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HomeHealth & FitnessI Was Sexually Assaulted, but It Took Me Years to Say It

I Was Sexually Assaulted, but It Took Me Years to Say It

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There is a truth that my body has been holding for a long time. I’ve long been in a battle with self, time getting blurred from a distant past to the present future, each window informing the other. The weight often comes over me as my mind darts back and forth from truth to denial; I tense with desperation and rage as I replay one moment in time over and over again. For a long time I refused to say it, swallowing down the words that appeared in my throat. Even as I type, I feel a sense of unease in my body: my heart races, my cheeks flush with a shame and guilt that should have never been mine to carry. I take a deep breath and let out the words that I have been denying for 18 years: I was sexually assaulted.

In 2005, fresh out of undergrad in North Carolina, I moved to New York with “Sex and the City” expectations. I wanted to build a professional dance career, and maybe dabble in the fashion industry as a stylist. After a few months living alone and experiencing the city through one date after another, I met CR, who I would end up moving to Brooklyn with after a few short months of dating. This was a big shift for me; I spent all of my college years in a monogamous relationship to pleasure — or, as some would say, in my “hoe phase” — and I had a blast. CR was a bit of an “industry insider” and had access to hot nightclubs, elite fashion shows, musicians and entertainment executives — people I was not accustomed to, having grown up in North Carolina. I was intrigued with the world, and at 22, I was enjoying the ride as I figured out life in this big city with shiny lights.

One night, we were hopping from the bar to the club and ended up at Home Nightclub on West 27th Street. The DJ was playing a mix of old school R&B with some classic pop. The energy was high, and I could not stop dancing. I noticed someone on the dance floor with an infectious energy, and I gravitated towards him so I could introduce myself. To my surprise, he was from a small town in South Carolina with a love of all things MJ, and he was a celebrity stylist. Naturally we hit it off right away, so much so that my boyfriend left me at the nightclub while I was dancing and chatting it up with my new friend. We exchanged numbers and promised to hang out again soon.

“I now know that sexual assault isn’t always violent, but it is always violating.”

A few days passed, and as promised, we decided to hang out. I rolled through the city with my new friend, making a stop at one of his client’s NYC apartments as he readied a few outfits for an upcoming trip. With a few flirtatious exchanges here and there, the day unfolded as I got to hear him talk about his life in the city, the fun projects he’d worked on, the celebrities he was around. Day turned into night, and we shifted our intentions and ended up at The Spotted Pig, another NYC hotspot at the time. Standing in the crowd, chatting with a drink in hand, we scanned the room. I listened intently as he pointed out different folks, and got a chill up my spine when we spotted Jay-Z in the corner. I was buzzing with the intrigue and glamor of the city all around me. We eventually decided to make our exit and head to the Upper East Side, where we ended up at his studio apartment.

Entering the tiny studio apartment, I didn’t question why we were there and not at another bar; I was continuing to just go along with the night. He invited me to take a shot of vodka in his kitchen, and I hadn’t been drinking too much that evening, so I happily accepted. He pulled the chilled bottle out of the freezer and poured me a shot. I knocked it back without hesitation. And then things took a turn.

I don’t know how I got from the kitchen to the bed, despite there only being about 14 feet of distance between the two. I don’t know how my clothes came off. When I came to, everything was a blur, every sound was muffled . . . I couldn’t get words out of my mouth. It was as if my soul jumped out of my body, leaving me with an aerial view of him on top of me, inside of me, as I lay there motionless.

I lost all sense of time. I didn’t know when it started, how it ended, how I got back into my clothes. I was confused and numb. He was supposed to be a friend. Why would this happen to me? Maybe I would have had sex with him anyway. I didn’t feel like I could go home and tell my boyfriend what had happened, because I figured he’d blame me. Did I flirt too much? Maybe I asked for it. What could I do now? Was I really raped? Maybe, I thought, I’m making it all up. Maybe it didn’t happen.

“I technically had no proof, just a memory of what happened to me. Who would believe my story?”

But it did. And my body remembers. My body remembered through the interactions that I continued to have with this person, because somehow I convinced myself that he had not sexually assaulted me. In my mind, sexual assault was supposed to be violent, sensationalized like we see on TV or in the movies. But I now know that sexual assault isn’t always violent, but it is always violating. My body remembered when I had consenting sex with him years later, because I needed to feel something, to press up against my own truth even as I was hiding and denying it. But there is no hiding the truth of the friend that raped you. My body remembered as I proceeded with caution, suspicious, when I saw him years later in LA, and then again years later when I finally blocked him on my social media accounts. And even in all of this knowing, I swallowed my truth, denied my assault, kept it quiet, until my body said no more.

The systems that embolden people to commit these heinous acts are designed to leave us feeling disembodied, to mistrust ourselves, to keep us in a silent rage. I knew that the legal system doesn’t believe survivors or hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable, so I found myself a perpetrator of victim-blaming after surviving the assault, and it kept me quiet. And in my case, I technically had no proof, just a memory of what happened to me. Who would believe my story? I wonder what it would be like for survivors to be believed, to be fiercely protected. Even now, I still question my remembering. But the body knows, the body knows, the body knows. We just have to take time to listen.

In my 16 years in NYC, I became a mother and lived out my dream as a professional dancer. After my daughter was born, I became that fierce advocate for myself — I learned to reclaim my body in space, to cultivate a radical self-love practice. I thought I was doing it for her, so she wouldn’t have to contend with the shame and guilt society places on young girls and women who are confident in their bodies, in their choices, in their pleasure. But now I know I was doing it for me, too. I was doing it to reclaim my own voice, a part of my story that I’d pushed down for far too long.

I take a deep breath. Although there will be no justice in the court of law for me, the justice I need right now is absolving myself of the guilt and the silence that I’ve been harboring for far too long. Telling my story lifts some of the weight I have been carrying, weight that was never mine to carry. And my hope is that if I can tell my story, you can tell yours, too.

Love Muwwakkil is a multifaceted artist, blending her talents as a performer, teacher, choreographer, writer, and maker. She is the founder of Love Notes in Motion, a platform offering movement workshops, embodied leadership experiences, and monthly newsletters highlighting wellness practices. She holds an MFA in dance and social justice, and her work delves into experimental dance, improvisation, and installation, exploring themes of liberation and decolonization.

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