By Elijah Tarik Powell | Published May 10, 2016
A sunny and carefree day at Kean University was eclipsed by one guest speaker’s story of sexual abuse and depression.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, April 12, Kean University students, mostly those who were members of various Greek sororities and fraternities, sat in the Miron Student Center’s theater to watch Tim Mousseau use his own life experience to advocate for a change of societal thought on the subject of sexual assault and abuse.
In his speech “Retaking Our Story” writer Tim Mousseau, began by engaging the crowd, asking about student’s experiences with awkward dates as a way to emphasize the purpose and significance of the stories in our lives. “If I were to ask you about who you are as an individual, or who you are as a person, what you would do is you tell me a story…And if you ever want to create change in society, the way you would do that is through storytelling.”
Three students shared their stories involving vulgar and cheap dates, and then Mousseau went into his own, explaining how dating a fellow writer led him to an important realization after she asked him if she could read an article he had written.
The slide show presentation accompanying Mosseau suddenly read the title of that article, “To the person who sexually assaulted me, I forgive you,” and Mousseau described how her smile faded into an expression of shame and pity. His being sexually assaulted was not something that he could have controlled and was not his fault, therefore he saw it as slightly offensive that her disposition would change after finding that out about Mousseau.
Mousseau went on to talk about how American society treats victims of sexual assault and abuse in a negative manner, despite the fact that sexual abuse or assault is literally never the victim’s fault.
“Today when I say we are going to retake the story on sexual assault, what I mean is that we are going to look at the way our society has framed the conversation on sexual assault, because for far too long what we have talked about is that if you have been sexually assaulted that you should be ashamed of that…We can’t stop an issue if we don’t even know how to talk about it.”
Mousseau’s appearance, a bearded likeable face, pink shirt, and dark denim skinny jeans made him quite relatable to the youthful audience, but some shocking statistics he pointed out may have unfortunately made him even more relatable.
“Statistically, looking out at this audience, there are people in this room, both men and women, who have already experienced sexual violence. I know that for a fact. Statistically there a men and women in this room who will experience sexual violence who have not yet…Every single one of you knows someone who has been sexually assaulted. That’s a problem.”
He explained how 1 in 16 me in college will be sexually assaulted, 1 in 4 women in college will be sexually assaulted, and how the shame victims are trained by society to have just for being victims leads few survivors to seek out help.
Mousseau detailed how after he found out he was assaulted while incapacitated during his college years via photos of his assault being mailed to him by an unknown sender, who to this day remains unidentified, he spent his time heavily drinking to cope with the shame and emotional pain, rather than feeling confident enough to open up about it to others.
Sexual assault victims are 3 times more likely to suffer from depression, 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and 4 times more likely to attempt suicide. But Mousseau let the audience know that these statistics are partially a result of how society treats victims, and can be reduced if we simply change the way we look at sexual assault, as well as change the way we act as bystanders to such acts.
“Me coming here, me standing on this stage and me telling you these facts and figures- for most of you, that’s not going to convince you to do anything. When I walk away from this stage you’re going to say ‘Well that sucked that that happened to him, whatever.’ What we know is that until something impacts who we are as a person, half the time we don’t care about it… We don’t care about something until it becomes apart of our story.”
Mousseau talked about how at a school in Texas, a crying woman came to him and told him her story of how her friends took her out to get drunk after she broke up with her boyfriend. Her and a platonic male friend were both drunk in party they attended and went home together and had sex.
She did not press charges against him, as her and the friend came to the understanding that it was all a mistake, but nevertheless, she felt angry and violated because she had never had sex with anyone but her former boyfriend and had not intended on having sex that night.
“A few months later…she called me and she said ‘Tim, I finally realize why I was so mad…that night, I was out with a group of my friends, and any of them…could have stopped this.’”
Shame attached to being a victim, as well as our culture of minding our own business and not intervening when we have even the slightest idea that something may be wrong only add to the damage caused by sexual assault and abuse.
Part of what made “Retaking Our Story” so captivating was that Mousseau highlighted these unspoken rules of society, and explained how changing them and reacting differently than we are used to when faced with such situations can help solve the issue of sexual assault.
“Stopping sexual assault doesn’t happen in one big act. What happens is that it comes from small acts. It comes from all of you doing small things that add up,” he added.