Content Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.
"Done Being Silent," Tiffany Browning
Right after it happened, the first thing I thought was “I shouldn’t have broken up with my ex. If I hadn’t have broken up with him, I wouldn’t have been interested in seeing this guy. I wouldn’t have gone to his room to study. He wouldn’t have been able to rape me.”
Self-blame was my first thought after it happened. After he left to go to the bathroom and I pulled up my pants and ran out of his dorm room, the first thing I thought was, “I put myself in this situation.”
Two and a half years later, I’m angry that my first thought was self-blame. I’m angry that society had taught me that it was my responsibility to prevent my rape, even though I thought he was such a nice guy and never once thought he would rape me. I’m angry that society told me the rapist was not responsible for raping me. I’m angry that I spent over a year thinking it was my own fault.
I did not tell anyone for an entire year. He threatened me, actually. He would send me screenshots of emails he had drafted to my boss, emails that documented situations he concocted with his friends that would surely get me fired. He had me stuck in a living hell of silence. I was even seeing a counselor at the time and didn’t tell the counselor.
I was terrified he would find out I had told somebody. I was terrified that he would tell my supervisor and that I would lose my job and have to drop out of school. We one class together and one class in the same building that semester. I stopped going to them. I couldn’t stand to see him. It made me feel sick. It made me hurt. Instead, I stayed home, in my bed. I didn’t sleep, but I didn’t leave my bed.
After a few days of missing quizzes in class, realizing things were spiraling very quickly, I had my first real thought of suicide. I’m not talking about “suicide is an option”; I mean “I have pills and I think I will take them right now.”
In ResLife, we call that a red-light suicide situation. I was a red-light suicide situation, the exact thing I had spent hours learning how to handle in training. For one week straight, I literally sat in my room, staring at the drawer that held the Costco-size bottle of Tylenol, and told myself “I will go 5 minutes without killing myself.” When those 5 minutes passed, I told myself “I will go another 5 minutes without killing myself.” I lived my life in 5-minute intervals until I could make 10 minutes without killing myself, and then 15, and then 30, then an hour. I lived my life in the tiniest doses I could handle.
When he transferred in the middle of the semester (to a school on the quarter system), it was so far into the semester that I couldn’t make up the lost time in my classes. I was so far behind. I failed one class and got a D in the other. I had to change my major so I could graduate on time. I still, 2.5 years later, feel my throat tighten when I walk into the classroom where we first met. I am still terrified of him.
I didn’t tell anyone for a year. Once I stopped going to classes where I would see him, and once he left the school, it was easy to act like it didn’t happen. I think I pretended like it didn’t happen. I don’t remember much of that year at all, actually. After talking to my family and friends about how I was, they said they thought I seemed angry, short-tempered. I didn’t like to be touched anymore.
I thought I was fine. I went to work training sessions about sexual assault and watched in calm silence; I counseled my best friend when she told me she was assaulted. Still, I did not tell anyone. It wasn’t until over a year later, after an exam, when I told someone. The professor had made an essay question asking us to diagram how survivors learn to fear their rapists through operant conditioning. Suddenly, I was forced to walk through my own assault. I had to diagram the different components of the situation and environment that made the essay character “Sarah” fear her rapist. And suddenly, in the middle of an exam, I relived the worst experience of my life. I felt that fear, that pain, that raw terror right in the middle of my chest. I turned in my exam, ran into the bathroom, and cried.
My mom called me a few hours later, when I was home. She knew I had an exam that day; I had told her I thought I was going to ace it. When she asked how it went and I told her I thought I had failed, she asked why, because I had said I was so prepared. The floodgates opened. I told her. She was silent. Then she asked “Why didn’t you tell me? It’s been so long.”
That was the beginning of the end for my silence. That same night, I told the guy I was seeing. Three months later, while home for winter break, I told my dad, step-mom, and a few close friends. Six months after that, I posted a small snippet of my story on Facebook, detailing how I had nearly committed suicide after my assault and pleading for people to know that I was there for them if they were ever in that situation.
This year, when my search for grad school began, I put my story in my personal statements. It made sense; it was a reason for my current career path. But more importantly, it showed my resilience. When schools asked how I would persevere through graduate assistantships and grueling academic programs, the story of my assault showed how I had made it through the worst experience a human could endure.
Giving myself a voice through this ordeal has been the best way to heal, for me. In fact, writing this story was probably the most cathartic thing I’ve done for my assault. Being able to speak openly about my assault was a way to give a big “fuck you” to my rapist. It gave me back the control I lost when he assaulted me. It gave me power to help others, to break the reign of silence that so many rape victims face.
I am a survivor and I am done being silent.
About the art:
I am so incredibly proud of Tiffany. She's shared a story that is so tragically consistent in our culture that many people fear sharing their story for worry of stigma. And I hate that. But I am so glad that Tiffany felt comfortable sharing her story with us.
I chose the line "I am a survivor, and I am done being silent" because it is so important for Tiffany's story, and it stands as a powerful representation of this project as a whole. It's a powerful statement that I am glad resonates with Tiffany.
Tiffany originally planned to share this anonymously, but through some soul-searching, and I think through receiving this painting in the mail, made a big decision. Here is an excerpt from her decision:
I received my painting yesterday. I put it up on my wall yesterday and the quote from my story I had you paint is really starting to hit me. I see my painting that says "I am done being silent" and yet I'm keeping my story anonymous.
I don't want to be anonymous anymore. If it's possible for you to put my name and pronouns on my story, I would like that. If my rapist randomly happened to find the story, there isn't really anything he can do anymore. I've told enough people what he did and I have a huge support system behind me. I can't have a painting that says "I am done being silent" and remain anonymous.
THAT RIGHT THERE is why I am proud of Tiffany. She is an incredible person. A strong person. A passionate and dedicated person. I am stoked to have Tiffany out in Massachusetts soon, as she will attend grad school at UMass Amherst (where I did my grad school work) in the fall! Another Pacific Northwest kid turned into a Masshole!
Thank you for sharing your story, Tiffany.
You ARE a survivor!