Picture this: You’re taking your dog out for a walk in the middle of a sleepless night. You’re enjoying the weather ... not quite fall weather but definitely not summer anymore either. A late September evening and a break from reality, a chance to escape into the cocoon of the star-laden sky. Midterms on the horizon seem to drift further away. Just you, your dog, and the night sky. Bliss.
Until suddenly, you hear your dog start growling uncontrollably at what seems to be just the night. Turns out to be much more than just that when big men appeared from a neighbor’s backyard. Two of them. One of you.
They’re huge. Fear develops rapidly in your throat, constricting as you make an inaudible plea for help. They move closer to you and start shouting, your dog now violently barking, the men undeterred. Before you know it, they have you surrounded and there is not enough hate in the heart of your 12 pound Pomeranian to do more than nibble at the men as they take turn sexually assaulting you with a rusty bottle from the ground. They whisper hateful things to you, despite your begs, pleas, sobs for them to stop. You manage to squeak out an offer of money so they’d leave and they scoff at it. You threaten them and they laugh. You nearly surrender in fear and hopelessness until an opportune snap of your dog’s canines on one of the man’s ankles turns the situation upside down – this time, in your favor.
This is it. This is your chance to make it out and you might not get another. You run until you can’t run anymore, dog in tow, and men right behind. You make it to your driveway when they grab the back of your sweatshirt. Anxiety trickles all over your body. You think it’s over – your life, that is. But you break loose and keep jetting as they hurl vulgar, descriptive, humiliating threats to you. When the police arrive, they call you one of the lucky ones. You look up at them in exasperation.
I don’t have to have a big imagination to follow that story. That story is mine.
I had turned 21 years old just 10 days prior to when I was assaulted outside of my home at 4 a.m. I remember throwing up from the tears as I stumbled into the door with my terrified dog in my arms, barely making it up the stairs to my room to wake my roommates and tell them what had happened to me.
Some of you may be thinking in your 18th century voice, “tsk, tsk, a girl shouldn’t be out so late at night.” To which I ask that you be a better person and nothing else. My fingers dialed 911, while my head took turns going from completely numb to inconsolable, and within minutes, four police cars showed up outside of my home and nine or ten kind officers greeted me at my door. I had heard horror stories from fellow survivors (I’m a survivor?) about victim-blaming perpetuated by police officers and, in some cases, just pure indifference. Needless to say, I was apprehensive in dealing with them. But I was wrong to judge so quickly. I received out-of-the-ordinary care from Fairfax City Police in Fairfax, Va., who quickly set out dogs in search of a scent and a detective to help track the guys down. Despite the hugs and assuredness that the criminals would be locked up, we never did find them.
Unable to sleep for days on end, barricading myself into my room, desperate for a feeling of security, and my grades slipping faster than a soap bar in a bath tub, I reluctantly visited my University’s Sexual Assault Services, a program that receives grant money through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). There, I was welcomed with information, big smiles, counseling (both one-on-one and group), and a resounding feeling that I am not in this alone. That feeling, in and of itself, saved my life. I was prescribed with every medication that you can think of to help counteract the fear, anxiety that I was burdened with and the sexual assault services programs, as a result of VAWA, paid for my costs. As a lower-middle class college student, I didn’t have a dime to spare. Without the free services that I was afforded, I could not have received the help that every person who falls victim to sexual violence requires and deserves. I cannot say with certainty that I would be standing as tall as I am today without such services. The thought of being that vulnerable in the most traumatic experience of my life gives me goose bumps for days.
The Violence Against Women Act or VAWA was penned in 1992 by then-Senator Joe Biden to combat violent attacks on women. Since its initiation, VAWA has directed millions upon millions of dollars in funding for the prosecution of violent and sex crimes against women, provided money towards the establishment of sexual assault prevention and treatment programs on college campuses, established the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice, covered examinations and other sexual assault related fees, as well as many other important tasks. The law has been re-authorized twice since its inception – 2000 and 2004 on a largely bipartisan basis; however, the GOP-controlled House failed to reauthorize the bill in 2012 and introduced a watered down version of the law that women’s groups have spoken out against because of the exclusion that it practices; however, the newest VAWA, that remains to be re-authorized, provides protection for LGBT couples, indigenous women on reservations, and for undocumented immigrants seeking to leave a dangerous situation. The GOP has used the updates to the bill as a bargaining point not to pass the new Violence Against Women Act. GOP representatives in the House should honestly be ashamed.
Reauthorize VAWA. Do it for 1 in 4 college-aged women, such as myself, who will be in some way sexually abused before graduating college. Do it for indigenous women living on reservations who are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of violence than all other groups and, who have little in the way of justice. Do it for your sister, your wife, your friend, your aunt, your grandmother. It doesn’t matter why you do it; just as long as it is done. It is unconscionable and morally reprehensible to leave the most vulnerable people in our great nation, survivors of sexual, domestic, or other abuse, to fend for themselves. It is wrong to shrug your shoulders in the faces of young women who have to bear the scars of sexual assault for the entire lives. Re-authorize VAWA because women are people too.
If you or someone that you know is a victim and needs help, I implore you to reach out to someone or to call the HOPE line at 1 (800) 656-HOPE. You’re not alone.