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*Trigger Warning: This story recounts someone's personal experiences with sexual assault and harassment*

I have always believed in the power of words. Growing up I was obsessed with famous quotes. I had a library of essays and poems and one liners on my phone. I was entranced with this idea that someone’s words could create wars, movements, change. And because of this strong belief in words, I often spoke my mind. The thing about words is that you have to have the right ones. And sometimes you can’t find them. In my 20 years of life, I’ve been assaulted and harassed several times. The hardest thing about that sentence is that for a long time I didn’t have the vocabulary to understand what happened to me. I didn't know that these experiences weren't okay, I didn’t have the words in the moment to express how I felt. Or even the words after to explain what happened.

When I was 14 my older guy friend asked me for photos. I was 15 and didn’t realize showing up implied consent. I had to hide in the bathroom and call my mom to pick me up, lying to him that I felt sick. When I was 16 my boyfriend got mad at me for not allowing him to touch me. I didn’t understand why the experience at 15 affected me so deeply, or why I knew I shouldn’t do anything I didn’t want to but still felt like I had to. And when I was 18 I can’t remember it. But for some reason my peers approached me in class saying: “heard you had a fun weekend."

In these moments my words felt powerless. I didn’t have the words to understand why a 17 year old shouldn’t ask me for that. I didn’t have the words to understand that I never gave consent to be touched there. I didn’t understand that my boyfriend shouldn’t coerce me into sexual acts. And I didn’t have the words to understand that being blacked out at a party didn’t give my best friend and ex boyfriend the right to take something away from me. It took me awhile to find the words for all of these experiences. I haven’t really said many of them out loud yet. It’s frightening to say the truth. And even more so when it means exposing a piece of yourself you don’t fully understand.

But I believe words have power, and if saying this out loud gives others reason to as well then I will.

My name is Abbi, and I’m a survivor of sexual assault, harassment, and rape. And I still believe in the power of words.

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