Kristen has been a volunteer with AVFTI for almost 2 and a half years. Currently residing in New York, she is a stellar member of the national volunteer committee. Before Kristen found her place in our organization, she unfortunately experienced something that would change her life forever. She has chosen to speak with us about one assault that she’s experienced and about returning to the place where it happened.
At the time, Kristen moved to Florida for an internship. She got involved with an older man, one that wasn’t considered stable. They were at a friend’s house, partying, when sleeping arrangements came into question. Her close friend and boyfriend began to argue about where Kristen would sleep. She said, “The two of them almost came to blows, in a sort of territorial testosterone match I was oblivious to. Years later he told me he “had a bad feeling” about that night and “knew something was off,” but was trying to respect my autonomy at the same time.”
Her boyfriend won the argument. Later that night, he began to kiss and touch her. She didn’t mind until he began to get on top of her. It was then she felt uncomfortable. “Stop, I don’t want to go further. STOP.” She repeated herself time and time again until he looked at her with an unreadable look.
“I realized what he was doing – deciding if he was going to stop or not. In that instant my life changed. I realized whether or not I was going to be raped depended on the decision this man made, this man who I had invited into my life. It was the first time I ever felt I was in physical danger and it was terrifying.”
Finally, he stopped. He was angry, he swore at her and called her names. Kristen cried and cried, realizing that he was naked and prepared for something she was not ready to give. “I should have left,” she said. “I didn’t. I didn’t want to upset him further; I felt guilty.”
She didn’t feel much in the minutes that followed, only numbness. A few days later she experienced a violent panic attack.
Three years later, Kristen returned to the house that caused her so much fear and anger. It was different than she expected. While everyone else hung out outside, she stole a quick moment in the bedroom to see what she felt.
“I stood in the bedroom doorway. I stared at the bed where I felt truly in danger for the first time in my life. And for a few minutes, I felt nothing. I was waiting for a panic attack, tears, anything. Neither of these occurred. Instead I felt, in the most basic sense, sadness. Sadness for the loss of who I was before him – sadness because that night, a version of me died. Afterwards I became more socially aware, but also militantly feminist. I was angry. I no longer trusted people with the good-natured approach I had before. I had had my control taken away from me, and escaped true violation only because the man on top of me had chosen to stop. That changed who I was on a fundamental level.”
Kristen’s lack of emotion caused a moment of realization. “I expected to feel unstable, and instead felt serene. My lack of response was empowering in its own way – it brought my memories of him back to a realistic level. He was no longer this looming monster in my mind. The experience changed me, yes, but it made me stronger. It didn’t define me.”
Now, she’s standing tall on that knowledge. She still struggles with validating her own emotions, despite validating other survivors on a daily basis. “The two biggest reasons I never share my story are 1. I feel I brought it on myself and 2. I was not, in the legal sense of the word, raped. I have heard heartbreaking and occasionally brutal stories of abuse from countless people, and I often feel how much I was affected by my experience isn’t warranted. I am trained to tell survivors that if it is a big deal to them, it is a big deal – full stop. However I struggle to extend the same understanding to myself. I know how backwards this is, but I can’t seem to get past it. So, all I ask is that readers be kind. I hope my responses help somebody out there.”
To be a volunteer like Kristen, go here.
To share your own story, go here.