#NotGuilty - A Letter
#NotGuilty - A Letter
In a recent letter to her attacker, Oxford University student Ione Wells took charge of her situation by claiming she will be "getting on with my life" while her assailant appears in court.
Three weeks after she was dragged to the ground and sexually assaulted, Wells wrote an open letter that has spearheaded a campaign against sexual assault, providing a support system for victims by using the hashtag #NotGuilty.
While she addresses her "assaulter" - Wells has not been told his name because he is a minor - she writes:
"I don't know anything about you. But I do know this: you did not just attack me that night. I am a daughter. I am a friend. I am a girlfriend. I am a pupil. I am a cousin. I am a niece. I am a neighbor. I am the employee who served everyone down the road coffee in the cafe under the railway. All of the people who form those relations to me make up my community and you assaulted every single one of them."
Wells' powerful words resonate with me as just three weeks ago, I was sexually assaulted. It has been a struggle to come to terms with what happened, and I have been far too busy to really process the event. But little instances during the day make me remember. I am taken back to that night to when my attacker took away my power. To when he took away my pride. To when he took away my confidence. I have decided to, inspired by Wells, write a letter to him.*
Today is the fifteenth day since you came to my room, played cards with me, made me trust you, and then took away that trust. It has been fifteen days of remembering the dangerous look in your eyes, the way your hair flipped to the side, the way you smelled, the way you sounded. It has been fifteen days of rollercoaster rides of sadness, of guilt, of shame. It has been fifteen days and I am okay, but I am also not okay.
We were close friends. We would message each other and text each other frequently. I knew where you went to college and where you wanted to transfer. You knew my major and who my best friends are. I knew about your siblings and your dogs. You knew about my parents and my job. We even talked about dating a few times, even though it never seemed to work out.
I invited you that Friday night because I hadn’t seen you in a while. I wanted to get to know you better in-person, as we never really had a full opportunity to do so. I invited you to my room because a part of me wanted to kiss you. A part of me wanted to learn more about you. But no part of me wanted more than that.
When you assaulted me that day, you took away my power. When you hit me and didn’t listen to my refusals, you took away my pride. When you later told me that you thought me saying “no” was a sign of my self-consciousness, rather than my actual and deliberate method of saying “no,” you took away my confidence.
I have always been someone to shake off my feelings and let things go. When I texted you after you attacked me to tell you how violated I felt, that’s all I wanted to say. I was ready to forgive you. I was sympathetic. I felt guilty. Luckily, my friends were sitting next to me as I sent you those message because they gave me the strength to tell you I would never speak to you again. They gave me the strength I needed to tell you to never do that to another woman. They gave me the strength to make you scared for what I was going to do next.
And here’s what I am going to do: nothing. I have enough evidence from your responses to those texts to file a report; but I live with the guilt every day and that part of me is preventing me from hurting you. I live with the guilt that I invited you to my room, alone. Though that’s not ever an invitation to assault someone, I am struggling with the fact that I could have done more to prevent it.
But, here’s what I will do. I won’t let you take away any more of my power, my pride, or my confidence. Every time I walk past something that reminds me of that night, I will remember that I got out okay and that I am moving forward. When I smell something that smells like you did, I will not wince or cower. When I see that other women are struggling to tell their stories, I will encourage them to speak up and join the community of survivors. When I reminded of you, I will no longer cry. I will prevail.
The girl who still has her power, pride, and confidence.
*I do know his name, as we were friends before the attack, but I will not be publishing it here.
Something I want everyone to know: Sexual assault can happen to anyone. It can happen to women of all body shapes and sizes. It can happen to women who are teenagers or who are in their 40s. It is time to start changing the conversation from "How can we teach women to protect themselves?" to "How can we teach men not to sexually assault women?" Something else to note: it does not just happen to women. Sexual assault also occurs to men. Bottom line - it need not exist in our world any longer.
Kate is a 19-year-old millennial who attends New York University and has extensive knowledge in journalism, media, and communcations. As founder and CEO of Her Culture, she has spearheaded multiple cultural projects, developed programs for cultural awareness, and has received several accolades for her contributions to the community. Kate was recently selected as one of Business Insider’s “24 Most Impressive High School Graduates” in 2014. She is also a member of the National Association of Professional Women and the International Women’s Peace Organization.