**The following blog series is told in brief from my perspective, and only my perspective. Any names that may be used have been changed. **
His name was Yann. We met at my favorite coffee shop in the Bali neighborhood. This particular night they had an open mic. I decided on a whim to sing. Besides, I didn’t know anyone and probably wouldn’t see them again, right? I sang “People Make the World Go Round” by The Stylistics. After all the acts performed, a man came over to me and introduced himself as Henri. He pointed to a man who was pretending not to look our way and said that he thought that I had a nice voice and that I was beautiful. I asked why he just didn’t come over and say that himself. Henri explained that his friend’s English wasn’t that great and he didn’t know if I spoke French. I told Henri that his friend can talk to me himself and we’ll figure out the language stuff. Henri retrieved Yann, and in very broken English, Yann introduced himself and said that he liked my song. I thanked him, and they offered to buy me a drink . I hung out with them the rest of the night at the coffee shop. Pretty soon, all three of us were traipsing all over the city. Henri served as a translator when Yann (or sometimes I) was stuck on words. One day Henri couldn't join us on a scheduled outing and it ended up being just Yann and me. We fumbled through broken English and French over ice cream. We soon found out that sometimes words aren’t necessary to communicate. We kept meeting up and had a great time practicing language. He took me to parts of the city that I would not have known existed. I suppose you could say we were dating, though I wasn’t looking for anything serious or involved. We had a lot of fun going to cultural events, practicing language, going to the coffee shop, and listening to lots of music. After some time, our friendship included benefits. There was an easy chemistry, one that manifested as a fluid and passionate affair. It was during the rainy season when we were at the coffee shop and the sky seemingly opened up. The rainy season is intense and unpredictable in Cameroon, and the rain is heavy and loud. Yann and I ran for cover and ended up at the apartment he shared with his friend. I just wanted to dry off and go to sleep. He had other plans. He tried to have sex with me. I didn’t want to. He kept trying and got aggressive. It seemed as if he thought I was joking or being coy. We struggled and I ultimately couldn’t protect myself. It was night and it was raining. It was unsafe to travel, especially as a woman, in those conditions. Ironically it was safer to be there with him than outside. So I stayed. With my eyes wide open. I didn’t sleep that night.
As soon as day broke and the rain stopped, I bolted out of that apartment and caught a taxi home. I spent that day replaying what happened. I asked myself if I was really raped or if I was just confused. I felt the pressure on my wrists from where he pinned me down. I heard the deafening rain as I told him no and to get away from me. We had had sex before, so did he not know the difference? Or did he not care? In the days following, I had to work hard to be “normal”. After all, children are perceptive and my students seemed to notice the slightest change. I distanced myself from Yann, especially after he continued to attempt to contact me and started professing his love for me. No. Just....no.
I did not report the attack to anyone. Why? Earlier in my time there, I was robbed by 2 men. They snuck up behind me and one man raised his fist to hit me because I was struggling with the other man. I let my bag go so they wouldn’t beat me. That was on my birthday. When I informed my boss, the first question he asked was if they took the keys to the house. If so, the locks would need to be changed. Reporting it to the police was also disheartening, And somehow, nearly the whole neighborhood knew about it so random people would ask me questions. Embarrassing and isolating.
While I was writing this part of the blog series, Yann found and followed me Instagram. This was after I clearly told him long ago, in both French and English, that I never wanted to speak to him again. He was blocked from both of my Facebook pages. So when I saw his name in my Instagram notifications, I was automatically triggered. It took a couple of days to shake it. I’m not sure if he’s dense or truly thinks that he did nothing wrong. I think that even if you go to therapy and do internal work, that a piece of trauma sticks with you. You learn to manage it, and work to make it as small as possible. Triggers still happen. It can affect how you proceed with your life and relationships with others. It can affect how you view yourself. Personally, I was so busy trying to leave Cameroon, adjust back to America, navigate a new city, work 2 jobs, and feel normal that I repressed a lot of my experience. It wasn’t until someone I’m really close to suggested that I consider therapy. I eventually heeded his advice and sought help.
I was in individual and group therapy. Unfortunately, we were the statistic: 1 in 4 sexual assault survivors know their attacker. The women in my group survived attacks from men they were dating, boyfriends, friends, and husbands. The women in the group were of a variety of ethnicities, and spanned a couple of generations. The stories were heartbreaking and shocking. Here we were, trying to make sense of our individual circumstances, and society as a whole.
If you know me personally and find yourself wondering why you didn’t know this information, it’s because I kept it to myself. Most of you will be finding this out for the first time. While it is my hope that no one takes offense to not knowing, I also know that I had to proceed in the manner that felt most comfortable to me. I won’t apologize for protecting myself. It upset me when people felt like I didn’t reach out to them in a reasonable amount of time when I got back to the States, or try to make plans with them while I was home in Atlanta. What people don’t know is how much my inner circle had to love on me and lift me up when I was in the deepest of holes. That included them physically coming to pick me up and take me out of the house.
I feel like I’m now prepared to have some tough conversations. I also feel like I'm able to better assist and advocate with people who have survived sexual assault. Even though the experience was negative, I tried (and am trying) to use it for good.
If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, please refer to https://www.rainn.org/national-resources-sexual-assault-survivors-and-their-loved-ones for resouces that could be of assistance. More than anything, listen to your loved one and support them in the way THEY need to be supported.
Sexy people rock.