now, when I succeed in speaking for the voiceless, it’s a tiny step towards creating a world where no one ever experiences the gut-wrenching pain I still can’t put into words. It’s a small way for me to take back the power that was stolen from me, and to give it to those who need and deserve it.
But this week is hard. My every breath is heavy with a troublingly clear picture of how little distance my size-6 feet have covered.
The most I can do this week is get up every morning and stumble forward. I can put my feet on the floor, slip on my shoes, and stand up straight. I’ll sit at my desk and my fingers will race over the keyboard. I’ll take calls with vendors, activists, and my team mates. I’ll thank my team for their Herculean effort and for being amazing people who are changing the world for the better. I’ll have tears at the edges of my eyes, and take a few extra walks around the block when when the weight of the work left to do pushes tears to my cheeks. I won’t feel powerful this week.
I tell myself that’s good enough. And this week, it is.
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