Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault/Assault.
The “I think” is why I’m writing about sexual assault.
On July 4th, around 1:30 a.m., I was sexually assaulted by a taxi driver on my way home on Pride Night in Bogotá. This post is not to scare people from visiting Bogotá. This could’ve happened anywhere, and every day I feel a pull to return to this city because of its vibrant street art, its organized chaos, and its communities or artists and activists. I can’t wait to write about how inspired I felt there, and I won’t let this incident erase that sense of freedom.
I’m writing this post is because, since this happened, of all of the times that I said “I think I was sexually assaulted” instead of saying “I was sexually assaulted.” It took me two weeks to report the incident to my safety and security officer, and when I did, he said, “Yes, that was definitely a sexual assault.” In no way did he blame me for the incident or for waiting so long to report it. He has been 100% supportive.
When I’d pictured what a sexual assault looked like, I imagine either A. a rape or B. someone running up and grabbing a woman’s boobs or crotch. Both of these things do happen and should never happen. Ever. However, everything else to me is grey area, and it shouldn’t be. That night, a taxi driver invaded my personal space without my consent, grabbed me, and tried to kiss me. I told him to stop, and he did.
Once I got home, I felt shocked and unsafe in ways that I’d felt after I was assaulted at knife point on a run on November 30th, 2015. Only this time, I felt disgusting. I was shaking and crying because I’d been violated in ways I never have before. I immediately felt the shame that our patriarchal society wants me to feel. That it was “my fault” and that it could have been prevented.
Well, guess what. A person should be able to go out at night and to ride in taxis without the fear of sexual assault. What happened, happened, and blaming me, the victim, won’t do anything to fix it. So before you blame the victim, check yourself and know that if you do, your actions are the reason why so many women never come forward and admit what happened to them. After the incident I bought a smartphone and I used apps like Uber to hold my drivers more accountable.
After talking with other women about what happened, they’ve revealed to me that they realized they’ve also been sexually assaulted and never thought to report it because of they don’t feel comfortable doing so, and because of the “I think” piece that trivializes the assault in the first place.
I have the privilege of talking about what happened to me without fear of social repercussions, so that’s why I’m doing this. I also have access to free counseling with the Peace Corps, which I’ve used throughout my service after a long-distance breakup, then after my assault, and after the Orlando shooting. It shouldn’t be a big deal for a woman to come forward and to talk about what happened. I know that reporting it won’t erase the damage, but it’s the first step in exposing what happened.
If you or someone you care about has been sexually assaulted, you are not alone. I am not alone and it’s by talking with survivors of different gender identities to know I am not alone.
I’ve talked to the Peace Corps medical officers about it and was given the option of a medical evacuation or respite leave. I spoke to a Peace Corps Counselor based in Washington D.C., and I answered a few questions. On a scale of 1 to 4, I answered questions like “How often do you have flashbacks and nightmares after your incident? Very frequently, frequently, infrequently, never.” I don’t have nightmares after my incident (so far) but I do have flashbacks every day. Every day, I have the natural reaction to go over it and think about what I “could have” or “should have” done instead. Then, I remind myself that I’m not to blame and that this could’ve happened anywhere.
I was granted 14 days of respite leave, so the Peace Corps paid for my flight home and will give me a stipend to sustain myself. They are not paying for housing, so luckily, I can stay with my mom in Moses Lake, Washington for free. Recovering in a familiar place is something I wish I could have done after my assault last year. Volunteers are given the option to request respite leave 30 days after they report an incident.
This is a new policy that I hope volunteers are aware of in case something happens to them. I haven’t been home in two years, so I am very happy I was given this option. If the Peace Corps weren’t paying for it, I wouldn’t have been able to come home before the end of my service (After rent I get $200 a month which I must use to feed myself, work, take care of myself, and just…live).
Below is the description I sent to my Peace Corps Safety and Security Officer of the sexual assault.
On the morning of July 4th, I took a taxi around 1:30 a.m. after a night of dancing at a gay club, Theatron, in Bogota, after the Pride Parade. I was riding with a new friend, and I thought the taxi driver was suspicious when he blamed my friend for not letting him know that he’d passed her apartment. She had given him her address after all, and he had claimed to know where it was when we all got in. I thought it was strange that he would want her to tell him where to turn, since he should have known where to go. The taxis there are metered, and they are known to take advantage of foreigners by pretending to not know where to go. So, he dropped off my friend, and I gave him my address in el Barrio los Monjes, near the airport.
The driver said he didn’t know exactly where the house was, even though I told him it was near the Home Center. He kept stopping to ask people where Barrio los Monjes was, and we were driving in circles. He didn’t even give people the address. He just kept asking where the neighborhood was. It was a residential area, and I didn’t know exactly where I was, but I wasn’t far from my hosts’ house when I got out. I got out of the cab because the driver was clearly trying to take advantage of me, then he started yelling homophobic things at me. Another cab driver pulled up and my driver told him to call the police on me. I told them to call the police so that they could see what was going on. No police came after several minutes.
I tried getting into another cab, but my first driver slammed the door on me, refusing to let me get in until I paid him. So, I threw the 20,000 Colombian pesos on the floor to keep him away from me and got into another cab who offered to take me home for free. When we got there, I was shaken up because this all could have been much worse. The cab driver said “Don’t worry, you’re safe. My name is Juan* and I live here.” He opened the door and hugged me, which I thought was weird, but I supposed he wanted to comfort me. Then he tried to kiss me on the lips and I felt violated.
I got out of the cab and told him to take me home. He hugged me and again tried to kiss me. He must’ve been around 50 years old and I did not give him my consent. I told him to stop and he did. I eventually made it inside of my host’s house but I felt disgusting afterward and realized I’d been sexually assaulted. It reminded me of the violated way I felt when I was assaulted on a run in Nicaragua last November.
*I changed his name to protect my hosts’ identity, since the driver saw where they live. I gave his real name to my safety and security officer.