I try to limit my social media use and news coverage due to the fact that it can make me feel overwhelmed and anxious. It’s hard to separate myself from everything happening good and bad in today’s society.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, one particular social media campaign keeps dragging me into its clutches. Sure I tried to ignore it, but it kept coming back to my attention. At first I thought to myself, this is not the right campaign for you. My mind kept telling me to be quiet and maintain the status quo.
Why and how could I make a difference?
After looking back at the year 2017, and looking forward to the year 2018, I decided it was time to speak up. I am not on Instagram. I do not have a Twitter account. Due to my autistic nature, I feel comfortable with just one platform, and for me it’s Facebook.
When I first heard about the #MeToo movement I initially brushed it off as another campaign trying to gain the attention of the social media devotees…You know, the people that update their status every hour of the day. Then I heard a broadcaster talking about the same topic.
I noticed that many women were updating their statuses with their #MeToo stories.
That was when the flood of emotions I have swallowed for over two decades started bubbling up inside of me.
#MeToo: I am a statistic.
#MeToo: I am a rape survivor.
I realized that the movement isn’t just another passing social media fad. It’s very real to millions of women around the world. Rape, sexual abuse and sexual assault are all too real occurrences.
As I thought about my own rape, I wondered how many other women were like me? How many are autistic? I do not know how many autistic women have been sexually assaulted. I can only share my own personal experience.
I want to start off by saying rape is often a taboo subject in our society. People do not want to discuss or hear about it. However, for some of us, talking about the unspeakable provides comfort and validation.
Without going into intimate detail, I feel it’s time to share my story.
I went to a large university of over 20,000 students. Although college was initially difficult for me, I eventually found my place in the community. I will admit I was naive. Having been raised in an abusive home and knowing very little about the great big world, I was wide eyed and anxious when I started college.
My autism wasn’t diagnosed until I was an adult, so I had little knowledge as to why I was so different than my peers.
College was overwhelming. There were crowds, unfamiliar places, new food, and an entirely new way of living for me. I did eventually make a few friends and learned to mimic my peers. Going to bars was part of my college experience. It seemed everyone went out to various bars at least several times a week.
Not knowing I was autistic, I followed the crowd when it came to bar behavior and etiquette. I watched other girls my age and copied them. I copied their mannerisms. I was a great chameleon. The problem was, I was copying behaviors I didn’t understand.
I was 22 when a part of me was stolen.
I was raped, violently, by a boy I knew from school. When I say knew, I mean I knew who he was from his reputation. He was a good looking, popular boy that caught the attention of numerous girls my age.
I happened to run into him at a bar one chilly night. He was charming and intriguing. He invited me to come back to his apartment. I was clueless. Unfortunately, many people on the spectrum confuse kindness with trust. I did not make the connection that just because he was nice, it didn’t mean that he didn’t have ulterior motives in mind. In simple words, don’t trust everyone with a smile. I learned that lesson the hard way.
Although my rapist had a roommate, no one heard my pleas for help. To this day I still do not know if anyone else in the apartment heard me (his roommate also had a girl in the apartment). In some strange way I think my autism spared me from experiencing much of the assault while it happened. I was able to separate myself from my emotions.
Immediately after the rape, I left and drove to my dorm. Somehow my mind still didn’t register the rape. It wasn’t until I stood in the shower for what seemed like hours and looked at my body that I realized something was amiss. I saw bruises and bite marks on my bare flesh. Even then, it took a phone call to a friend before the words logged themselves in my throat. My friend said, I think you were raped.
Those words triggered a flood of emotions and memories.
I went to the local police. I went to the university police. I went to the university healthcare and underwent an invasive rape kit to collect evidence. I had photos taken of the bruises and bites on my body. The police took my underwear. And yet, my rapist was never convicted. I never had my day in court. There was never any justice or closure for me.
As the weeks passed I resumed my normal routine, but my life was never the same. Pieces of my soul were shattered. I did heal, and the broken parts grew stronger. I went to therapy. I learned how strong I can be.
Years later, after my diagnosis of autism, I realized my autism saved me from the most brutal parts of my assault.
Autism allowed me to temporarily float away from my emotions. For that I am grateful. My autism has helped me deal with strong, powerful emotions by simply letting me shut them off when things are too painful.
I know now not to trust everyone that seems kind. In some ways that horrible experience has hardened me, but it has also made me wise.
I will share my story without shame.
I will tell all my daughters, especially the two on the spectrum, what happened to me that cold night. I will tell anyone with a daughter, sister or girlfriend to be careful of predatory individuals. I hope I will raise awareness about rape. I hope I will raise awareness in the autism community that this problem touches everyone, including us.
Editor’s Note: If you want more information about autistic women’s issues, we highly recommend the Autism Women’s Network. Download their welcome packets for more advice and support.
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