Breaking the sexual assault silence

Last week wasn’t any ordinary week — it was Sexual Assault Awareness Week.

From Oct. 20-26, Sexy Queen’s U held a number of events on campus to raise awareness of sexual assault, including a resource fair in the Queen’s Centre, a mock sexual assault trial and one particularly important event: Project Unbreakable.

Project Unbreakable is a photography campaign started in 2011 by Grace Brown, a 19-year-old from Massachusetts. The goal of the project is to give a voice to sexual assault survivors. They’re given the chance to open up about their assault by being photographed with a sign explaining their assault, quoting their abuser or quoting someone else in response to their assault.

Sexy Queen’s U, an anti-violence group that creates awareness about campus sexual violence, spearheaded their own Project Unbreakable by asking sexual assault survivors on campus or in Kingston to have their photo taken. The photographs were then showcased in the Upper Ceilidh of the JDUC.

Being a member of Sexy Queen’s U allowed me to accept my experiences of sexual assault — Project Unbreakable was where I first decided to speak up. My role as a committee member for Sexy Queen’s U made me realize how prevalent sexual assault is in our society.

I wanted to share my story in hopes that other people who’ve been in or are currently in my situation will be able to recognize that this isn’t an acceptable way to be treated.

The social norms in our society made it extremely difficult for me to accept my situation as assault. I still find me telling myself that it wasn’t assault — that it was just “what boyfriends do.” Thankfully, I have a fantastic support group of friends that have helped me find solace and speak out for other people in abusive relationships.

The situation started off harmless. He was a very affectionate person and I wasn’t. He constantly wanted to touch and cuddle me, while I preferred a comfortable distance between us, especially in the company of others. It began with a “compromise”. I hid my dislike for PDA and would cuddle him in front of people.

It got worse. If we were cuddling and I tried to get up for a glass of water or to use the bathroom, he would hold me tighter and for longer.

It got to the point where I would fight against his arms to get out and he wouldn’t let go until he decided when. He had a solid 90 pounds on me which made struggling ineffective.

He also didn’t seem to notice or care for my obvious distress. But it was all okay. It was just a joke, it’s just what boyfriends do, right? It wasn’t that he purposely tried to put me into a vulnerable position, he just really liked me. Right?

This boyfriend didn’t initiate my problems with being touched — I have never been a hugger or a cuddler — but what started as a general dislike of physical contact, he turned into a fear. Sometimes he would follow me into the kitchen and I learned to not stay in one place for too long. If I stood still, he would take it as an opportunity to either rub me through my pants, which, besides being unwelcome, is extremely uncomfortable and very painful.

I would try to turn away from him or get out of his way but like I said, he was a big guy, and it wasn’t particularly easy for me to get out of his reach.

Depending on the pants I wore, he would take the liberty to put his hand down them and do as he pleased, even after I would tell him to stop and would try to push his hands away.

Getting angry never worked as it just ended with him getting pouty and asking, “Why are you so mad? I just love touching you.”

It was my fault, right? I was the one that had problems with affection, not him.

Eventually, I broke up with him. It took a long time for me to recognize that his behaviour was unacceptable and I can almost guarantee he still doesn’t know what he did was wrong, even though I showed genuine discomfort and anger, and repeatedly told him to stop.

There’s a stigma surrounding sexual assault that if it’s from significant other, it isn’t real. Sex is expected from you and is what you signed up for.

This is anything but true.

If you feel you’re in a similar situation or feel uncomfortable with anything in your relationship, talk to your partner, talk to your friends and ask for help. Resources are always available, such as Health, Counselling, and Disability Services and the Sexual Assault Centre Kingston.

Remember that silence hides violence — you should never be afraid to stand up for yourself.

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