The Anonymity of “That Girl”

In 2013, a friend of my friends, a boy a head taller than, 60 pounds heavier than, and one year older than me, forced himself into my life story, permanently.

I wasn’t at a college fraternity when I was sexually assaulted, I wasn’t abusing illegal substances, and I wasn’t walking alone by myself at night. I was at school, fully clothed, in a well-lit room, rehearsing for a musical number.

For weeks, this boy would grind himself against my ass, grabbing onto my hips. He would slide his hands up and down the sides of my body, from my breasts to the middle of my waist till his hands rested on my hips, always on my hips, with one arm wrapped around my entire body, preventing me from moving.

I didn’t even realize that I was being sexually assaulted. Yes, he was touching my body, but my clothes were on right?

One day, at the end of a number we were rehearsing, I was supposed to sit on his knee. Tentatively, I sat down, trying to touch as little of him as possible. He rubbed his greasy hands on my thighs, back to my fully clothed waist, down my stomach, headed towards my pubic area, and touched my clit.

My breath left my body and I furiously whispered to him to stop, him teasing me a bit before finally letting go. That was the last time he would ever touch me.

I informed my teacher about what had been happening. She promised to change my dance partner and to speak to him if I promised to not tell anyone what had happened.  The next day, the teacher brought us together. Crying, he claimed that he had no idea that what he did made me feel uncomfortable. He didn’t even think that he had touched me! As he left rehearsal, everyone around me was trying to figure out what had happened. Why would someone upset him so much?

I informed some of our mutual friends, who promised to leave him out of our friend group. This promise was rather short-lived. For years afterwards, I would just have to be okay with being ‘that girl’.

From then on, when his name was mentioned, all eyes turned to me. Many boys stopped being friendly towards me – they just didn’t want to be around a girl that’s so “hyper sensitive” about being touched.

This was even true amongst my friends who speak out for victims of sexual assault, who claim to be feminists and my friend. For them, my story wasn’t valid enough.

I mean who can really be traumatized by being touched by someone you know while you have your clothes on?

That was years ago and he’s such a funny guy. I know you said you’re uncomfortable around him but do you really expect me to choose between two friends? That’s immature.

Was it really sexual assault? It seems more like sexual harassment to me.

There are women out there who were raped, abused by family members, in relationships with abusive partners – your situation was barely even a thing, so stop being awkward around guys, get a boyfriend and you’ll realize that being touched is actually fun.

I’m hoping that these reactions sound as ridiculous to read as they are for me to type. But this is what people have said, and this is what people still believe about me. These are people that I know well, genuinely good people who I never thought would say those things. Unfortunately, rather than acknowledging that I experienced trauma and discomfort, they attempted to diminish my value as a person.

And that is why, at Gettysburg, I chose to stay anonymous, and that is why I support anyone who needs to be anonymous in these sorts of cases. For me, when I came out to say that I was sexually assaulted, I wasn’t ‘me’ anymore, I was ‘that girl who was sexually assaulted’ or ‘that girl that might be a bit of a liar’.

Despite sexual assault not being part of my Gettysburg experience, it is still a part of my identity and my life story. At Gettysburg, I chose to not publicly share my story and have experienced much fairer treatment. As a result, I no longer receive awkward side glances and inappropriately explicit questions when someone mentions sexual assault. I’m finally being treated and judged for who I am, and not for what happened to me. It’s an incredibly freeing feeling.

For those who report or discuss sexual assault at Gettysburg College, I know the social pressure, exclusion and fear of retaliation is intense as well. Even when individuals speak out about sexual assault anonymously, they receive pushback, are questioned and doubted.

Yet, I know that those writers and survivors aren’t “cowards” or “hiding behind” their anonymity.  They aren’t making up “false claims” or trying to “ruin lives.” They are trying to retain dignity when so much has already been taken from them. They are trying to process and heal, trying to fight for an end to sexual violence without losing even more.

Sexual assault victims can be anonymous or identified. They can choose to report or not. But at the end of the day, we are all learning to heal, and have a right to do so without the ridicule of others.