"Just do it."
"It'll only take a minute."
"It's not that big of a deal."
I cracked. The pressure — both physical and mental — was too much for 15-year-old me to handle. No matter what he said, it was a big deal. But I just did it.
That "minute" has lasted my entire life.
Like Liz Meriwether, I was a "coward" when it came to speaking up about my assault. I was afraid that people would see me differently. I was scared my parents wouldn't understand and my friends wouldn't believe me. I was terrified that the popular boy would make my life a living hell.
At the age of 15, I had not yet labeled my experience as sexual assault. There was no one telling us that "no meant no" in school, but there was slut shaming. I saw how the girls were talked about when they engaged in sexual activity, and I didn't want to be labelled the same way after my assault. My biggest fear was that this moment would define me in my small, tight-knit community forever.
But not anymore.
While I might not have been ready to tell the entire story to my friends and family, I breathed a little easier after the words "Me Too" hit my timeline this week. My experience was no longer a secret. It could no longer rattle around inside me, hitting all my weak spots and making some days hard to get through. My story started seeping out of me. I traded my tears for something that I, and others, could see across my timeline.
I stayed quiet for a long time, keeping my story bottled up inside of me out of fear. I worried that people wouldn't understand, or that my attacker, who I was forced to see every day, would retaliate. I didn't have the privilege to speak up for years, a privilege that I now can claim though so many others can't.
You think that it can't happen to you. You hear about all the pretty girls in Hollywood being preyed upon and degraded in hotel rooms, made to choose between their bodies and their careers. But it doesn't just happen to A-listers in expensive suites. It happened to me in a dark, tree-filed woods. A place that I knew like the back of my hand — my own backyard. My attacker, a boy who I thought was my friend — my equal, my homecoming date — took advantage of me in the place I felt safest.
I don't remember lifting myself off the ground of the woods, and I can't tell you what else happened when we rejoined our friends around the campfire 20 feet away. But I do remember the bathroom stalls I cried in and the embarrassment that I felt when the not-so-quiet whispers started going around the hallways.
A lot has happened in between that terrifying night in my backyard and me hitting the "post" button just a few days ago. Over eight years has gone by, and I was still just as terrified to admit what happened to me as I was that night. I was still scared of what would happen if people put together the pieces, and what they would think of me.
I typed the words "Me Too" three times, each time deleting and exiting Facebook all together. The fourth time something happened to me. I knew that this was something bigger than me. And I hit "post."
As brave as I was feeling, I still didn't want to see how people would react. So I got off of Facebook, turned off my notifications, and went for a walk. Later that night, I decided to get brave once again and check to see what had happened.
No one had questioned me or forced me to talk about it, and there was visible support right there on my page. The little "likes" were real people, many of which reached out to me and thanked me for being brave.
If you're never ready or in a position to hit "post," that's OK.
#MeToo gave me the opportunity to own my story in my own way. I'm able to stand up for myself and the countless others in the way I feel most comfortable with just two words. Because I don't owe anyone an explanation — and neither do you.
My hope is that these two words are enough to start a conversation in schools, communities, and around dinner tables, so that one day we can talk about violence against women without fear or embarrassment. We can own our stories instead of them owning us.
But some women aren't ready or don't have the privilege to share their stories. No survivor's journey is the same. Some women are silenced by an abusive partner. Sex workers speaking out about sexual violence often aren't taken seriously because of the profession they work in. Many women stay silent fearing a lack of support from family and friends. There are so many different factors that go into clicking the mouse and claiming the two word phrase.
If you're not ready to hit "post" yet, that's OK. If you're never ready or in a position to hit "post," that's equally OK. You are no less, your story is no less important, and your experience is still valid. The journey of a survivor is not marked by how or when you speak out. You get to decide the rules. You get to take control of the thing that once took control of you, whenever and however you feel comfortable.
Know that when you're ready, we are here waiting for you. That's true whether you finally are able to say the words "Me Too" today, tomorrow, weeks, months, or years after this two-word phrase is buried deep in everyone's timelines. And if you're never ready, we're here for you, too.
If you have experienced sexual assault, you can access 24/7 support at the National Sexual Assault hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or at hotline.rainn.org. You can also text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.