I recently had the pleasure of being part of an event with Equilibrium Booking that benefited an organization called VIBS, or Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk. Local bands, vendors, and artists such as myself came together in order to provide an environment that was not only fun, but safe and free of judgment. We were able to raise money, have raffles, network, and enjoy each other’s company and express ourselves without barriers. Each vendor table – each musician – was their own entity; each person a color that, when put together, created an incredible, bright piece of art on an otherwise very rainy January evening.
It was serendipitous that we held our event on the same day as the annual Women’s March; I even had a friend who attended the march in New York City come to our “As We Are” show. Both floors of the venue were beaming with talent and the food truck outside encouraged many of us to brave the freezing rain for snacks in between sets. I was fixated on the stage as powerful front-women threw their bodies and voices around without any reservations, each one in her own bubble of expression, each one at the helm of her own existence. I watched artists paint and read astrology and laugh without a care in the world. All the mingling and association was liberating in a world where this type of environment is generally approached with caution.
The bittersweet aspect to our As We Are campaign is that it was designed to create awareness and provide a healthy environment for victims and survivors of sexual assault and abuse, as well as domestic violence. It is a hard truth that in our world, men and women are ruthlessly subjected to both mental and physical tortures by people that they – more often than not – trust. They are made to be strangers within their own bodies, they are twisted by the manipulations of a less-than human who takes pleasure in and gains their power from holding innocent people under thumb.
Due to the lightheartedness of the event, I did not speak to the crowd, understandably eager to hear the next band, to dance, and to have fun. When I brought the idea of this event to Jackie and Guistina of EQ, though, all I had in mind was the idea of helping others feel less alone, after being subjected to sexual assault myself and feeling like I didn’t know who I was for quite some time.
My first off-campus freshman party ended in me fighting a man off of me on a cold February night while he tried to keep me pinned to the hood of a car and rip my sweatshirt over my head to obstruct my vision. Yes, I willingly kissed him. Why? Because I was a college freshman. Yes, I did tell him that I didn’t want to have sex with him. Yes, I did tell him I wouldn’t get into a car with him. Yes, I was frozen inside of my own skin trying to rationalize why this man I didn’t know was treating my body with the same comfort and acquaintance as I had with myself. I wondered why he thought his hand belonged in my pants without thinking he needed to ask my permission. I wondered why I couldn’t move.
My survival of sexual assault happened when I snapped. When he tried to pull my sweatshirt over my head and – I swear – the anger of my dead grandmothers, my rugby team, my ten-plus years of jiu jitsu threw him as far away from me as possible with enough explosiveness to scare him and make him throw his hands up – his white flag. I found my friend, got a ride home, and found more friends to cry to and to try and understand what just happened to me. Was I wrong? Was I going to be alright? I survived. I was breathing; my heart was just about jumping out of my chest. My friends would believe me, right?
No one tells you that the easiest part of surviving sexual assault is the actual act of surviving it. No one prepares you for the mental and emotional trauma. No one warns you of the friends who sympathize with your assailant because you “looked like a whore” or you were being a tease. No one prepares you for the loss of self that oftentimes follows a horrible event like this, where suddenly you don’t even know what you like anymore because you know your own body far less than you originally thought.
And then I found myself, almost ten years to the day, standing among 100 or so people, each in a happy aura of expression and acceptance. People ran around in bliss, and no one was required to outwardly say they were a victim, or a survivor – just there for support and love. In that space, among art, friends, my boyfriend, and a good beer, I realized how good I am at surviving, how much I wish that for anyone subjected to assault or violence from a stranger or otherwise to feel proud of survival. I want those people to thrive and live how they deserve. I am grateful to EQ Booking, to the bands, to the environment, and to organizations like VIBS who understand it doesn’t stop with just surviving, but it’s possible to be yourself again – and even better.