In 2002, I excitedly moved to Madison Heights, a suburb of Detroit, ready to embark on the next chapter in my life journey. I had completed undergraduate school, and already had a year of management experience under my belt. I moved into my first apartment by myself, as I had shared residences before, a nice little one bedroom in a decent area of town. I intentionally picked a location with interior unit entries and external locking doors, in order to increase my safety since I was living alone.
One night after working the evening shift that fall, I saw a man outside my apartment, walking within the complex. I nodded hello, typical of friendly Midwesterners, and entered the locked exterior door. The man caught the door before it closed, and then began groping me. I repeatedly told him to stop, while trying to protect myself with my arms and hands. Thinking about the bystander effect, which I learned in sociology class, I used my foot to bang repeatedly on my neighbor’s door. At this point, he yelled at me, hit me in the head, and then ran out of the building. I immediately ran upstairs to my apartment, locked the door, and then called the police and my boyfriend. I still don’t know if the neighbor heard my knocks, but the action was enough to make the man leave. My boyfriend, who lived in a nearby suburb, arrived before law enforcement. The first responder was polite, took my statement, and assigned me a detective. I was not referred to an advocate of any kind. I had memorized the assailant’s appearance and clothing, so my report was very detailed. Still shocked, I thought to myself, “Wow, I just successfully fought off a rapist. I am so incredibly lucky!”
Two weeks later, I saw the assailant walking down the street near my complex. I had suspected he was a resident of the area, and didn’t want to be a victim again, so I became hypervigilant of my surroundings. I swiftly parked my car in a nearby lot and called 911. They rerouted me to a detective, who didn’t answer. I called 911 again, proclaiming that the man who assaulted me was walking down the street, and send an officer immediately. They transferred me again. To make a long story short, they never came to arrest the man. The police department failed me, as well as any other young women the man has probably raped since that day.
I did not tell my family, as I was from a rural town, and they already worried about me living alone in a big city. For years, I minimized the experience, not viewing myself as a sexual assault victim because physically I only sustained a knot on my head. I downplayed the emotional impact, which caused trauma responses that impacted my life. I finally sought out counseling 15 years later when I was being triggered by a work-related advocacy training and my marriage was failing. I couldn’t live in houses with my windows open on the first floor, and I would yell at my husband if he forgot to lock a door. I was reactive to any unexpected or forceful touch, even from partners or friends. Every time I saw an Atari logo, I would relive the event in my mind, as that was on the navy-blue shirt the man was wearing. Luckily, because I work in intimate partner violence, I was able to understand the impacts of trauma and realized I needed help. Though I still see myself as lucky, I also learned that my experience and feelings were valid. I am a Survivor, and I too deserve support and justice.