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Jose Aponte

Margot Morgan, associate professor of political science offers words of encouragement to sexual assault victims. “Love yourself,” Morgan said. “Don’t judge yourself. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t listen to people who try to put you down. Trust yourself. You know what happened. You know who you are. You know the truth.”

Margot Morgan: It can happen to anyone.

January 21, 2017

While in graduate school Morgan attended a party and had too much to drink. She fell asleep near one of her closest male friends.

“I woke up with his fingers inside me, and I froze,” Morgan said. “We talk about fight or flight, how those are the two animalistic responses, but there’s a third one, and it’s freeze. I think that’s what happens to a lot of victims. I didn’t just pop up and run away, and I didn’t punch him in the face. I froze. I couldn’t move.”

Morgan said she laid as still as possible, hoping he would think she was asleep and realize she did not want it to happen. When that failed to deter him, she pushed his hand away.  When he tried again, she got up went to the bathroom and locked the door.

“I was so horrified, and I felt so alone, terrified and small that all I knew was I needed to get out of the house,” Morgan said.

She said she knew she was too drunk to drive and she couldn’t think clearly enough to call someone for help. She got up to leave, and he walked her to the porch.

She said her intention was to sit in the car for a while to clear her head. But he just stood there on the porch, staring at her. She had to get out of there, so she drove herself home.

“I was pretty lucky I did not kill myself or somebody else on the way home, but I had to get away,” Morgan said.

It doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how educated you are, or how confident you are, Morgan said . Sexual assault can break you.

“I was a very well-educated person. I was in a Ph.D. program. I already had a master’s degree, and I was 28,” Morgan said. “Even so, when it happened I felt like I was 5 years old. I felt small and stupid and completely alone and insignificant.”

Morgan said the perpetrator was one of her closest  friends, and that made it even more heart-breaking. She said people should understand that if it is someone close to you that assaults you, you will miss them.

She said she wants people to know that it is OK and even normal to still feel the love you have for them. The love doesn’t just go away.

“That’s actually one of the most painful things about the aftermath of it,” Morgan said. “I never talked to him again, but I missed him terribly. He was my friend. I missed his jokes, I missed talking to him. I missed being close to him. And that sucked. But that’s normal. It is not a simple thing.”

Morgan said when she told her partner she was assaulted, he didn’t believe her. He believed it happened,but he did not believe it was sexual assault. She said he went as far as to blame her for it. He asked her the stereotypical questions: What were you wearing? How much did you have to drink?

“He even said to me, ‘What did you think was going to happen?’” Morgan said. “I was more shocked by that than the actual assault itself. This was the person I expected to be on my side.”

One reason she wants to tell her story is to explain to victims that if people do not believe you, do not let that confuse you. She said it confused her greatly when her partner reacted that way.

She began to think that he was right and maybe she deserved it. She began to question if what happened should be considered sexual assault. She wondered if it was all just a misunderstanding.

“It confuses you, and you start to lose faith in your own judgement,” Morgan said. “That was one of the most terrifying parts about being assaulted.”

Morgan said if someone you know has been assaulted and they come to you, it is imperative that you support them. That you listen. That you don’t try to minimize what happened to them.

“It is vitally important that you support them because it does affect what they are going to do and how they are going to look at themselves,” Morgan said.

For three years after her assault, Morgan said she could not wear skirts. Seeing other women in dresses and skirts made her skin crawl. She felt like skirts and dresses left her physically vulnerable. She said she knew these thoughts and feelings were irrational even as she had them.

“It was almost like a self-loathing thing,” Morgan said. “Obviously, it is not the victim’s fault, and nothing you could ever wear will justify sexual assault. Sometimes the anger people feel when they grieve is misdirected. I should have been angry at him … I wasn’t though. I was angry at other victims.”

She said victims need to try not to judge themselves during the healing process. There is no statute of limitations on what you feel or how long you can grieve. She said people will handle the grief in different ways, and not all of them will be rational.

“All of my male friends that I told said the exact same thing,” Morgan said. “They said, ‘Well I’m not surprised,’ or ‘Well you know that guy.’ They were completely not surprised, nonplussed, and unimpressed by the situation.”

Morgan said that horrified her. She wondered why they wouldn’t warn her about “that guy” if they knew he did not respect women. It indicated to her there were conversations between her other guy friends and the perpetrator that she was not privy too. That other women in their lives were not privy to.

“Men need to do more to reign each other in…They need to stand up and say, ‘You know what, let’s not talk about women this way,’” Morgan said. “They need to do that because otherwise they are not going to be surprised when it happens.”

Morgan said the reason why there are so many sexual predators is because they are opportunists. They don’t really plan on taking advantage of women. They are not plotting it out, but if they are given the opportunity they will take it.

Morgan said the reason why is because of the culture. It is because of the way we raise boys, the way we talk about this stuff and blame women. She said it is because the way guys are always getting props for getting laid.

“It’s a problem and we all need to be a part of the solution,” Morgan said. “We need to be better bystanders. We need to be better friends.”

If you hear “locker room” talk, she said you need to squash it. If you see someone trying to take advantage of another person, you need to intervene.

If you are a victim of sexual assault you need to find a support system, she said. You should have somebody to confide in.

Morgan said the assault itself only lasts a few moments. She said that is the easy part, relative to the fall out, relative to what victims must go through emotionally to deal with what they survived.

“In the moment, they can get through anything if they have to,” Morgan said. “But once that moment is over and they actually have to absorb and take in what happened, that’s the work. That’s the hard, hard work. That’s where the resources are absolutely essential.”

Editors’ note: This is the first installment in a series of stories The Horizon is publishing about sexual assault. The next story explores resources available to survivors.

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