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Local View: Survivors' stories matter, no matter when they're told

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I've pondered why my story would matter tucked in amidst the thousands of others. I'm not famous, I have nothing to gain, and I've easily let others speak up while I remained silent.

Jenni WolfeBut while listening to the exchange between Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh last week, a chord struck deep within my soul. The way he turned the tables and questioned her was exactly what happened to me 30 years ago as a young, naive teenager. The feelings I had back in my first month of college started to flow back.

I left home like most 18-year-olds on a quest for independence, seeking a teaching degree. I was in the top 10 percent of my graduating class with scholarships to show for it. The first two weekends I went home homesick, which was a new feeling for me. When the third weekend came, my friends convinced me to stay — a life-changing choice.

That Saturday night we went out, had a few drinks, and I chose to go home early. I had never been one to party much in high school and had studying to do the next day. Sunday morning I went to take a shower in my co-ed dorm.

I was raped. No, I didn't fight back. I didn't see who did it. I didn't yell. I was frozen in time, not even knowing what was happening to me. In the aftermath, I couldn't even say the word rape. To this day, I feel a lump in my throat when I say the word.

I had never known anyone who was raped. It seemed easier to say I was grabbed and touched from behind, because in my head I had no idea why I didn't yell or fight back. I blamed myself. I felt so dirty. I didn't go into details because it was so embarrassing. I felt if I didn't admit the full truth, maybe it didn't happen. I changed the story in my mind so I could survive mentally and physically. I thought my boyfriend would leave me.

Campus security was all men. I told them I was grabbed from behind but that was all. They asked seemingly innocent questions:

"What did you do last night?"

"How much did you drink?"

"Why were you taking a shower so early?"

"Are you sure this happened?"

"Did you yell?"

"Did you kick or fight back?"

"Why not?"

I began wondering whether or not it was actually my fault. What was I going to tell my parents? Friends? I ended up leaving college a week later, broken in a way I couldn't understand. I didn't know what to say to people back home, so I said little. I was unable to start at a new college until the winter semester. I was a drop-out.

My scholarships disappeared; they had already been given out for the year. I started working three jobs and didn't really see any friends. I didn't talk to my parents and wondered if they knew what really happened. Would they blame me, too, since I had gone out the night before? Would they be mad I lied?

I truly believed that by not thinking about it the the pain would go away. My mom sent me to therapy, but I couldn't open up about what really happened.

I moved on with my life, but it was never the same. A few years later, I attempted suicide and thankfully was not successful. After that I was able to tell my truth to one or two people close to me. They believed me and loved me anyway. I am thankful for them.

To those I didn't tell the truth to, I am sorry. It was never about you. The repercussions never go away. I am always startled, even if I know who is in the house. I am overwhelmed by group bathrooms along with movies and media showing a woman being mistreated. Over the years, I've kept my truth tucked away because I knew the questions would follow.

"Why didn't you tell the truth?"

"Why are you talking about it now?"

"Why did you lie?"

"Did this really happen?"

One of the reasons Sen. Lindsey Graham didn't seem to believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's testimony regarding Kavanaugh was because she couldn't remember the exact date. I can't remember the exact date, either — nor do I remember the exact date my house burned down in high school. But both happened.

Today, during the same month my rape occurred 30 years ago, I am telling my story, because our stories matter no matter when they are told. I believe sharing my story may make it easier for someone else to share theirs — or at least feel they are not alone.

To the hashtags #metoo and #whyIdidn'treport, I would add #ourstoriesmatternomatterwhentheyaretold.

Jenni Wolfe of Duluth is an elementary school teacher in the Superior school district.

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