Sexual Assault Awareness Month: The Day I Lost My Power
Post submitted by HRC Youth Ambassador Joey Kemmerling
There are experiences in all of our lives that change us forever, experiences that make us doubt what we once believed and forever change how we see the world. For me, that experience began in late August of my senior year of college when I got a text from an old friend. I had just returned from a year abroad in London and I was sure my last year of college was going to be amazing.
I still wonder what my life would be like now if I had ignored that text, or if I had agreed to meet the friend in a public place. But I didn’t ignore it; in fact, I asked him to come over with a sense of excitement. I had been yearning for the feeling of comradery I had been missing since I left my gay friends in London and it was exciting to reconnect with a gay man I knew before I left. That feeling didn’t last.
What that man did to me that night left me feeling more powerlessness than I had ever felt. I thought I would always be safe around gay men. Something like this had happened to me before, but I was bigger now. I was stronger, and I was careful –– and he was a friend. But I found out that none of that mattered. For half an hour I was at the mercy of someone I thought I could trust. There was no escape, and although I consider myself lucky, a piece of my soul died that night.
When he left I felt confused and conflicted. It wasn’t that bad, because I got away, right? Was what he did to me really sexual assault? Did I do something to make him think he could do that? Should I have done something differently? And what do I do now?
The next day I told a female friend what happened. She asked me one thing that convinced me to report it to my university –– she said, “If that had happened to me, as a woman, wouldn’t you want me to report it?” I realized that I needed to tell someone. My boss was gay and I told him what happened. Halfway through I broke down and realized how traumatized I was by this experience. How could I trust or feel safe in the gay community like I once had? Could I ever be friends with a gay man again, much less date someone?
The most difficult realization, though, was that this wouldn’t be something I could deal with among LGBTQ peers I trusted. I had to go through the university and I would be expected to recount my story to presumably non-LGBTQ campus staff.
Over the next month and a half, I met with the Title IX coordinator, the head of Public Safety and several investigators. My friends were interviewed and so were his. Along the way, I learned that the man who sexually assaulted me had victimized three other people. I wondered if they were going through the same thing I was, but I was in no position to reach out to anyone else. I was in pain and even though the school authorities were competent and sensitive, I struggled to find the resources I needed –– the system wasn’t equipped to meet the needs of gay male survivors of sexual assault.
I quickly realized that everything about sexual assault on our campus was geared only toward women. There was a self defense class but it was for women only. There was a campus life staff training for Title IX but there was a presumption that the victim would be female. Why was it that I was being left behind? I needed to know how to be okay again with myself and my community as a gay man, and no one at my university seemed able to help me.
So I turned to the people I knew and trusted outside my school and community. I called my mentor at the Human Rights Campaign. In time I was connected to a man who works for an organization in Pennsylvania called the National Sexual Violence Resource Center who helped me come to terms with what being assaulted meant for me as a gay man. But I shouldn’t have had to seek out these resources on my own, when my university provides them for other survivors.
I don’t blame my university, and ultimately, I’m working through my experience with the support that I need, but other LGBTQ survivors of sexual assault may not have the resources or support systems I have, or they may not feel comfortable or safe reaching out for help with their trauma. Studies show that LGBTQ people experience sexual assault at equal or higher rates than non-LGBTQ people, and certain groups within the community –– transgender people and bisexual people in particular –– experience very high rates of victimization.
Our community needs access to support and resources about sexual assault that speak to our identities and experiences as LGBTQ survivors. Universities around the country need to include resources for LGBTQ sexual assault survivors and to include the needs and experiences of LGBTQ people in their training to faculty, staff and students. I hope that sharing my story will raise awareness about the need for these kinds of resources and will speak for my fellow LGBTQ survivors who cannot speak for themselves.
For more information on sexual assault in the LGBTQ community and resources, click here.