The gate on our porch was open when I woke up this morning. This seemingly innocuous change stopped me in my tracks and made my heart pound in my ears. My partner is away on business, I had been alone in our house for two days. I had noted the heavy iron gate was closed and latched yesterday when a delivery person left, and no one had been here since.
Except someone had.
During the night, or maybe even while I was sitting in our living room oblivious to what was on the other side of our thin—I’m sure easily broken into—sliding glass doors. Had I almost become a statistic? Or was he just testing the waters, would he come back tonight to add me to the 20% of American women who have been sexually assaulted?
I know some of you are rolling your eyes, thinking ‘it can’t possibly be that high.’ It is. In fact, that percentage is probably higher. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center states 63% of rapes go unreported to police. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network puts that number at 75%.
I didn’t even have to look up that stat, by the way. One in five. It is a number that has haunted me, been my greatest fear since college. Almost every woman I know has a story. Sometimes it feels so common I don’t know how I got to be one of the lucky ones. What I didn’t realize, is that according to RAINN, that means someone in America is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. EVERY OTHER MINUTE someone is being violated. Overwhelmingly women. Overwhelmingly by men.
Being afraid of an opened gate is something internet trolls would be all over– they’d call me crazy, hysterical, or any of the other dozens of words commonly used to discredit women’s experiences. But what those people choose not to understand is that fear is rooted in a lifetime of walking to my car with my keys between my knuckles, “9-1-1” dialed and my thumb hovering over the “call” button; of making sure at least three people know where I am and when I’ll be home before going on a date; of “accidental,” unwanted touches and disgusting propositions. Of facts: one in five. And of course the knowledge that if God forbid something did happen, not only would life never be the same, odds are the perpetrator won’t be caught (or even pursued), and even if he was, would go unpunished.
All these experiences, and I’m one of the lucky ones. I have to acknowledge I possess an incredible amount of privilege: I’m straight, cis, white, able-bodied, educated and come from a loving, supportive family. Women of color, trans women, disabled women and homeless women experience assault at an appallingly higher rate.
I have been in love with and felt true, unconditional love from good men in my life time. But I have also felt fear. And I have also known men who would do—may have already done—unspeakable things given the opportunity. I have had men look me in the eye and tell me that rape “isn’t that big of deal”—one even went so far as to tell me he’d prefer his daughter be raped than endure another type of violence.
Our society is run by these men, and we have let them get away with it. They still get to finish college, run companies, sit on the Supreme Court, be president. They think it’s not a big deal because it’s not a big deal to them. They have already forgotten something that will haunt their victim for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, I’m just trying to catch my breath after discovering an open gate.