You eagerly stand in a dimly lit studio in front of a gray backdrop. You feel excitement because you finally have the chance to be back in front of the camera and pursue a unique hobby. You have finally become more confident in your appearance. This is the next step in furthering your career goals. Suddenly, a tall dark skinned man with glasses, long salt and pepper dreadlocks, a white tank top, and cargo shorts walks into the studio with his camera. He asks if you are ready to continue the photoshoot. You skeptically tell him that you are ready. In your mind, however, you feel uneasy. This tall dark-skinned man has been a little handsy with you for the past hour, but you dismiss this uncomfortable feeling. In your mind, he is just an eclectic artist. In your mind, you wonder why there is no makeup artist in the studio as per usual, but nevertheless, you remain silent. The tall, dark-skinned man interrupts your thoughts and tells you to turn around and face the backdrop. You hesitate, but you follow his instructions anyway. Suddenly, the tall dark skinned man pushes you into the corner and blindfolds you. He takes a rope and ties it around your forearms, pinning them behind your back. You don’t quite know what is happening. He, then turns you around and brings your hands towards the front of your body. He places an ice cold set of handcuffs around your wrists. You shakily ask what he is doing but he doesn’t respond. You hear the camera begin to take pictures. In an internal panic, you still feel unsettled and unsure of what to do.
After a few moments, the man walks over to you and yanks your halter dress down to your waist. He smells like a combination of sweat of tobacco. The top of your dress becomes untied. Your breasts are exposed. You struggle to pull your dress back up. The man walks back over and pulls your dress back down, as the camera snaps once more. Because of the blindfolds, you remain unable to see exactly what is going on. Your half naked body shivers from the air conditioner. The man comes closer, and tells you he knows what how to get what he wants from you. He begins to insert his fingers into your vagina. You immediately close your legs, but you are unable to stop him because of the restraints. He then places his mouth on your breasts. You anxiously ask him what he is doing and why. He refuses to remove the rope that holds your forearms behind your back. Slowly, he works his way up to your mouth, and kisses your lips. His breath reeks of cigars. You tell him to stop, but he continues. He bites your ears. You ask him if he does this to all of his models, and he replies, “I’m doing it to you.” The man tells you that he wants you to feel all that he does to you, so that you can portray this feeling in your pictures. You beg him to remove the restraints. Finally, he removes the blindfolds. He tells you that no one will know what really happened behind the camera in order to get these “beautiful” pictures. You wonder if this is art, or if you have just been sexually assaulted. Do you take your chances and try to escape, or do you stay in hopes that it will all end very soon? These were all of the thoughts running through my mind.
As a natural skeptic, I wondered how I could have ended up in a predicament like this one. When professing my extreme discomfort to this photographer, he insisted that I was simply uncomfortable with my body, and that I was taking things too personally… and I believed it. Deep down, I knew what had just happened to me was completely wrong, but my mind was in a panicked state. My mind was in such an impaired state that I ran from his studio, leaving my bra behind.
I felt like a harrowed Cinderella, in that, It was not until a few days later, that my best friend at the time told me she saw a Facebook message from the photographer, stating that he had my bra still in his possession.
In the end, I chose to remain in his studio, in hopes that I would make it home in one piece, both mentally and physically. While I escaped without any physical harm, I was emotionally scarred.
I was unable to differentiate between what actually occurred in that present moment, versus what the photographer alleged. As an already anxious, depressed, and mentally debilitated individual, it was easy for this man to manipulate my current mental state.
Upon returning home that evening, my roommate cried at the graphic description that I had just created in her mind. She too was unsure of how to interpret this horrific event. We were both so anxious and emotionally confused, that she convinced me to go and seek help. The next day, I went to the emergency room, still unconvinced that I had been sexually assaulted. When I began reciting the story to the triage nurse, however, she immediately took action. By law, the hospital employees are required to call the police. I wondered what I had just gotten myself into. With every single day that passes, I still wonder. At that point, I had spent a week in a psychiatric hospital struggling to make sense of what had happened to me, while also attempting to sort through the rest of my complicated life circumstances. While everyone around me was adamant that I had been sexually assaulted, I was still unsure. I made excuse after excuse; insisting that it was just art. I even considered the notion that maybe this photographer was just a typical eccentric artist who was simply trying to evoke genuine emotion for my photographs.
Once discharged from the psychiatric hospital, I spent the rest of my summer in an intensive outpatient program. Four days a week, for two hours a day, I met with a group of 4-6 individuals who were in similar situations as me.
While everyone told me nobody needs to know what really happened to me, I decided that I wanted people to know. I went through a phase where I was embarrassed and ashamed. I felt alienated and peculiar. In the long run, however, this experience forced me to rebuild myself starting from my most basic foundation.
So many of my friends, and even strangers, came to me and told me about their anxiety, depression, and even some of their sexual assault stories. It is surprising to me how prevalent sexualt assault, depression, and anxiety are within my friend group. Yet, no one discusses these issues because mental health, rape, and assault are considered taboo. It was not until a catastrophic event like this one took place, that my friends began to speak up about the personal experiences they went through, along with the rest of the women in this world.
Experiences like these come down to power and control. If you permit the pain and the negativity to take control of your mind and your body, you will never see your way through. The strength and understanding that you gain from taking charge of your thoughts and your reactions, will override these negative experiences each and every time.
This entire ordeal has pushed me to work on myself, and cut negative people and harmful behaviors out of my life, while also creating a greater awareness of myself and of those around me.
While I was incredibly disappointed and nervous about making drastic life-altering changes, like deferring my enrollment in law school, for example, I am happy that I finally have a chance to rest, relax, and decide what I want for myself. I have spent years molding myself into everything that everyone else wanted from me, and I have put everyone else before myself. I have also seen who was really there for me in my time of need, and who definitely was not. I felt bad for putting myself first. I then realized how ridiculous that sounds. I learned that if I do not want to respond to text messages, then that is okay. If I cannot make an event, or drive my friends around, then that is okay, too. Society makes you feel like having feelings is abnormal, and that showing those feelings is a sign of weakness. Social media has also perpetuated the idea that everyone is happy and living life with no cares in the world. In actuality, everyone is dealing with their own personal struggles.
It pains me to know that there are so many women in this world who suffer in silence out of fear of being judged or being perceived as a liar. In the words of my therapist, FUCK what other people think.
I would like to say that I am surprised so many women keep silent when it comes to sexual assault and rape; but, I am not. It is incredibly bothersome that very few people believe or defend its’ survivors. Society looks down upon these individuals, and labels them as “victims” who are either after money, attention, or both. My question is this: why would anyone want to falsify such graphic and horrific incidents? I do not know one person who would willingly spread such sensitive information about themselves, especially if that information was untrue. In reality, if the hospital employees and the Women Against Rape advocate had not urged me to come forward, I probably never would have done so…or maybe not for a very long time after the fact; much like many of the women who have recently come forward. Coming forward is just as hard as keep silent, if not more.
Society shames women for staying quiet, and in the same breath, they shame us for coming forward. Once we as women come forward, the word “victim” is carelessly thrown in our faces. This word drives me insane. Society expects us as “victims” to sit at home and never leave the house ever again. For some reason, we are no longer allowed to do the things we once enjoyed because we are somehow more susceptible to being “victimized” once again. God forbid we wear a dress that reveals our legs, or we show our shoulders or chest ever again…
After the assault took place, people looked at me like I was crazy when I went back to working, vacationing, and hanging with friends over the weekend. I was told that I was a “victim” and that I should be staying home and keeping safe in a closed environment. If I were a man, however, I would be praised for resuming my daily activities. Nevertheless, several others encouraged me to be brave, and resume the activities that once brought me happiness. Since the sexual assault, I enjoy spending time with friends and partaking in my regular activities more than ever before.
It bothers me that social media decides which issues are relevant and important. Sexual assault has been a very real concern for many years in several circles across all professions. The fact of the matter is that it will unfortunately continue to be a point of contention for years to come. It is my hope that matters of sexual assault do not dissipate once social media decides that it is no longer a hot topic. Now that men (and some women) are publicly being held accountable for their actions, I would like to see a societal shift in the way we interact with one another, both in the workplace and in our homes.