It is standard that young girls are told not to walk alone at night. It is standard that women are taught basic self-defense against boys who might violate their bodies. It is standard that girls are expected to take safety precautions against boys, because boys are expected to hurt us emotionally and physically. No matter how many times you are taught how to respond and what to do in these horrifying situations, you never know your reaction until it happens to you.

My parents have been divorced since I was four years old. I always spent most of my time with my mom, and I visited my dad occasionally on the weekends. My mom was safe. My mom was home. My dad was manipulative, always having strange people in our home, mostly the girlfriend he was dating at the time, who usually stopped coming around just when I was starting to like her.  My dad didn’t have many friends, but the ones he did have usually seemed strange, and I was sure to keep my distance from them.

When my dad remarried, he and his wife joined a country club. Every weekend I saw my dad, my siblings and I would go with him to golf or swim, and usually we hung around the same crowd. One weekend, my father hosted a dinner party for his country club friends. I was there enjoying myself, roasting marshmallows with the other children, since I was 11 at the time. After the evening ended, we all went to sleep. My brother and I were sleeping on an air mattress, since our rooms were taken by drunken adults not sober enough to drive. We fell asleep watching  a movie. I remember being cold and not sleeping well throughout the night. It wasn’t until a few hours later that I slowly woke up to a hand rubbing my breast.

At first I thought it was a dream. I saw the blurry image of an overweight man on the couch next to me. I felt him caress my boobs and then move down towards my vagina, stroking and moaning drunkenly. I wanted to scream, to yell for my father or for my brother to wake up, but I just lay there silently, letting him conquer me with his fingers. Then he fingered me, and at the time, I didn’t understand what was happening. I remember it hurting, but eventually I just fell numb, trying to pretend I wasn’t there, that I was somewhere else, that I wasn’t myself. I tried to roll to my side, but he pushed me down. I was scared that if I tried to escape he would hurt me, or even worse, choose my little brother as another victim. I remember the touching ending a few minutes later, but then reoccurring frequently throughout the night, until he finally fell asleep. The next day I remember feeling different, I felt as if I had done something wrong. I did not know what to do. If I told my mother, it would cause conflict within my family, and I might never see my father again. I hate conflict. I convinced myself it was over, it was not a big deal. I needed to block it out and let it go for the sake of my family.

Seven years later, I visited a college with my best friend. We spent the night in her brother’s frat house, sleeping among many older boys. I could tell one of them took a liking to me, flirting with me throughout the weekend and throwing his arm around me whenever he could. That night, when I went to sleep, I was put in a similar situation. The boy moved next to me in the middle of the night and started groping me in a similar fashion. He moved to hold me against him and violate my body yet again. I remember tensing up and he held me harder, whispering in my ear, “Shhhh it will be okay. Just don’t move.” I remember feeling angry. He had no right to tell me what to do with my body. I would not let this happen to me again. I pushed him off and sprinted out of the room, locking myself in the bathroom. I called my friend’s brother, and he came and moved me into his room, where I slept alone. That morning, I told my friend what had happened to me. She minimized it, and acted like it didn’t matter, just as I had the first time. Because I was older and wiser, I decided this was not okay. I decided I wanted to take action. I decided to volunteer at the women’s center, working with people who had experienced similar things that I had, who were just as scared as I was. I vowed to myself that I would never let anyone hurt me again. No boy would ever emotionally, sexually, or physically abuse me without me fighting back. I am now in a healthy relationship with someone who values me as a person and does not expect access to my body. My boyfriend respects me, and I will be respected by anyone else I am with. 1 in 4 women is a victim of gender-based violence, and if we are able to spread awareness, and break the stigma of misogynistic assumptions, we may be able to decrease that incredibly high statistic.

My name is Taylor Livelli and I am sophomore at Virginia Tech. I am majoring in International Studies and Russian with a minor in computer science. I have worked with many victims of gender-based violence and have experienced it numerous times as a female in our society. I hoping to spread awareness about this global issue to decrease the number of victims.

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