I’m privileged. I was born to loving parents who supported me unconditionally. I wanted for nothing as child, I received an excellent education, and physical safety was a given.
I guess that’s why it was all the more shocking when I was sexually assaulted.
People tell women to “be careful”. Don’t trust strange men. Protect yourself. But when you’ve never lost control of a situation, never found yourself in over your head…it’s easy to think you’re invincible. And I did. I could handle anything. I could handle him. Sure, he was older, but hey! I was 20 years old and what I said, went. It never crossed my mind that if I said no someone would ignore it. It certainly never occurred to me that someone would physically force me into anything.
But they can, and he did.
It was my fault. According to the first person I tried to tell, it was my fault. According to my boyfriend at the time, it was my fault. According to my parents (who, in their defense, did not know the whole story), it was my fault. I put myself in this situation, I had poor judgment, I was impulsive, what did I expect, anyway? After hearing enough iterations of this, I believed it too.
I became angry, and then militant. My trusting nature went out the door. Whereas before I felt no need for feminism, now I sunk my teeth into it as deeply as they’d go. I had my first panic attack a year afterwards. I didn’t know what was happening; I thought it was a heart attack. I was prescribed Atavan. It helped the anxiety, but not the nightmares (those still creep back every so often). A friend of mine noticed my newfound attitude and told me about a group his friend started. They were called A Voice for the Innocent, and he thought I might be interested in their work – would I check it out? Sure, I guess.
I started off slowly, meeting the group at their annual holiday party. I didn’t talk much, but I liked their casual vibe and the fact that the board members had more tattoos than I did.
I started volunteering. I got to know Pinky and Jamie. I talked to other survivors about this topic for the first time. I still didn’t say much, but I started contributing design work for promotional materials and becoming active on our social media.
I moved to New York. I stayed involved, and as a lifelong alternative music fan, I knew all about Warped Tour’s issues with sexual assault. When the tour’s founder, Kevin Lyman, took to Twitter to inquire how he should address the issue, I responded, pointing him to AVFTI – and he listened. That summer, I worked three dates of the tour representing AVFTI. I stood face-to-face with young fans, many of whom had been assaulted, and they told me their stories. They trusted me; they needed us.
Those three days changed my life. I was waitressing at the time, and had to drop $350 on a rental car to get there – and I barely batted an eye. I missed two “huge” parties in the city – and I didn’t care. I was exhausted and exhilarated. I realized how important this was to me, how passing on the support I’d be given made me feel like the realest version of myself.
Almost a year later I told my story for the first time via a blog post on the AVFTI website. The telling itself was cathartic, but the response fundamentally changed me; the AVFTI community backed me without question and people I hadn’t spoken to in years offered their support. For the first time, someone told me what I’d needed to hear from day one: “It wasn’t your fault”. After three years of volunteering I finally understood the raw power of what we provide – a safe place to tell your story, to be heard and understood. There’s nothing else like it.
After publishing my article my involvement skyrocketed. I completed the formal training for AVFTI including statistical information and sensitivity training. I started organizing and running benefit concerts, networking with musicians and artists in the NYC area to expand our reach and increase funding. I began responding to stories on the website, and to this date, I have not missed a single one. I worked Warped Tour again last summer, this time alongside Jamie Sivrais. I had the opportunity to observe him interact with fans and survivors, which was truly a gift. I participated in a video with online publication Bustle (alongside several other brave women), discussing my sexual assault and why I didn’t report it. As of this writing that video is still circulating. Talking about what happened to me never became easier, but I found the more I shared the more I was helping others. People sought me out for support – and thanks to AVFTI, I was capable of giving it.
After another year of working in NYC, New Jersey, and Long Island, the board asked me if I’d be interested in a position. By now you probably know my answer was a resounding, “YES, ABSOLUTELY, I CAN START YESTERDAY”. This organization has become my family. This cause has become my calling. All I can say is, thank you for the honor. I won’t let you down.