Sexual assault and harassment are often talked about as isolated events, incidents with discrete timestamps marking a beginning and an end, a blip on the timeline of a woman’s life. Survivors know that it’s not like that at all, that it is actually something that changes the entire trajectory of that timeline. For a survivor, being sexually assaulted is just the beginning.
What follows, nightmares, insomnia, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, self-loathing, and much much more, society will point to and call “baggage,” as if the survivor themselves packed the bags and decided to bear the load.
Me too. That is what victims of sexual assault and harassment have been posting this week to give the world a sense of the scope of the problem. Me too. A singular hand in the air asking the world to give a damn, telling the story of an invisible and immense tribe.
Me too. A two-word message so short that you can not help but read it as you scroll through your Twitter feed, your Facebook feed, your Instagram feed. But those two words will not tell you about the disorienting realization that what happened to you was actually assault, which may come moments or years after the assault itself. They will not tell you about how hard that person has worked to believe that it was not their fault, how sometimes people they love have made them feel like it must have been, because they want to believe that it could never happen to them, that the world is a place in which you can prevent bad things from happening to you by being smarter than the people that bad things happen to. That is if they were even believed, if they ever even told anyone.
“Me too” will not tell you how the mind can train the body to be afraid of being alone in elevators, in offices, or on a subway car with men you don’t know, or even men you do know, or how that fear can grow and mutate until your body feels like a prison, how that fear can permeate every encounter, until even a hug from your own husband, father, uncle, brother, or friend feels unbearable. They will not tell you that sometimes for women that fear can train the muscles of the vagina to spasm in a way that makes sex excruciating, sometimes for years, or forever. They will not tell you about how that fear can finally drive you to believe that you yourself might be infected with the same poison as your predator, that perhaps you yourself are a monster.
Me too. Those words do not describe the crucible of seeking justice for what has been done to you, how you will be humiliated by a legal system that imprisons less than 10 out of every 1000 rapists. They can’t put you in the room with a parent obsessively checking the locks on the doors and windows every night because they are so afraid that someone will come into their home in the middle of the night and do to their children what was done to them. They don’t help you understand how having been assaulted lowers your sense of worth so profoundly that you are likely to end up in relationships that are either physically or emotionally abusive, or that at the very least, you are likely to abuse yourself, through substances, through varieties of self-harm too myriad to name—and that all of that too will be lumped under your “baggage.”
“Me too” will not tell you what it will feel like to know that you have pushed away or hung on too tight to people who have cared about you, because you were afraid there might be a predator lurking inside of them, inside of everyone, inside of yourself.
“Me too” will not tell you about how when you finally crawl to a place where you can begin to heal, your experience will still be misunderstood and distorted by romantic partners, family members, and close friends. How you yourself will have to fight not to fall into traps where you minimize your own pain: 'other survivors have had it worse', 'it wasn’t that bad', 'he didn’t know what he was doing.'
“Me too” will not tell you how you will be made to feel like a killjoy when you try to bring awareness to the issue of sexual violence, let alone if you share your own story. Those words can not tell you how the wound inside of you will call out to you for the rest of your life like the edge of a cliff. They will not tell you about the heavy knowledge that one person’s actions can destroy the pathways of love and trust that connect you to others, that rebuilding those pathways will be the labor of a lifetime, of generations.
Me too. Each survivor’s beat on the same drum. Those words can not tell you how tired we are of beating this drum.