Featured Articles From Romper

 

Taylor Swift Just Made A Huge Donation To Help Sexual Assault Survivors Following Her Trial

Originally published on August 17, 2017 here

As you probably already know, Taylor Swift was recently involved in a lawsuit concerning sexual assault. Here's what happened: Swift accused a former radio DJ of groping her at a backstage meet and greet. While the singer wanted to keep the ordeal quiet, the DJ then reportedly got fired for his misbehavior, and decided to sue Swift for defamation. It was only then that Swift decided to countersue the DJ, with both lawsuits going head-to-head in court last week. And while Swift has officially won her case, she isn't done taking a stand. Yes, what Swift is doing to help sexual assault survivors is honestly worth talking about.

After Swift won her sexual assault trial, the singer and philanthropist made a promise that she would "be making donations in the near future to multiple organizations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves." And now, Swift is making good on that promise.

In fact, Swift's friend, actress Mariska Hargitay, is the founder of The Joyful Heart Foundation, which she started back in 2004, and will be one of the first to receive a donation from Swift. Speaking to HuffPost, Hargitay described the foundation as "a national organization with the mission to transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse." And hopefully, with Swift's donation, The Joyful Heart Foundation will be able to to continue to do just that.

The Joyful Heart Foundation's CEO, Maile M. Zambuto, also spoke to HuffPost, and confirmed Swift's donation, although she could not disclose just how much money Swift would be donating. Zambuto did, however, explain that it was an "extremely generous financial investment."

And while some have criticized Swift in the past for not using her platform to speak out as much as she could for such causes, Swift's entire trial proves all those haters wrong. According to ABC News, Zambuto said:

"I think it was really important to see someone like Taylor to stand up to her abuser so publicly because there’s so much secrecy and shame associated with sexual assault. Taylor had a choice to do this quietly ― to risk less ― and instead, she took this path as a survivor and as a symbol of strength and a source for so many survivors who feel really alone."

It's important to remember that it wasn't Swift's first choice to have to sit in a courtroom and face her assailant while a jury decided whether she was telling the truth. But she did it. And now, she's stepping up onto her platform and using her fame for good.

While it's unclear what other organizations Swift might be donating to following her trial, it remains that Swift truly is dedicated to helping sexual assault survivors and is a champion for the cause.

Featured Articles on Literally, Darling

 
 
 

We Are All Istanbul

Originally published June 29, 2016 here

When I was studying abroad in Istanbul, Turkey, the safest I ever felt was at the Ataturk airport. My first time flying out of the city during my nearly six-month stint in Turkey, I noticed how intense the airport’s security was. Before you could even go check into a flight, right as you entered the airport, you had to take off your shoes and coats and belts, place your luggage to be scanned, and walk through a body scanner as well. Of course, once you checked in, there was another round of security to go through to get to your gate. I really don’t think I had ever felt as secure as I did at that airport. Out on the street, at a nightclub, the Christian church I attended there—they all felt a little more precarious. Of course, I never really felt unsafe in the city, because I was a part of an amazing program that took the time to inform me of what was happening in the world, and in Turkey in particular.

But Tuesday night, that security was compromised. There were screams and shots and explosions. There were suicide bombers and guns and blood and terror. There was violence, senseless violence, and yet, as it has a tendency to do, the world keeps moving. American Presidential candidates mention the terror attacks in their speeches, something about how something must be done—and then they go on to tear down their opponent. News coverage updates as the number of fatalities steadily rise, 18, 36, 41. Families sit in their living rooms and shake their heads at the news, worriedly looking towards their children that have to grow up in a world where it seems terror strikes more often than not. Articles are shared on Facebook, prayers ostensibly sent up. But when all of the information has been gathered, when we’ve all heard the story thousands of times, tragedy fades. We forget. There’s no Turkish flag overlay to apply to our Facebook profile pictures, no clever hashtag has emerged. There’s nothing, and as someone who left her heart in Turkey just a year ago, that breaks me.

When the 2015 Paris Terror Attacks struck, the world turned blue, white, and red. Twitter was overcome with #jesuisparis and #prayforparis. Artist Jean Jullien designed the famous Peace for Paris logo. We all wept. And we should have, we still should, even. I don’t want to discount any act of terror, or any disaster at all. But part of me can’t help but think that, as Americans, the further east the tragedy, the less we care. Our world practically stopped for Paris, our Facebook was a sea of the French flag, we were Paris.

Our Facebooks were transformed once again in March of this year, when terrorist attacks killed 32 victims at an airport and metro station in Brussels. And yet, when 102 people were killed in a suicide bombing in Ankara, Turkey in October of 2015 our social media remained painfully monochromatic.

The importance of the Facebook flag overlay feature cannot be overlooked. When I scrolled through my Facebook after the Paris attacks, I wept. I wept at the sense of solidarity that had overtaken a social media platform whose main purpose was usually to post pictures of your cats or go on political rants. I wept because I knew that although this was a horrific act of violence, the world came together, even just for a moment. I wept because I could imagine the people of Paris, of France, seeing their Facebook feeds transformed with their country’s flag—pride and hope and love fighting back against the terror and the hate.

And now, when even more lives were taken from such a beautiful country, when loss is all they can think about, besides terror and fear, we can’t give them that gift. And I don’t understand why.

Is it because Turkey is a Muslim country, despite its Christian foundations and secular government? Is Turkey not “European” enough? Too far east? Too “foreign?” Are Turkish people’s lives—the people who made me feel so at home in their country, who smiled and helped me when I was still getting used to the language—not worth as much? Because when we brush this attack off, when we disregard Turkey, saying, “Oh well, that’s in the Middle East, anyways,” (it’s not, actually, please get a globe) we are actively letting hate and Islamophobia win.

The country of Turkey, and Istanbul in particular, has a very interesting history. Istanbul is both a European and Asian city, and its roots trace back to some of the most formative years of Christianity, as well as Islam. The country has more Greek and Roman ruins than Greece and Rome. And today, it continues to be a diverse, historic, beautiful nation. So how can anyone, anyone who is the least bit dynamic, cultured, informed—anyone who has the same traits as Turkey does—let go of this tragedy?

We are all Turkey, and we are all Istanbul. If you are pro-life, you are Turkey. If you are anti-gun, you are Turkey. If you’re black, white, Native American, Indian, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist—you are Turkey. Because those are the people who make up the country of Turkey, the city of Istanbul. The bakery owner who never judged me for how many cookies I bought in a week. The South African pastor of the church that provided me with so much comfort. The man running the street waffle stand I visited way too often, who called me Shakira because of my blonde hair. The owner of the neighborhood cafe I frequented at least once a week. They are Turkey, they are Istanbul. We are all Istanbul.


I Don't Know If I Was Raped

Originally published on October 14, 2016 here

*Trigger warning for sexual assault* 

I used to wear a purity ring.

I know it seems outdated and slightly misogynistic, and I know virginity is really just a social construct, but I was raised with certain values. And even after I grew up and explored my own beliefs, I still knew I wanted to wait until I was married to have sex. I had strong convictions about it, sex was a big deal to me, and it still is.

I got my purity ring from my mom. She picked it out just for me and it made me feel closer to her. Now, the ring sits in my jewelry box and I only wear it when I see my family. The morning after I lost my virginity, my ring was the first thing I thought of. Do I still wear it? I didn’t know the answer to that question, because there was an even bigger question I didn’t know the answer to: Did I give consent to have sex? Was I raped, or do I just not remember?

I know, I know, there are women all over the world who will hate me for writing this, but I really don’t know. It all seems so black and white until it happens to you. I was stupid drunk, hardly had control of my body, and said “No” at least three times. But I invited him over, I told him to sit next to me on my bed, and ripped his shirt off. He didn’t know I was a virgin, and I didn’t realize I wasn’t anymore until the pain started and I recognized I wasn’t strong enough to stop it. I didn’t fight that hard, I just gave up.

So, was I raped?

The truth is, I wanted to be with him. I craved his body against mine, I wanted someone to wake up next to. I wanted his fingers to explore me, and I wanted mine to explore him. I wanted it so badly. He spoke French and had an accent, he kissed my neck and whispered phrases in my ear, his warm breath tickling my skin, first with French, then English. I wanted him.

But when he said he didn’t have a condom, I realized how far in over my head I was. I thought I could distract him, but it was clear he only wanted one thing. I said “No” and then got on top, trying to sway his attention. But he rolled over, and ten seconds later I said “No, no,” and his answer was a kiss, starting on my lips, and then moving further down.

After, “No, no, come on, no,” the French response made a reappearance, and the battle waged on. He was strong, I wasn’t. I felt the pain, and, once I knew it was too late, just waited for it to be over.

He spooned me in his sleep, and didn’t budge when I got up to go to the bathroom and winced at the blood on the toilet paper. I crawled back in bed, his arms wrapped around me again and I tried to forget.

The next morning I only said “No,” once. I wasn’t a virgin anymore, so what was the point of fighting? I was tired, so tired. At least it was over faster this time.

So, I’ll ask the question again: Was I raped? I don’t know. I didn’t technically give consent, but I didn’t exactly try too hard to stop it either. There was a tiny part of me that wanted it, that relished the fact that he wanted me. But then, the entire next day I cried—when I had to buy the morning-after pill, and when I realized I didn’t even know his last name.

I used to wear a purity ring. I also used to be a virgin and never even considered the possibility that I might get raped. I knew if that time ever came, I would fight. I would kick and scream and get out. But I didn’t. I gave up. So, was I raped? Or was I just exhausted? Is it rape if I didn’t scream? Was it consent even though I said no? For some reason, the word “rape” makes me imagine fighting and yelling and tears. But that didn’t happen with me, and because it didn’t, I don’t know if it was. Was laying back and waiting for it to be over consent? If anyone else was telling me this, I’d clench my fists and yell out “No!” But it’s me, so I just don’t know.

I’ve only told a very few of my closest friends, and when I told them what happened, they simply widened their eyes, said, “Wow,” and moved on with the conversation, nodding their heads in a display of sorrow and feelings of distance. The “Rape” was never even on the table. It couldn’t have happened to me, they know me. To them, I couldn’t have been raped, I was just drunk. To them, it wasn’t rape, I let it happen. To them, it’s not rape, so how can it be rape to me?

I don’t know if I’ll ever say that word out loud either. It opens up doors I’m not sure I want opened. I become a victim, a number in a book of college sexual assault statistics. But am I a victim? His breath felt so good in my ear. I know I wasn’t justdrunk, I know I said “No” numerous times. But right now, I can just close my eyes, take myself somewhere else. If I say I was raped, it’s real, inescapable. I don’t know if I even want to know if I was raped.

What I do know is that now, I’m always thirsty. No matter how many water bottles I drink, I still want more. Now, blank spaces in my day are my worst enemy—too much time to think. Now I see just how much that ring means to me, because not a day goes by that I don’t think about it. Now I try my hardest to avoid the attention of men, and to definitely not get drunk around them. Now, I still don’t know if I was raped or just made a very poor decision.

And I don’t think I’ll ever know the answer. But maybe one day it won’t matter anymore. Maybe, one day, all that will matter is that I’ll be with someone who loves me. Maybe, one day, I’ll forget about my purity ring. Maybe.

Published Freelance Pieces

From The Washington Post: I’ll never fit in at my family’s weddings. But they’re still important to me.

Originally published on August 16, 2017 here

When the first wedding invitation came, I realized I had no cowgirl boots.

Hailing from Texas, it seems wrong. I should own them. In high school, boots were the ultimate accessory. Girls would get them personalized, wear them with dresses, shorts. They were versatile, they were necessary. But most of all, they told the world — the great, big Texan world — that you belonged.

When the next invitation came, I panicked. I had no boots and no date. But still, both weddings were for cousins on my dad’s side of the family. Even if I felt out of place, I was going. I knew the events would be family reunions, essentially, a chance to connect more with my aunts, uncles and cousins who I hadn’t seen in years. An entire family that’s always a little out of reach.

Let me retrace.

I was 13 when my dad died. It wasn’t easy, and it still isn’t. But him dying wasn’t the worst thing that’s happened to me. The worst thing was that, with him, my connection to his side of the family essentially vanished. My parents had divorced, and while my mom kept in touch with my dad’s mom and family, the connections were still a little broken. No matter what I did, I’ve never felt like I was truly a Lane.

My dad was one of 10 children. Branches of his family tree extend across the country, and I have more cousins than I can count. Group message chains, family reunions and a strong Facebook presence make the Lane clan an intimidating echo chamber — a glimpse into who my dad was, and what I could have had, if he had were still around.

Wedding season makes it all worse.

Wedding season means that the Lane family comes together to celebrate joy, love, cake. Wedding season means that men sipping whiskey and wearing their cowboy hats tilted forward will extend their hand to ladies, and they will take to the dance floor to two-step the night away. It means that, once again, it will become clear that I am not a part of this world, even though I am a part of this family.

For most of my life, I was raised by my mother. I don’t say that to diminish my dad. I say it because it’s true. My parents divorced when I was 8, and my mom got sole custody. I would spend weekends with my dad, escaping into a fantasy that was just the two of us: Sugary treats, trips to the movie theater, jaunts to the lake. But he never taught me the typical Texan things most girls are taught by their dads: He didn’t teach me how to two-step, or to always refer to older men as “sir.” He never insinuated that I should take anything an adult says to be the Ultimate Truth. I should always question, he said, always search for my own answers.

He was raising me to be different. To be a rebel.

Essentially, my dad was raising me to defy the standards and morals that made Lane family weddings what they are. To push back against the subtle sexism, like how men getting drunk was just funny — but when a “lady” had too many beers, it was a shame. Antiquated traditions and standards surround all weddings, yes, but especially Texan ones. I always noticed them, and I was always aware that I didn’t fit in.

At the first Lane wedding last summer, I imagined what it would be like if my dad had been by my side. How he would escort me to the dance floor, twirl me around. How I would finally be able to sit through the father-daughter dance without making up an excuse about needing a drink or going to the bathroom.

Being a wedding guest at my dad’s family’s celebrations isn’t easy.

When I’m at these events, I’m often jealous. I see my cousins with their dads, laughing, dancing, rocking their cowgirl boots like it’s no big deal. All the while, I know that that will never be me. That I will never be a part of the family group texts, and when an aunt has an extra TV set my dad will never tell anyone, “Hey, Korey’s new apartment could use a TV. I’ll never really be a Lane, and going to Lane weddings makes that abundantly clear.

But still, I go. Because as much as I hate to admit it, I will forever be that girl, standing on the outside, trying to fit in. Maybe, I tell myself, if I go to enough weddings, I’ll really be a Lane. Even though my inclusion in these family events and weddings feels like charity, and attending them seems like an obligation, I can’t pass them up.

An obligation. My dad would surely chuckle at that notion, while shaking his head, cowboy hat dipping down to his deep smile, as we would twirl on the dance floor, lost in our own little world of rebellion.


From Bustle: When I Was Raped, Christian Health Care Failed Me

Originally published on July 14, 2017 here

I had no idea what to do after I was raped. I was hurt, scared, and angry that a stranger had violated my body — as well as the decision I had made at age 12 to abstain from sex until marriage. I was too afraid to tell anyone about it. I thought I was ruined. But in addition to all of that, I was dealing with another problem: I knew that seeing a doctor about my assault would end with my mom getting a huge bill delivered straight to her door, and I certainly didn't want my mom — let alone every member of my religious community — to know what had happened to me.

We didn’t have health insurance back then. Instead, we were part of a Christian sharing ministry called Samaritan Ministries. Under Samaritan's rules, if I were to see a doctor about my assault, the only way to possibly get it reimbursed would be to give details of my situation to every other ministry member and hope they wanted to pay for it collectively. And that's if the organization even chose to publish my story in the first place.

Does this all sound like I’m making it up? Or like the way health insurance would work in a Handmaid’s Tale-type dystopia? Allow me to explain.

When the Affordable Care Act went into place, health insurance premiums rose. At that point, I didn’t know anyone who was happy about it, but my family was outraged. To be fair, my mom is a single mother, a teacher, and has four daughters. At the start of the ACA’s implementation, her cost of insurance rose so much that she couldn’t afford her usual coverage.

She looked into some other options, and found Samaritan Ministries, a Christian sharing company with the motto, “Christians helping Christians with health care.” Basically, members don’t have health insurance as you'd traditionally define it; instead, they agree to be a part of what the official website describes as, "a group of believers that have come together in Biblical community to help bear one another’s medical burdens without the use of health insurance." If a Samaritan member has a major medical issue, they file it with the company. If it meets the company guidelines, Samaritan will send out the afflicted person’s information, and other members will send money, as well as notes of encouragement. Samaritan members are required to send a certain amount of money to other members each month. Essentially, members of Samaritan live by the philosophy that their health is in the hands of God, and that if anything goes wrong, He will provide.

This may sound idyllic to some extent — members of a community helping one another — but the organization applies some pretty strong judgment regarding who deserves help, and what kind of help they deserve. To begin with, people applying for membership must be Christian — the Samaritan website notes that applicants "must meet all the requirements of this section and submit an application, including a pastor’s verification." There are lot of health issues that the organization refuses to make public to other members so that they can help you pay for them, including contraceptives, ADD or ADHD, alcohol poisoning or any injuries that result from drug or alcohol use, "self-inflicted injuries for members over 12 years old," routine medical care like check-ups or physicals, and mental health care in the form of medication or therapy. They will also only help cover any kind of sexually transmitted disease if it is contracted “innocently,” which the site defines as "blood transfusions or medical procedures" ( the site also notes that "it is the member’s responsibility to demonstrate that the disease was contracted innocently," though how exactly they should do that remains unclear).

There are absolutely no notes in their literature about whether they cover sexual assault.

After I was raped, I knew as far as healthcare went, I didn't have a lot of options. I knew that I would be responsible for whatever costs accrued if I saw a doctor, and maybe the company would accept our request to send out our story and ask for help. I worried that the other Christians who are part of Samaritan wouldn’t be too keen on shelling out their own money to help cover the cost of a rape kit for a drunk girl, or that they would define what happened to me as a sexual encounter outside of marriage —in other words, not "innocent." So I did nothing.

When I first started having panic attacks, several members of my family held me in prayer, and told me that if I allowed the Spirit in, I would be healed. I was told my anxiety could be prayed away — many Christians feel that it can be, and there are always those incredible stories of people who have been healed from their illness, just by prayer. I am still Christian, but while I believe that Christ can heal, He doesn’t always. And despite what everyone told me, my anxiety didn't go away; I panicked even more. I began to doubt my faith, my Christianity. I thought I wasn’t a good enough Christian, that I was doing something wrong.

My panic attacks increased and my anxiety began affecting my physical and mental health — symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. But I still didn't seek treatment, because I knew that the out-of-pocket costs would be too high. I couldn't access treatment, because the people in charge of the organization didn't think my health problems were health problems worth treating.

If I had had proper health insurance when I was raped, it might not have taken me so long to finally accept what had happened to me; I might have been able to see a therapist right away, to learn coping mechanisms for my anxiety. Instead, I waited a year to tell my mom, because I couldn't access therapy that would have helped me. My breaking point came when I watched our country defend a man who bragged about sexual assault, and then elect him into the nation's highest office. That's when I knew I needed to speak out.

These days, I’m lucky enough to be able to afford health insurance through the health care marketplace, but who knows how long that will last — and if my coverage will change — if the Republican health care bill is passed.

It's not a huge stretch to compare my experience with Christian-based healthcare to the Republican health care bill — both are about people placing moral judgments on what is and is not worthy of coverage, and who is allowed to access it. Alabama representative Mo Brooks said that the Republican health care plan would reduce the cost to those "people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy," and went on to refer to these people as those "who’ve done things the right way." I can tell you from personal experience (as can countless other women and marginalized people), that health care based on judgment of morality and "goodness" can be incredibly dangerous.

In my opinion, health care in America definitely needs to change; the ACA isn’t perfect right now, and it could definitely use some work. But the Republican health care bill isn’t the answer. Because health care shouldn’t be political, or religious. It shouldn't be about who deserves it and who doesn't.

It should just be.


From HelloGiggles: How my middle school sex education failed me as a sexual assault survivor

Originally published on April 27, 2017 here

Nothing laying down. Nothing below the neck. Nothing comes off.

Those were the three cardinal rules of my middle school sexual education. Boys and girls were taught in separate classrooms, and the girls’ discussions focused on how important it was for our fathers and brothers and uncles that we save ourselves until marriage — “save ourselves,” as though having sex completely took you away from your body, as though losing your virginity meant you weren’t a complete person anymore. You weren’t worthy, or valid.

Our teacher, a 60-something grandma who knew half the students from church, made sure that we would always do our best to be “good girls.” She was cool, she assured us. She was a teenager once, she knew how stressful it could be, how tempting. But she didn’t want to make it any more tempting, it seemed, because she hardly taught anything useful at all.

I was never taught the technicalities of sexual intercourse. I didn’t know the difference between a vagina and a uterus, and I had no idea what an STD was.

On the last day of our sex-ed program, the teacher gave all the girls a small flower. We were told it was our virginity, and that we had to protect it. That this was the most important thing we could do in life, that it was who we are. A few months later, my church had a purity ring ceremony, where my mom slid a sterling silver band with a heart and cross onto my right ring finger. We swore, that day, in front of our parents, our church, and God, that we wouldn’t have sex until marriage, that it was our most sacred duty.

And so, when I was raped, I didn’t know what had happened.

I’d been violated, taken from. But I’d also broken the three rules: “Nothing laying down. Nothing below the neck. Nothing comes off.” I let it happen, I thought.

I was dressed up as a deer, the night it happened in college. It was Halloween, and I’d paper-mached antlers, bought a brown suede skirt, and perfectly applied the doe-eyed makeup look. Innocent and unsuspecting, I went out with my best friend. We went to the most popular bar near campus. It was senior year, and we never usually partied — but that night, we were both ready to let loose.

I hadn’t been involved with anyone since I studied abroad and ended up heartbroken, so when a tall, blonde guy with an accent said hello, I said hello right back.

The night felt endless, full of potential in a way I hadn’t felt in a while. The blonde boy bought me drinks, and I drank them. We went to another bar, I think. So much of the night faded away from me, even as it was happening. After he handed me that first drink, I started slipping away.

I kissed him in the second bar. I know that because I’d come back alive. I took control; I wanted him. In that moment, I did.

“If you follow the three rules, you have nothing to worry about,” our teacher would say. The three rules would keep us safe from the perils of the nasty world we lived in.

Back at my apartment, I broke the first “rule.” We’d laid down on my bed to watch a scary movie.

My friend and her date were there, too — it felt safe. Normal. Soon, laying down next to each other turned to kissing. That’s when it got blurry. That’s when I remembered my friend and her date leaving, and the night starting to fade again. I knew I wanted sleep, so I laid down. I couldn’t remember where he’d gone, until he kissed my neck, then my chest.

Another “rule” broken.

Then, I said no.

I thought I might vomit. I was a virgin. I wasn’t on birth control. My purity ring was taunting me. I said “no.”  He didn’t listen, and I felt like I could barely breathe. It felt like I was in a dream. I couldn’t move. I’d broken the third and final “rule,” and I thought it was all my fault.

I closed my eyes and thought of my ring, the cold metal, the ceremony, my mom’s eyes looking down at her perfect daughter.

I said “no” again, and for a moment, I thought I could fight him off. I couldn’t, and he didn’t listen.

I thought of that flower my teacher gave me after sex ed — how I’d jokingly given it to my sweet bus driver after school, knowing I’d be getting the ring later. I kept giving things away, I thought to myself. “Hold on to this flower, and guard yourself, and nothing bad will happen to you.”

 

In the morning, I didn’t know where I was, even though it was my own apartment. I went to the bathroom, covering up with my favorite fuzzy blanket from my mom. I remember hoping that maybe it was a dream, that we’d just made out and fallen asleep — but I finally couldn’t hold it in any longer. Tears mixed with my deer makeup, cascading down my face, turning me into a crazed zebra.

Eventually, he left, and my friend took me to CVS to get Plan B, “just to be safe,” she said. In that moment, the 50 dollars didn’t feel like near enough for what “I’d done.”

I thought it was my fault, after all.

I’d broken the “rules.” I let a man into my bedroom, I pulled him closer before I pushed him off.

My “flower” was gone, and it felt like I didn’t matter anymore.

Later, when I would tell people what had happened, I remember them asking if I’d reported him. I was confused. I’d broken the rules, I thought. I’d let it happen. What was there to report?

Months later, an essay by the author of my new favorite book brought me to tears. She explained her sexual assault, and that her character’s rape was based on real events. Years later, she was still coping with it. Again, I couldn’t breathe. The world felt too big and too small and I reread her words over and over.

I still couldn’t breathe. It was too real.

It had happened to me.

Realizing that I was raped was almost more traumatic than the assault itself. I felt bullied by myself, my past, my hometown, and my faith. I felt betrayed. More than a year and a half later, I still cry when I think about it. Because those months after I was raped, when I could have been healing, I was in denial.

Because of what I was taught in middle school sex ed.

I’d broken the “rules,” so I blamed myself.

I was robbed of my own sense of closure and acceptance, and that still hurts. What hurts even more is that I know I’m not the only one, and that there are still people (some of whom I used to call friends) that will say I shouldn’t have been drinking; I shouldn’t have worn that skirt, or invited him over. And sometimes, in my darkest moments, I believe them. All because of three rules, a flower, and a ring.

As Sexual Assault Awareness Month nears its end, I hope we’ll continue fighting to make sure no other woman ever feels this way.