Opinion | Op-eds

Time to talk

Over fall break, my mom made an unexpected visit from California to New York City. She had been called the night before, told that her daughter was expressing suicidal thoughts, and asked to please come pick her up from the Metropolitan Hospital emergency psych ward as soon as possible.

"You know," Mom began, "you didn't really look scared or angry or anything when you were in there." 

A good observation. I wasn't scared or angry. I was mostly just tired. 

"You looked like you were thinking, 'One day, I'm going to write a book about this,' and like you were already writing it in your mind," she said.

In a way, I was. That night, I decided to end my silence and start talking. After four months of post-traumatic panic attacks, spirals of self-deprecation, and isolation from almost everyone, I felt like I had some explaining to do. 

He was my first boyfriend. I didn't know anything about relationships, and I was cynical about them after my parents' divorce. I liked him because he was, like me, a little angry at the world. 

But it made it harder to draw the line when his anger turned into threats, and his angst turned into depression. I didn't know how to respond when he said he would kill himself if I didn't do what he wanted, when I would Skype with him and he would hold a knife to his throat. 

On Halloween night of my senior year of high school, he told me about his plan to run away from home. He wouldn't listen to me when I asked him not to, and I became scared when I read his increasingly violent texts. 

He only stopped his threats when I agreed to have sex with him. I didn't have any other choice unless I wanted to feel responsible for both his escape and planned suicide.

That was the first time I had sex.

"But the first time is never good, right?" I told myself as I wiped my tears on my drive home. 

He knew how to get what he wanted after that. If I said no, he'd threaten his life. 

I told myself it had to get better. It never did.

He exploited me not only sexually but also emotionally. The night before my AP Spanish exam, he ran away. I drove until 1 a.m., when I found him two miles from his house, running. He focused on my flaws, appealing to my deepest insecurities. I was forced to filter every word I spoke around him. A minor slip of phrase could be cause for a new threat.

My work slipped and my friends watched, confused. "Why don't you just break up with him?" they would ask. "This isn't your job."

But it's more complicated than that.

When you convince yourself that you're in love, you'll do anything to keep that feeling alive. You might convince yourself that crying in anticipation of, during, and after sex is normal. You might think it's okay for your partner to say demeaning things about you on a daily basis. This is the danger and the power of an intimate partner in a violent relationship. We dated for two years.

A year after I graduated and escaped to New York, the effects of ignoring the truth hit me with full impact. Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety destroyed my appetite, concentration, and self-esteem. Fearful of judgment, I kept everything to myself. 

It was only a few months until I found myself in the psych ward, circling the thought that I had landed myself there by trying too hard to save another's life and crying with nothing else to do. The woman in the bed next to me whispered, "They'll keep you here longer if you keep crying." But I don't belong here, I wanted to say. I didn't ask for this. 

Nobody ever asks to be a victim of sexual violence.

Sexual assault comes in many forms, and intimate partner violence is often overlooked as one of them. As a survivor, I face questions like, "But how could it be rape if he was your boyfriend?" The answer involves a redefinition of the concepts of coercion and sexual assault that immediately come to mind. But this definition is just as legitimate and destructive as the one that most people recognize.

My silence, fear, and instability lost me most of my friends, took a severe toll on my physical health, and almost cost me my life. The idea of sharing myself intimately with anyone terrifies me to this day.

This month is dedicated to sexual assault awareness. Starting a conversation, and feeling comfortable having it, is a step that has a huge effect in reshaping rape culture and promoting an atmosphere for survivors where they can feel safe and supported. 

As someone who had my ability to speak for myself taken away from me, I value these conversations. As I regain my voice, it comes back stronger each time I tell my story. 

Though this is not the book you predicted, here you go, Mom.

The author is a Barnard College sophomore majoring in neuroscience and music. She is a peer advocate for the Barnard/Columbia Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center, and she is a deputy photo editor and associate arts and entertainment editor for Spectator.

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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Anonymous posted on

thank you so much for writing this.

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Anonymous posted on

It's funny because we walked right by each other as I was about to pick a copy of the Spec up (I only read the op-eds). I only know you through mutual friends and perhaps an awkward NSOP encounter, but all I was thinking in my head when I briefly passed you was, "Nice outfit." Thank you for sharing this. Truly.

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Anonymous posted on

Jenny, you are absolutely an amazing person. This is so brave of you to share this and so many people here love and support you, please know that. You are a strong and beautiful young woman and you have so much life ahead of you, to be an inspiration to those around you. I love you!

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Orli Matlow posted on

Thank you so much for writing this. Your resilience and bravery is inspiring (and also you are a really talented writer). the future is bright!

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Winn posted on

This is brilliant and I can empathize so much with a lot of what you're saying. Thank you so much for writing this op-ed, it's exactly what I needed.

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Anonymous posted on

Thank you for writing this. You're incredibly brave, and you have my full support.

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Anonymous posted on

So brave, and so beautiful. Rock on, girl.

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Anonymous posted on

As someone that's been through all that and still stayed so closed, thank you. Thank you for having a voice and making me want to change some things.

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Anonymous posted on

Thank you for sharing your story. I am working through anxiety and depression from the trauma of an abusive relationship, and I kept it inside of me for five years. Please know that you are so strong and resilient to start talking. And even though you are scared to be intimate with someone again (as am I), we will find warm and loving people who are right for us. It may take time, but it will happen.

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Anonymous posted on

when did this column become a psychiatric session? or an Oprah episode?

Sharing your story is not bravery but the refuge of cowards that did not have the will power to exercise their independence. You are simply creating outlets to prostitute your personal story for some incremental gain in your self-esteem. Your story is no more special than what happens to ordinary people all over the world. They live with the reality and move on in life.

Typing a few paragraphs on a website that 100 people visit per year is not an act of bravery.

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Anon posted on

I don't know why you are being so cruel without any provocation. I suspect you're just trolling for controversy and probably will not care what I say, but... empathy and compassion are real things that many people feel are central to the human experience. Attitudes like yours sometimes prevent people from seeking and sharing, and that's why it is impressive to share...Because there's always the risk of some insensitive person responding the way you do, and it hurts, and you know it, and that's why you said it.

But, keep on keepin' on, and I wish you strength in dealing with whatever you have had to "move on" from, because it sounds to me like there has been some stuff.

See? That's what compassion looks like. Try it, it really does feel nice.

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Anonymous posted on

I appreciate your compliments.

If a few lines written by one of the 2 billion+ people who use the internet has the power to personally offend you--that is a gold-star worthy achievement and compliment to me.
Thank You

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Anonymous posted on

I appreciate your compliments.

If a few lines written by one of the 2 billion+ people who use the internet has the power to personally offend you--that is a gold-star worthy achievement and compliment to me.
Thank You

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Anonymous posted on

You admittedly derive some egoistic significance from an interaction with a stranger on the internet, which is why you riled them up in the first place. Pot, meet kettle.

You use self-expression as a vehicle to promote your self esteem and ego as well. Congratulations. You are human.

You can move on now, ordinary person.

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Anonymous posted on

You dished it back and shut me up and made me eat my own words. thats fair.

Your welcome, this little self-righteous victory should improve your self esteem enough to take one less antidepressant tomorrow morning.

Curbing health care costs one post at a time.

One less pill saves you a few dollars this month-use the disposable income to mail me my thank you card.

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Anonymous posted on

It's a hell of a lot braver than insulting someone who has deliberately let down her guard, and anonymously at that.

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HGM posted on

It's a hell of a lot braver than insulting someone who has deliberately let down her guard, and anonymously at that.

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HGM posted on

It's a hell of a lot braver than insulting someone who has deliberately let down her guard, and anonymously insulting her at that.

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Anonymous posted on

Yikes! Sorry for the multiple postings! Not my intention.

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Anonymous posted on

You are both bad and stupid. YOU need a psych session.

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Columbia Spectator's picture
Columbia Spectator posted on
This comment has been deleted in line with our comment policy.
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Anonymous posted on

I summarized her piece. whats wrong with a one-sentence summary of her piece?

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Anonymous posted on

so was the second time better than the first? You left that part out. Nice cliffhanger.

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I don't think she did... posted on

"I told myself it had to get better. It never did."
/literacy

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Anonymous posted on

Thanks for clearing that up.

He might have been inexperienced- I dont think its appropriate to make a passive criticism of his sexual performance.

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Anonymous posted on

I think you may have missed what she meant by the comment about the sex; because she felt responsible for his life if she didn't sleep with him, it was coercive. It has nothing to do with sexual performance because it was unwanted sex on her part. It could never be good under those circumstances, irrespective of his "sexual performance" or experience.

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Anonymous posted on

I can't even. If you actually read the whole article and think this is what she was doing, you are really an idiot.

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Anonymous posted on

So it is out. There is criminal culture at Columbia University. I associate this criminal culture to the criminal minds of most of Columbia leaders and many of its students. Go ahead - tell me that this is complicated. It figures.

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Anonymous posted on

While I recognize that it's messed up to insult someone on the internet for telling a personal story, I still have issues with this article. She calls herself a rape victim, even though she never gets raped. She says she was a victim of violence, but never describes any violence being perpetrated on her. Just because you fell in love with a crazy man doesn't make you a rape victim. She should really take some responsibility for her actions, instead of just making excuses.

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Jenny Payne posted on

I really understand your concern with this issue, and that's part of the reason I wrote this piece. The definition of rape includes the following: "the act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or with a person who is incapable of valid consent, such as one who is unconscious, incapacitated, or below the legal age of consent."

In my situation, though I was not physically forced, I was certainly emotionally coerced and threatened into sexual intercourse. Intimiate partner violence is indeed an important form of sexual assault, but one that is not often considered when we imagine what rape looks like. I really do understand your perspective, and appreciate that you are willing to participate in the dialogue surrounding this issue.

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Columbia Spectator's picture
Columbia Spectator posted on
This comment has been deleted in line with our comment policy.
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Anonymous posted on

Rape is clearly not cut and dry like you seem to be asserting. I find it morally abhorrent that you believe yourself to be some sort of ethical adjudicator on the issue and are even remotely capable of doling out arbitrary decrees of what is and isn't "justifiable" rape.

Is is more than apparent that this girl underwent 2 years of traumatic emotional and physical experience. At least have the compassion to acknowledge her pain before you marginalize it.

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Anonymous posted on

Rape isn't an abstract ethical issue, it is a crime with a specific definition. I may not be capable of adjudicating whether an event constitutes rape, but judges and juries do so every day. They rule according to the laws of the state, not according to the pain or trauma of those involved.

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Anonymous posted on

"The mere fact that a person allows sexual connection to be performed on them, does not automatically mean that they are legally consenting. If that person allows sexual connection due to *coercion* (e.g., under force, threats or fear of force; when he/she is asleep or very intoxicated; if he/she is affected by an intellectual, mental, or physical condition or impairment of a certain nature and degree; when he/she is mistaken about the partner's identity), then he/she is not legally consenting."

It's pretty clear from her description of the events that she was without question receiving "threats or fear of force" for the entirety of their relationship.

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Anonymous posted on

Thank you

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FemSexy posted on

Jenny, your bravery astounds me. I cannot thank you enough for sharing your story here. Thank you also for the amount of love, joy, strength, and acceptance you bring on to this campus and into the lives of the people around you. I am so lucky to have met you.

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Anonymous posted on

I am in awe of your courage and your warmth, eloquence, and humility. Keep telling your story. You educate and empower all of us.

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Anonymous posted on

Thank you for writing this. I am in awe of your courage and your warmth, eloquence, and humility. Keep telling your story. You educate and empower all of us.

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