*Note: Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona (PPAA) knows sexual assault is never the fault of the victim regardless of the person’s attire, behavior, or situation. It is never permissible to touch another person without consent. For sexual assault resources from PPAA see here.
I want to share my story of sexual violence and what sexual violence survival looks like in Arizona. I survived sexual violence at age 19 while working in a big box store on their night crew. The only female on the crew. Prior to the attack, we would all share stories about our lives on break, whether we had a partner or children and what we like to do in our free time. The crew knew I had a boyfriend, and the attacker, my direct manager, had a long-term female partner. We would also go back and forth paying for each other’s soda and such which will matter later.
One night I caught the attention of my manager while working down an aisle. I was facing the back of the store and the manager came up behind me. This wasn’t odd, but what was odd is that he rubbed my shoulders. When he rubbed my shoulders it felt like his erect penis brushed against my backside. I “knew” that this could not be true as it was my manager and we both had partners and we were in public so I pushed the thought away and continued working. On this particular night I wore pinstriped dress slacks that were probably too form-fitting as they caught the attention of the store manager and she did not like the fact that I wore tight dress slacks to work and talked with my direct manager about it. He did not like being reprimanded, and let me know as much when he walked by me later and said I owed him. I did not know about the discussion he had with the store manager so I took this to mean I owed him a soda for some reason and continued with my night.
The next night is when the assault occurred. I was working in the butter section of the store. My direct manager came up to me and said “follow me” and continued walking towards the deli cooler where the butter was kept. It was normal for him to go with me into the deli cooler and advise on what he wanted to be stocked that night, so it did not occur to me to carry my box cutter; I left it sitting on a tub of Country Crock. Instead of going right, into the deli cooler, he went left into a room. A storage room. He ushered me inside and followed me in. This is important because it affected how I responded. I did not know if the door was locked and I knew there was a stocky man in my way of the exit that was also my boss. I had been raised to respect authority and it did not occur to me to scream or run as he had not crossed any physical lines of conduct yet. Then he started to kiss me and placed my hand on his pants where his erect penis was. I couldn’t think, I didn’t know what to do. He pushed his hand onto my shoulder, making me drop to my knees. The only thing I could think of at this point was to get him to “finish” so I would not be violently raped vaginally. I remember looking at the wall and fearing him doing just that so all I could concentrate on was fellating him and completing the task at hand.
Eventually, it ended. He walked away. I went back to the butter aisle and took a huge drink of my soda to clean out the taste of him in my mouth. My mind screamed that I should just run away, leave my six-wheeler right where it stood. But I didn’t. I needed the job, no one would believe me that I didn’t want it because I wasn’t screaming, I wore the wrong pants to work and I owed him. So, I continued to work.
I went to go see a female manager that I had worked at another store with the next day. All the other employees teased me that I was the mini version of her, but she was fair and I trusted her. I told her what happened. She told me to tell my store manager and that since I didn’t directly report to her anymore, the only person that could help me was my store manager. I took her advice and reported the incident to my store manager, who in turn reported it to the police.
This is the anomaly. 3 out of 4 sexual assaults go unreported. What fits in line with my story is the perpetrator did not get arrested/serve jail time. Out of 1000 perpetrators, 995 will go free (RAINN).
Sexual Violence is the non-legal term for someone forcing or manipulating someone else into unwanted sexual activity without their consent. Some causes of non-consent are fear, age, disability, or influence of substances (nsvrc.org).
Some examples of sexual violence are rape or sexual assault, child sexual assault and incest, intimate partner sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual exploitation (nsvrc.org).
In Arizona specifically, 41.3% of women and 19.9% of men have experienced some form of sexually violent contact during their lifetime. This is higher than the national average of 33.6% women and 17.1% of men across the United States. Arizona Hospital Discharge Data reveals that the age range with the highest rate per hospitalization for sexual violence victimization was between 15 to 24 years old and they were usually female (AZDHS).
As you follow my story you may be wondering what you can do to help prevent sexual violence or what to do if you are assaulted. I’ll start with what you can do if you are assaulted: Get someplace safe as soon as possible, don’t change anything on your body, tell a parent, guardian, or another adult in your life who you trust, see a doctor or nurse, get help from an expert, and decide if you want to talk to the police. Always remember that what happened wasn’t your fault (Planned Parenthood).
Now, how can sexual violence be prevented?
- Model supportive relationships and behaviors with your friends and families.
- Stand up for victims and believe them.
- Speak up when you hear harmful comments or witness violent acts,
- Create policies at your workplace or school system to stop sexual violence and help victims.
- Coordinate a community event to raise awareness about sexual violence or talk with community members about ways they can get involved.
- Talk with your legislators and ask them to support prevention and victim services (NSVRC)
Your story doesn’t have to end the way mine did, with no real punishment for the abuser (I was told he did lose his job) and permanent distrust of authority.
Please, if you or someone you know experiences sexual violence follow the steps: get someplace safe as soon as possible, don’t change anything on your body, tell a parent, guardian, or another adult in your life who you trust, see a doctor or nurse, get help from an expert, and decide if you want to talk to the police.
Even if you decide not to talk to police as there are many reasons people do not, such as concern for not being believed, fear of the attackers getting back at him/her, embarrassment or shame, fear of being blamed, pressure from others not to tell, distrust of law enforcement, belief that there is not enough evidence, and desire to protect the attacker, make sure you talk with a professional.
Many survivors experience psychological, emotional, and physical effects after an attack and some local resources are La Frontera EMPACT, Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault, NACASA and of course, Planned Parenthood. These resources are very helpful in helping a survivor navigate their feelings and next steps after sexual violence. Don’t wait.