I thought I was too strong to get assaulted
By Claudia Chen
I was headed toward a rally one afternoon, and a group of men that I took to be mid-
twenties came onto the bus. They sat uncomfortably close to me. One of them started
to stroke my shoulder, pushing down my bra strap, and another reached between my
legs and grabbed me, hard. They said all these things about one of them liking me,
thinking I was beautiful, and how they really, really wanted to touch me.
I didn’t know I was being sexually assaulted at the time. The empowered side of me
wanted to reframe the narrative to say that I faced my perpetrators head on, but the
truth was that I was too petrified to move. I shrugged their hands off my chest and
shifted my legs toward the window, but nothing worked.
Eventually, my entire body just shut down. I wanted to keep cool, like it wasn’t affecting
me at all, because maybe they’d stop if I acted like they weren’t even close to making
an impact. There were so many people on that bus, and no one said anything.
I left that experience with pieces of myself missing, still caught on the bus between
what-ifs, a young activist’s defiance, and blatant denial that this could happen to her
because she was strong, empowered, and hella badass. I left feeling empty, stripped of
any agency I thought I had.
For a long time I didn’t want to share. I didn’t want to tell people what happened. When I did, I made sure to make it a joke. I wanted to make sure that I was still the protagonist of my story, that I was still the strong, independent heroine that I wanted to paint myself to be all the time. I didn’t want to have chinks in my queer feminist armor. I didn’t want to tell people that someone had violated me.
I found ImMEDIAte Justice, an organization that teaches young women filmmaking and sexuality education, when I was in the most denial. I walked cautiously into a room with two eager ImMEDIAte Justice staff who welcomed me into their space, listened to what I had to say, and didn’t interrupt me—not even once.
We brainstormed a lot at Chuco’s Justice Center in Inglewood. There were days we would just
watch Soul Pancake videos, cry happy cries, and tried out new ideas: what if we subbed in that giant couch for a giant vagina couch where mothers and daughters could talk about reproductive justice? Or if giant sperm walked around a busy area and asked people questions to educate them on safer sex? We shot and edited videos that spotlighted topics like creative ways to use condoms, childhood sexual assault survivors, and street harassment. Through working with amazing, radical individuals and hearing their stories, I was able to work through my own trauma and internalized oppression.
ImMEDIAte Justice reminded me there are still ways to tell my story, even as I am processing it. My story is still mine to tell, and I can tell it without losing my agency and without feeling bad about myself. I can still shape my narrative as a strong, queer woman of color breaking gender binaries and tearing down rape culture. That post-sexual assault, silenced and broken part of me… is smiling.
You can contribute to ImMEDIAte Justice so they can continue to serve young women here