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Fear and Being Female: Part Three

Written By: Hanna Wenter

TW: Domestic violence

The officer told me, "This isn't your fault" and it was the first time that concept had entered my mind. This was before campus sexual assault was acknowledged in a real way, before education on consent became mainstream, before I learned much about domestic violence and abuse, and long before the #MeToo movement.

I didn’t consider myself a victim of a violent man but instead had been tearing myself down even further for either not being kind enough to him to avoid this or not having good enough judgment to avoid him in the first place or not being appealing enough to attract the right kind of boy or simply not being . . . enough. Just enough in general, I guess.

Hearing “This isn’t your fault” was more than hearing four helpful words. It was a lifeline that pulled me from the depths I hadn’t yet realized I had fallen. Those words would come back to me and help me through the darkest nights, the terror when I would hear a sound outside of my first apartment, the times when I would forget that I did not deserve this. I wish I could thank that officer, hug him and tell him what an impact his kindness had on me, more than he could ever know. It’s funny how sometimes the smallest gestures end up being someone’s buoy on which they ride the waves.

I never struggled to find friends, and I met several in those first days on campus. A group, of sorts, formed with him as a central figure. He tapered his charm—or showed his true self, or lost his mind, or whatever one might call it—pretty quickly with me, but seemed to hold out longer with everyone else.

I don’t think my peers realized the severity of the situation at the time because even with all he had done, they still welcomed him. It felt like a betrayal. They met my expectation that they would no longer associate the person who threatened my life with an attitude of nonchalance as if I was some kind of drama queen.

In retrospect, this clearly showed these people weren’t so much my friends as they were people to pass the time with but, again, my younger self didn’t have that kind of perspective. So, I just hid. I hid in my dorm room, I hid in the library, I hid amongst smoky rooms and loud music and booze. I hid with other boys who only needed to treat me with mediocrity to seem like chivalrous gentlemen in comparison.

I didn't tell my parents about it for a few years. Everything back home was a mess and I didn't want to contribute to the sadness and upset or cause even more tears. I didn’t share it with my sister because it would still be a handful of years before we found our friendship. Instead, I held strong to my role as a peacekeeper in my family and kept the whole thing to myself. Though I did have a few supportive friends around me, the feelings of isolation and loneliness I felt at that time were intense. And I felt swallowed up by the humiliation; everywhere I went whispers of, "That's that girl" echoed around me, my peers staring openly as I was escorted to class by campus police following that final night.


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