As somebody who has spent more than five years speaking publicly about surviving sexual violence, I have come to realize that sexual violence is common. The number of people who have come to me and shared the darkest moments of their lives, sometimes for the first time, has been overwhelming, but it has shown me what an absolute epidemic sexual assault is.
I was raped in 2016, and the police didn’t believe me. Because of this, best practices for investigating a sexual assault were not followed. Six months later, after a half-hearted investigation, my case was closed. I had to go about my life with the knowledge that the men who raped me were still out there and I had nothing, no proof, no justice to show for my trauma.
Three months later, a sheriff’s deputy in the next county was kidnapped while arriving to work, and raped multiple times in the back of a moving vehicle. Her police department rallied together, held a press conference, pulled security footage, and offered a reward for information leading to the arrest. The men were found within three days, and I was notified that the DNA obtained from her rape kit matched the DNA obtained from mine.
During the trial, I learned that there were victims before me. Previous girlfriends who had been physically assaulted and raped, as well as girls who reported the crimes committed against them, and nothing was done. One of them was even arrested after calling to report an assault.
The way that we end rape is by prosecuting perpetrators, and we can’t do that unless we start taking victims seriously. We must start by believing them, even when they aren’t “perfect” victims, even when their memories are fragmented and their stories are unbelievable. You never know who you might be saving by believing somebody when they tell you they’ve been raped.