[Trigger Warning: This letter contains graphic descriptions some readers might find personally disturbing. Discretion is advised.]
It’s your senior year of college and you are confused. I apologize that I cannot assure you any relief in the coming months or years but I know how you feel. You feel trapped. You feel scared. But most importantly, after a lifetime of defiance, you are actually feeling the pressures of an unjust society and “the real world” in your life. You may not know this but you soon become a statistic albeit not one that may occur to you right now. My dear, you will be sexually harassed.
It won’t be at work, it won’t be at school. It is somewhere you almost always lets your guard down, in favor of relaxation. It will be on the bus, at your bus stop. And it won’t be someone you suspect or can easily avoid, like a leering business man or that guy with the ponytail that makes an effort to sit next to you whenever he sees you. It will be the bus driver. Not just any bus driver, the “nice” one who sits and talks with you about poetry and politics. Like most predatory men, he hid behind a façade of kindness to gain your trust before trying to take advantage. To you, his compliments mean nothing but unbeknownst to you, he takes your uncomfortable polite smile as sexual interest, not as the manners you are accustomed to showing people of older age.
The incident will be Labor Day weekend. You will be wearing a miniskirt, perfectly suited for the hot weather that accompanies the final days of Atlanta summer. He will feign interest and try to make conversation while you wait for your mom to pick you up. He will pretend he is being watched or listened to and push you further away from the crowd. In all the peculiarity, you will follow but not by choice but because he is pushing you. He is bigger and stronger, 6 feet tall by estimate. You are 5 feet 2. You will be perplexed. And once everyone is out of sight and earshot, that is when the ordeal will begin.
The next part is the hardest part to write, little me, because the violation that ensued will never quite feel like it wasn’t violent. When you think of it, you will close your eyes, trying to erase the feelings of his hands on your body. You will pause when you talk about it, trying to recenter yourself and reacquaint yourself with reality. You will need a moment, deep breaths just as I needed when I wrote this and later when I typed it. It will stay with you, like a stain or bruise. You will remind yourself that now is the easy part. It happened but it is over. But not for you, not yet.
He will suddenly position himself behind you. Kiss his toothless mouth to your head and cheek. Then, he will press his penis into your back, a move you will gag over later. His hands, like a viper, will move under your blouse and try to move under your skirt. His hands will squeeze as they reach your breast.
During the first few seconds of the ordeal, you will freeze. Olivia Benson of Law & Order SVU says this is normal. You will feel like you never freeze, especially during critical moments like this. The truth is, though, you did because you are blaming yourself. In your mind, you should have said you have a boyfriend. You should have questioned him more. You shouldn’t have been so polite. You should have screamed. You should scream now.
Instead, you fight. You try to push his hands off of you, you attempt to move away from him. You gear your elbow back to defend yourself. But he is stronger than you. You will blame yourself more and more. Do not worry, it will end almost as soon as it started but not before another one of his disgusting puckers hit your head. You silently continue to blame yourself even after it is all over. Let me assure you, just as Olivia Benson assures the victims, this was not your fault. No matter what you may have done, you did what you could. You did what you felt necessary to survive. And you did. You survived.
In my humble opinion, what saves this entire ordeal is what you did next. Instead of carrying it in shame, you tell. You share the story on Twitter, on your Snapchat, much to the dismay of your then kinda-sorta beau. You call your friends. You text them. You tear the veil of silence so many end up carrying. That is your saving grace. Some semblance of self reinforced your decision making here. I want to thank you for this. Your voice, our voice almost completely shed the burden of blame. It saved me. It saved us.
In the coming months after the attack, you will not call what happened to you ‘harassment’. In your eyes, it was nothing short of assault. It wasn’t an inappropriate stare or a knee touch with a lewd suggestion. It was an intentional, sexually motivated, non-consensual physical attack to your person that left you feeling violated and vulnerable in the worst way. You were preyed upon, you were targeted. Some people might attempt to ‘correct’ you on this but do not let this deter you. This experience didn’t happen to them– it happened to you. You have a right to call it as you see it.
The one criticism we will carry is the choice not to report it. You definitely know he deserved reprimand. But out of a strange sense of racial obligation and with your own guilt and victim blaming bias, you hesitate. You think, who will believe you? You were wearing a mini skirt. You didn’t stop him from moving you away from the crowd. You didn’t scream. Who will believe you? You settle on not reporting it but it leaves an odd taste in your mouth. After all, you can still feel his hands on you. Even now. It is the decision I struggle to grapple with but I recognize that you had a lot to deal with. You didn’t need the added stress of a report, a follow up investigation. An emotionally abusive ex, a cheating boyfriend, launching a media platform plus Dr. Barthlow’s & Dr. Welch’s classes and volunteering. You had a lot on your plate. I understand your choice to not pursue the issue. But it will still keep you up at night. Especially since your brother’s friend admits she only narrowly escaped his claws. You will wonder how many other girls he has and/or will hurt. If he continues to use the ruse of an innocuous bus driver. If you could have saved any other girls from your pain. Understand this: this choice is not an easy one for anyone. It is alright not to report it. It is alright.
I know you are wondering why I am writing this. To tell you the truth, I struggled with this decision. No, you don’t owe your story to anyone for whatever reason. No, you don’t have to justify anything to anyone. That is not what this is. This is… catharsis. This is a release. This is speaking truth to power. This is your hammer swinging against a wall of bullshit patriarchy, out there in the real world and even inside you. This is a declaration, a line in the sand. But even this is secondary to the real reason: this is a message of unknown strength to who you are and who you will be.
Yes, right now, you are hurt. You are vulnerable and scared. Rightfully so. But at the end of the day, you are resilient and powerful beyond your wildest dreams. Know this. There isn’t a man who can stop you from anything. His hands will haunt you but it is over. You are past it. You have survived. You will always survive. Above all else, remember that.
With the utmost love and respect,