As a male survivor of sexual assault, Tim Mousseau followed a pattern of staying silent—until he took back his own voice.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time that many people will talk about sexual assault prevention and sadly, even more will not due to stigmas that exists in our society. Sexual assault is a difficult topic to broach but an easy one to ignore until it directly pokes it head into your life. Society is doing work to change this. The facts on sexual assault are widely shared, the impacts of education slow and incremental but still, the incidents are too frequent. We have a month on sexual assault prevention, but we need more. We need to change the story on it so this isn’t a one time conversation but an ongoing charge. I know that request is a lot. Because believe me, personally this topic is a lot. Not just this month but every month. Yet where it is a lot, our peers, our brothers and sisters, our fellow humans, they are deserving of the difficulty that comes with changing how we discuss the story of sexual assault. We must reframe this conversation and how we address this act and its impacts. Will it be easy? No it will not.
I personally know this. Sexual assault is a part of my life story, a heavily instrumental piece in my current identity and even my daily work. To many, I best serve in the role of a survivor, the thing I write and speak on. I am a survivor because that is how society decided to comfortably label me. I am a victim too because that is what someone else did to me. Most importantly, to myself, I am a storyteller, a writer, an orator and an educator on this topic because these are the roles I pick.
I pick these roles because I was tired of being voiceless. I took my voice back. And as we, our collective society, approaches the issue of sexual assault, we must all take our voices back.
When my assault itself happened is somewhat unknown. Based on the pictures I received and my traceable history of tattoos, I could tell it was during my college career. Due to circumstances, I did not know about my assault until a few years after it occurred- not until my assailant decided to send threatening letters to my work place containing first verbal harassment before escalating to pictures of this act and finally notes being left at my apartment.
To say this changed my life is the understatement of the century. It shattered my world, tearing me down as a person, bone by fractured bone, warping how I viewed others. My assault and the subsequent stalking was the skeleton key to my hell. Those notes and pictures were fare enough for the ferryman and I crossed Styx into a personal underworld filled with dark entities.
These beast went by names like shame, humiliation, fear, anger, alcohol abuse, depression, rage, hate and silence.
Of all the things I experienced, all the primal pains and fears, all the anger and frustration, all the lack of understanding and wondering why, of all these emotions, the worst was silence.
I was silent because you see, that is what I was told I should do. Survive, endure, live. But do so in silence. I was silent because I was cautioned I should be ashamed or afraid. I was silent because I felt I must.
One of the first people I told about my assault told me I should be careful, that I should watch out for what this person might do with these pictures and how they might use them to blackmail me.
One of the next people I told about my assault asked me if I was sure I wasn’t gay and trying to hide an “embarrassing” decision.
One of the later asked what I did wrong. How could I not know I was clearly drugged and abused till later. How much had I been drinking.
Silence seemed to be the best option, the safest in avoiding ridicule. There were a few people I talked with and trusted on the topic, but for the longest time, I didn’t talk about it because I was afraid of the reactions. The ensuing looks of judgement, pity, or shame. I was voiceless in my fear.
Until one day, I got tired. A friend made an off hand comment, a calloused joke, about sexual assault and I was furious. I challenged them, I pushed them. They asked me why I cared so much. They said it was all humor and no one took it seriously.
The words vomited out of me before I could stop them. “Because I was sexually assaulted.”
That sentence certainly changed my relationship with this person. It certainly changed my life owning this identity so publicly.
From that day forward, I vowed I wouldn’t hide this fact, I wasn’t necessarily shouting it or interjecting it into every conversation but I would no longer be ashamed of what someone else decided to do to me. I stopped dictating my identity by the actions of another.
And I stopped the silence.
Like a cub mewing for the first time, I had regained some of my voice.
A few weeks went by. The next time I owned my identity, I had a much more positive conversation on the topic in revealing my past with a friend who had initially broached the subject with care. When we were done talking, I was hit with a lingering thought. I had had it. I was done. No more silence. This was my voice.
I used it.
I sat down and I wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I edited the piece once. I sent it away to my editors. I was worried they wouldn’t want to publish it, worried it was too much.
They thanked me and we set up a time to run it. The article ran. People reached out. I talked with other survivors. My coworkers, peers, and friends supported me. And my voice kept growing.
My voice grew loud. I now speak on sexual assault, I continue to write on the subject, I openly share my experience because of something I realized after the first time I publicly told someone, the first time I wrote on it, and the first time I educated others on it.
Sharing about my assault is difficult. It is emotional and raw and vulnerable. It can be frightening and taxing. Every time I relive parts of the experience, I feel the emotions. Hearing the stories of others is even more harrowing. It is draining, when you hear about the darkness in the world, it is difficult to know the pain people are putting people through.
It is worth it all for one simple reason.
I do this because I took back my voice. Someone tried to take it from me, through intimidation and stalking, through scare tactics and violation. Where they tried to take my voice, I finally said no. I was tired of the silence and the shame. It was my voice and they had no right to take it. I will never let them rob it from me again.
I speak up, I speak out, because I was tired. I was tired of shame and tired of hiding. More so now than ever, I am tired of others having to do the same. When I was assaulted, it was not my fault. It is never anyone’s fault that this happens to them. We never choose to be assaulted. After years of recovery I was fortunate enough to be supported by people who helped me realize that where I could not have prevented my assault, my past did need not define my future; that I could control how I moved forward. So, I took my voice back.
It is my hope that as a society, we can take our voices back. That we can change how we approach sexual assault, not making people feel ashamed or forcing them into silence due to a stigma but instead empowering them to speak up, to process their experience, to help them heal. Collectively, we must take our voices back. Not because it is April or because it is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but because we are humans. And we need one another. We need each other to do better.
No one should ever have to lose their voice. It is up to us to be certain no one ever does.