(Trigger Warning for certain verbiage relating to assault)
Every morning during the weekend, I wake up a little worried. Regardless of how much I try, it’s an old instinct I can’t shake. Let me tell you about the morning that shaped my life.
In high-school, I went to summer camps that were often far from my tiny home town of Oak Park, California. . Nevertheless, I treasured the friendships I made and regularly keep up with most of my friends who lived in other states. This story focuses around a girl, who I will call Sarah (not her real name), who became one of my closest friends. She lived a few states away from me and we would do our best to stay in contact. However, during my senior year, I began to spend more and more time wrapped up in my academics, extracurriculars, and future. It became more difficult to keep in contact with my friends from around the US. I slowly lost touch with many of them, including Sarah.
In retrospect, I do not know how I didn’t notice it. The lack of social media posts. The change in her demeanor in photos. Increasingly downtrodden snapchats on her story. I kept going on with my life, while a close friend of mine seemed to be spiraling. I even had a conversation with a mutual friend where they mentioned that she was not doing well. I was self-involved and ignorant of the lives of others. I should have reached out.
It was 9 AM on a Sunday morning. I had just moved into my freshman dorm and I woke up early in order to set up my room. I rolled over to check my phone and there was one text with a short phrase, that is now forever burned into my brain.
“I need help”
What I came to learn is that, over the course of a year, Sarah was abused, coerced, and harassed by her boyfriend at the time. Sparing details out of respect, I saw her undergo things that I couldn’t fathom would ever happen to a person I knew, a person I was once close to. Sarah and I spoke a lot the next few days, when I slowly learned just how little I actually could help her. I felt useless and was angry with myself, because I could’ve have stepped in. I was guilty of being a bystander. Why did I not see the signs? They were all so obvious. She stopped posting on social media. She was using makeup to cover up bruises to the best of her ability. She was reaching out for help in a way that her boyfriend wouldn’t catch her. Someone had even told me that she was going through a rough patch in her life. How could I have ignored all of that and focused so intently on my life?
I made a pledge to myself that day. I would never let another one of my friends experience the extent of the abuse Sarah had been receiving for a whole year. I would work actively to learn more about sexual assault, harassment, and relationship abuse/violence. I tried to look for organizations to get involved with.
This is why, when I was first offered to become a peer educator for AEPi and get trained by Not on My Campus, I jumped on the opportunity. I applied to be a part of the executive board for NOMC and became the IFC peer education chair. After a wonderful year with that team, I applied to become the next vice-president of the organization that I had come to love and cherish. I’ve helped with university wide campaigns, multiple peer educator trainings, and volunteered my time at various institutions that help survivors. I’m proud of everything I’ve achieved and resources that I’ve helped spread and educated others about.
Yet, every morning on the weekend, I wake up a little worried. I still think back to those three words. “I need help.”
Especially if start feeling too wrapped up in my own life, I constantly ask myself: How are my friends doing? Have I heard from them in a while? How did they look last time I saw them? What does their social media look like? Do I even know what’s going on in their lives?
It’s always the small things. The least we can all do about it is make sure we check up on one another. Relationship violence is often understated in discussions about assault and harassment. We may be shaking the ridiculous notion that these acts are often perpetuated by the random stranger in a bush rather than a close friend at a party, but emotional and physical abuse in relationships are not spoken about enough.
“If this is happening to them, why can’t they just end the relationship?”
“Yeah, this is really bad and all, but why not just report them to the police?”
These responses are understandable, but are misguided and come from a lack of knowledge rather than willful ignorance. Often the person being abused feels powerless and terrified of the consequences. They feel alone, either abandoned by friends who do not understand or kept away from their friends by their significant other. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple text or phone call to someone that you may not have heard from in a while.
You never know, someone just might need a little bit of help.
Vice-President, Not on My Campus