When I was 15, I was assaulted by a classmate. When I got home, I sat in the bath for hours. I scrubbed and scrubbed my body, but I still felt dirty.
That incident changed my life. I became an activist on campus. I wanted to start a conversation about catcalling, harassment and assault.
To my surprise, so many girls I’ve spoken with have gone through similar experiences.
The women in my life have been supportive. They’ve made sure I was okay after my assault. And they defend me when we’re around sexist comments.
But I’ve never felt like the men in my life were listening.
Once I was walking with a group of guy friends. A man saw us and beelined towards me. He was staring at me, licking his lips, and naming my body parts that he liked.
But when I tried to hide behind my tall guy friends, they just watched as the man circled me. Finally, I begged him, “Can you please leave me alone?”
I still wonder why those guys didn’t defend me. Maybe they didn’t realize how afraid I was, or maybe they just didn’t know what to do.
It’s not just my guy friends. Not knowing how to support survivors is something that the whole country is struggling with.
We have a collective responsibility to end assault and harassment. It’s not about blaming men for what women go through, because survivors and perpetrators can be any gender. It’s about having candid conversations so we can make a change.
Last year, I gave a speech at school about my experiences with assault and harassment. Afterwards, a few guys said to me, “Now I know how to be better.” For me, hearing that was a step in the right direction.
I’m about to start college, and I’ve heard the statistics. Nearly one in four women is sexually assaulted in college. I can’t fix that overnight. But I can show the men in my life how to be good allies — so that the boys I call my friends will stand up for me when I need them the most.
This story was originally published on October 3, 2019.