"Why do you think women stay quiet about sexual assault / rape?"

It's strange to sit and write this piece. In one of my earlier pieces, I mentioned that I never thought I'd join the ranks of women who have chosen not to report their experience of sexual assault to the relevant authorities. Yet, here we are.

During my assault, I was dealing with a raging internal battle. "Do I tell the other people on this trip?". Of course, my assault took place during a volunteering trip to New York with a group of friends. We were staying in an apartment in Jersey City. I was one of three women.

It wasn't until I saw the face of the second youngest woman (myself being the youngest) that I decided I had to speak up. I'm not sure if she knows that detail, or if she knows how much her reaction meant to me. I didn't know if she'd believe me (there's one reason why women stay quiet) or if she'd blame me (another reason). Instead, though, she held me.

Until recently, I didn't even have a proper cry over everything that happened. Until recently, I didn't know the extent of the damage that had been done. If I'd known that back then, maybe I'd have gone to the police. Or maybe I wouldn't have.

Don't get me wrong, I considered all of my options. I read up on New Jersey state law for a week, starting in an airport in London. I spent the evening before flying back to Belfast sitting in Burger King in Birmingham Airport with my laptop in front of me. I emailed various people for advice.

I don't entirely know why I decided against legal action. Maybe it was the struggle I was facing of "is this my fault?", or maybe it was the fact that I was still struggling with the fact that a friend would do anything that would hurt me like that.

I've said to various people since then that I don't hate my assaulter. That's still true today. I don't hate him. I can't hate him. It's messed up and it still keeps me awake at night, but he was my friend before he was my assaulter. Even now, I still struggle with that fact. I just find it very difficult to believe that a friend could be so...careless? Evil? I don't know what the word is. I just know that I struggle with it...a lot.