Content warning: sexual assault
She said that he crossed the line, assaulted her. He said that didn't happen, not how she said.
I had no idea and no way of knowing what happened, but she didn't ask me to believe her. She just asked me to be her friend.
Our mutual friends chose him. Most didn't know her very well, and she had always been a little too flirty for their tastes. He was quiet, nice, and introverted. We felt so safe with him. It was simple for them. She was lying.
For me, it was different. They both were my closest friends. They both called me first.
I tried to hear both sides and gave them the benefit of the doubt but whenever she spoke it ripped at the fabric of what was good and he offered something plausible. Palatable. I promised to be there for her and him. Neither asked me to choose but as the story grew and changed, I knew that I couldn't handle being there for both. I'd have to make a choice...and I chose what hurt me less. I chose to believe that it was a mistake, they they were both drunk, that he didn't know. I chose what was easier, what I could handle. I also chose to abandon her.
She called, texted, 5 times, ten times, 20 times, and I hid away. Finally, she visited me in my dorm room and she pleaded, "I don't need you to believe me. I just need my friend."
I sat on my bed, staring at my textbook and wishing she would go, that I could escape. Her pain was swallowing me whole.
My roommate came in, called someone else to come pick her up and they led her away from my room. I never looked up.
I convinced myself that she deserved better than me, that I was too conflicted, that she needed someone 100% on her side and my confusion would only bring her more pain. I used that to justify being callous, being cruel, and I self-fulfilled my base expectations of myself.
I was wrong.
I was and I continue to be a part of a society that hurts women/femmes. Sometimes it's glaring, like the night I lost a friend. Other times, it's quieter and more insidious like not checking the offhand sexist comment or avoiding the debate with my family on "proper gender roles."
I have upheld these things even with the constant awareness that I could be next, that I was almost next, and that if I were next, I'd likely not be believed.
I am a liberal but being a liberal doesn't automatically make me a good ally. I am a woman but being a woman doesn't automatically make me a good ally. Ally-ship is much simpler when the crimes are obvious, but when things are muddy, we give up. I gave up.
Society expects victims of assault to stand up and speak out and hope they are believed. However, when they do, we shy away from action, fearful of the inconvenience of their pain in our lives. The "Me, Too" campaign acts as a reminder that avoidance perpetuates and normalizes assault and harassment. Again, victims are expected to put a voice and a face to their pain and hope they are believed. Are you listening? Are you helping? Are you speaking out even when they aren't there or able to speak for themselves?
I try to speak up now, offering support to all the people in my life who have gone through this again and again. I tell myself I've grown...but that growth came at a price. The price was her pain, the death of our friendship, and some of my humanity....a piece of my soul.
She deserved a friend and I gave up.
They deserve our support and we turn away.
We were wrong.
I was wrong. And I'm sorry.