Me, too.

This has been sitting in my drafts for nearly a year. The current investigation of Brett Kavanaugh and subsequent public berating and belittling of his victim, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, has pushed me to finally finish writing it and hit “publish.” I hope this opens some people’s minds, I hope survivors of sexual violence find some solace in my words, and I need to get this off my chest because I know I’m not the only one feeling this way.

The following includes detailed accounts of my own abuse, rape, and assault that others may find triggering. Consider yourself warned.

I was four years old, wearing a t-shirt that was too big for me. The sleeve of one side slipped down and my bare shoulder was exposed through the neck hole of the shirt. An adult male family member called me “sexy.”

I was fifteen years old, walking home from the bus stop after school, when a man on a bicycle pulled up next to me and exposed his flaccid penis to me before laughing and riding away. When I told my mom, she called the police. When I told my brother, he laughed and said something about it being just a guy thing.

I was eighteen years old, hanging out in the dorms at college when I lost consciousness in a friend’s room due to a then-undiagnosed heart condition. When I woke up, I was lying down on a bed with the penis of said “friend” jammed into my mouth. The incident was not reported to campus authorities. The first person to whom I tried to disclose my story accused me of “asking for it,” crying victim, and trying to get attention. For two years, anytime I passed my abuser on campus he would place his hands around his throat and mock me.

I was nineteen years old, working and living as an RA in the same dorms where I had first been sexually assaulted, when a male resident from down the hall knocked on my door after midnight. Upon answering the door, I was pushed backwards into my dorm room and the resident repeatedly tried to kiss me. When I put my hand out to push his face away, he bit my hand. I filed a report with my boss (part of the campus security team) in the morning, but nothing ever came of it and no punishment was delivered.

I was twenty years old, dating a man I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. If he had had it his way, maybe my life would have ended early and that dream/nightmare would have come true. It started with berating my outfit choices and escalated to black eyes, then devolved into him periodically jolting me awake in the middle of the night by raping me. I finally called things quits when I found out he was cheating, but I still sought closure and agreed to meet up for drinks to talk things over on my last night of college. Afterwards we ended up going home together for what I thought would be consensual goodbye sex. Even then I knew it was a bad idea, but years of gaslighting had given me a case of Stockholm Syndrome and I was still not in a good place mentally. That “consensual” sex turned into rape when he turned me around, held me with my face down into a pillow, and raped me anally while he told me that if I complained or if anything “gross” got on his penis while he was raping me, he would kill me. When I stopped struggling and let my body go limp so that things would be over faster, he told me I was a good girl. I cried the entire time.

I was twenty-four years old, on vacation in Los Angeles. I stayed with a friend of a friend and her roommates, and we went out for a night of shopping and cocktails. One of the male roommates drove me home, and when we got back to the house it was empty. We started watching funny YouTube clips on my laptop in the living room and then he tried to kiss me. I leaned away, he kept leaning in, I said no, and before I knew it he had grabbed my arms and pinned me to the couch. I kept saying “no.” I smushed my face between the cushion and the back of the couch so he couldn’t reach my face to kiss me. Once he realized he wasn’t getting any action, he called me a bitch as he let go of me and walked away. My wrist was bruised and I slept with a knife under my pillow just in case. The next morning, I packed my things and left before dawn. The girl I was staying with asked me not to say anything or file any reports because she didn’t want her reputation ruined for living with a predator. They’re still friends to this day.

I was twenty-five years old, dating someone that was friends with dozens of my friends and acquaintances. We had been seeing each other for about a week when he pulled down my shirt and exposed my breasts to passersby while standing on a sidewalk next to a busy four-lane street. Several days later, he punched me while we were having sex and left me alone in the bathroom to cry. After that weekend I completely cut off ties and asked him not to contact me. After the second or third random text trying to get my attention, I sent one back. I listed all of the incidents that had happened (including ones not outlined here) and told him I never wanted to hear from him again for all of those reasons. The only response I got was “I’m sorry you’re not turned on by the same things as me.” I sure as hell don’t count that as a real apology. I still keep the chat log stored on my computer to remind myself that I’m not crazy.

Maybe now some of you will better understand why I have panic attacks or cry in public for seemingly no reason.

Maybe now some of you will better understand what women mean when they say that men act entitled to our bodies.

Maybe now some of you will better understand why rape and sexual assault survivors don’t go to the police. We don’t always disclose our stories, and when we do, sometimes it’s decades later because more often than not, we aren’t taken seriously. When it comes down to brass tacks, we don’t want to end up sitting in front of a panel full of crotchety old white men who are more concerned about the careers of rapists than they are about the mental health of the people whose lives were ruined in the wake of those rapists’ actions. We don’t want to become the punchlines for politicians’ heinous jokes on Twitter.

The things I have endured are different from (but so similar to) many of the stories I have heard from other women I know and millions more that I don’t. Many women have been through more, and many have been through less. The lucky ones never have and never will endure any sexual abuse, assault, or rape.

I hope it brings someone comfort to know that they are not alone, that there are so many survivors out there and things DO get better. I wish I was the only person in the world who had endured these hardships for the simple fact that I wish nobody else would ever have to live through these things.

I can’t speak for every survivor, but I can speak up for myself and I hope that others follow suit. I’m here to say that it’s okay to feel what you feel, whether it’s really intense or if you’re satisfied that you’ve worked through your trauma. Seek help if you feel that you need help. It’s also okay to cut people off that make you feel unsafe. It feels REALLY GOOD to cut ties with anyone who minimizes your experiences or perpetuates a friendship with someone who abused you despite knowing exactly what happened.

I’ve found that journaling and actually talking about things has helped me immensely. It’s up to you if you want to report things to the authorities — if you think you’re going to be put through more pain than it’s worth, you don’t have to. Just because an assault isn’t reported and documented by the police doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The other best thing I’ve found is surrounding myself with people who love and care about me and who believe me. There’s nothing better than having a network of people that I know are of solid character and can be trusted. Feeling safe is important.

So if you’re one of the many, many abuse or rape survivors in the world, remember —

You are not alone.

You will survive this.

Seeking professional help is NOT a sign of weakness and CAN help.

Take things one day at a time if needed.

Surround yourself with people who celebrate your strengths, not those who prey on your weaknesses.

THIS WAS NOT YOUR FAULT.

I believe you, and I believe in you.

You can seek counseling through many local survivors’ advocacy groups, by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673, or doing a quick Google search for free or low-cost mental health centers in your area.

You will be okay.

“And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining. Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.”

— Official Victim’s Statement, Brock Turner Rape Case