This Is Why We Need To Change How We Talk About Sexual Assault

Editor's note: The writer's name has been changed at her request to protect her identity, given the nature of her role in politics. The views expressed here are her own.

I was 20 the first time I was grabbed by a stranger.

A little tipsy off of overpriced beer, I was waiting for my then-boyfriend in the parking lot outside a Washington Nationals game. A twentysomething drunk man ran up to me and stuck his face in my chest, "motor-boating" me in front of my friends and dozens of fellow baseball game-goers. I yelled and chased after him. When I caught up, I kicked him. He threatened to sue me. I stood there dazed, not knowing what to do next, and then turned to walk away.

I laughed, but my laughter buried the truth: I had never felt so violated and angry.

I wanted to call the police, but I had doubts about what good that could do. I knew he had invaded my private space, but was what he did even illegal? Who would take me seriously?

I settled on telling my boyfriend, who joined me in laughing it off. At the time, we didn't know any better. He didn’t know what that felt like. He genuinely thought it was funny.

But, seven years later, I still vividly remember that moment. I remember my anger, embarrassment, and the feeling of my body being violated.

At 27, I now have years' worth of memories telling men, “Don’t touch me.” I’ve been told that being grabbed at a bar is “normal.” That being hollered at while walking down the street is “normal.” I know that being kissed by someone you didn’t invite to kiss you isn't “normal.”

Our culture teaches women to accept a modicum of harassment and assault. We're told that confronting men directly will anger them. Better to let them down easy or try to escape the situation.

We must reject sexual harassment and assault in all of its forms — it’s not 'locker-room' banter, and it’s not 'boy talk.'

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But why is grabbing someone — on their face, their breasts, or their “pussy,” as Donald Trump so chivalrously stated — accepted as something other than sexual assault? Why, after every grab of my butt, breast, waist, do I feel that it’s a gross annoyance but, “Hey, it’s not rape”?

Since the Access Hollywood video of Trump was released earlier this month, I’ve done something uncommon for me: stayed silent. I was on vacation, purposely to get away from the craziness of the election and to make some time for self-reflection. And honestly, it was just too much to process immediately.

But now I am ready.

The last two weeks have rocked me. I’m disgusted, I’m sad, I’m angry. I’m also scared for women, millennial women, in our country.

Trump’s comments about women, about their bodies and his pattern of using his celebrity to take advantage of them rang clear. Not only is that exactly how he views women, it’s how he treats women. It’s also exactly what sexual assault — non-penetrative assault — is and how that culture is reinforced.

His family, his supporters, and members of his party who stand by him despite his comments advocating assault validate his actions. And they promote a culture that views grabbing women without their consent as status quo. How, in 2016, do we have a candidate for president who brags about sexual assault? How are there people across the country who still stand up for that candidate and defend his behavior?

Maybe these men and women who support Trump just don’t know. They don’t know what it’s like to have your body viewed as an opportunity, to be grabbed and told it’s a compliment. Maybe the women in their lives haven't told them their experiences with sexual assault, how harrowing and scarring these interactions can be. But I guarantee those women are there.

At 27, I now have years' worth of memories telling men, 'Don’t touch me.' I’ve been told that being grabbed at a bar is 'normal.'

The last two weeks have rocked me. I’m disgusted, I’m sad, I’m angry. I’m also scared for women, especially millennial women, in our country.

It’s unlikely that Trump will overcome the nearly insurmountable odds to become president after his amateur campaign promoting xenophobia, racism, misogyny, and distrust in our democracy. But it is likely that his comments justified, perhaps validated, the actions of men across the country who, like Trump, feel ownership of women’s bodies.

We must reject sexual harassment and assault in all of its forms — it’s not “locker-room” banter, and it’s not “boy talk.” It’s rape culture. It’s violent language that is encouraged and allowed because it’s masculine and sexualized.

The truth is, these experiences aren’t unique to me — in fact, many women you know probably have stories just like mine. I remember specific instances when I was touched, grabbed, or harassed. I don’t consider myself a woman who was sexually assaulted (though many women in my shoes might, and that’s completely valid), but I know what it feels like to be looked at as an opportunity.

And I promise you, that look is scary and it doesn't belong in our country’s future.

If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
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