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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: What my sexual assault taught me about abortion rights


Brianna Brigman, a sophomore at UNC, discusses her experience with sexual assault and how it impacts her perception of abortion rights.

Content Warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual assault.




The first time happened during my freshman year of high school. I had only just had my first kiss the year before. I had never done anything else with anyone. 

I remember after it happened. I walked into the front door of my family’s apartment, shut the door and my body fell to the ground. I automatically began crying. I knew what had happened was wrong but I kept trying to justify his actions internally. 

“Did he mean it?” 

“Maybe I am being dramatic.” 

“He will apologize, it wasn’t that serious. He’s like my best friend.” 

I was wrong. 

This was the first, but not the last encounter I had with sexual assault. 

Since it happened, it has affected my relationships, especially with men. It made it harder for me to trust people. 

I didn’t really tell anyone openly until I got to college. Then, it happened again. 

I was at a frat party and I was intoxicated. I don’t really remember much, I just remember the silhouette of the couch I was on and the sound of his voice. 

I felt trapped. I felt like I couldn’t say no. When I did say no, I was ignored. I told myself I just let it happen.

Was I the problem? Did I do something to provoke these men into doing what they did to me? The real answer is no, but in my head it felt like yes. 

I hate the word "victim." It makes me feel like people must feel pity for me. But it is never the “victim’s” fault. Ever.

I blamed myself a lot after my assault. I thought that if I would have done things differently, then it wouldn’t have happened to me. I wondered if I had done something for him to do what he did. 

I think the hardest thing about my assault is that I knew all of them. They were people I trusted and/or loved. Sometimes I wonder if I could forgive them, and act like it didn’t happen, but it isn’t that easy. I used to get triggered when I saw the faces of my assaulters or even heard their names. 

It took a lot of courage and growth to get to where I am now. I would have never thought last year that I would be able to comfortably talk about what happened to me if anyone would believe me or not. Now, I don’t care if people believe me. I know what happened and eventually I want the men who hurt me to be held accountable. I am just not there yet — and that’s okay. 

Healing is not linear. I want people who have faced sexual assault to know that it is never their fault. You didn’t ask for it. You are not the problem. 

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I want them to be able to take back their power. Take back their voice. 

I was afraid people would look at me differently when I told my story. But it feels good to have my voice back. 

I will not let this define me. I want to bring awareness to how sexual assault happens on UNC’s campus, as well as other colleges and elsewhere. This is not a woman’s or man’s issue; it is a societal issue. There will not be change unless we make it known that these things affect people.

Roe v. Wade was overturned this June. I was working when it happened. I remember looking at the TV as the news played and I stood at the host stand. I read the headline over and over again, “U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade” wishing it was not real. I thought about all the times I was assaulted and how fortunate I was to never get pregnant. 

Not everyone has that kind of luck. 

There are women who now must carry a child that they do not want. It should not matter why a woman does not want a child — it is their decision. There doesn’t have to be a reason. Some people just are not ready or do not want kids. 

With the overturn of Roe v. Wade I have been trying to speak out about abortion and reproductive rights. It should not be a political debate on whether someone deserves the right to an abortion or not. People who are anti-abortion always say, “Adoption is a choice,” which is somewhat true. But do you know how many children are in foster care? Do you know how many children are treated poorly when it comes to the system? There are still children who have no choice but to live with the consequences of being in foster care. 

I strongly believe that if I was to get pregnant by any of my assaulters, I would have had an abortion and that would be my choice. Not someone else's. I was still a child when it occurred the first time. 

People are going to have sex — it is inevitable. Sex is supposed to be fun. You should be able to explore yourself and the things you like without the thought of getting pregnant or impregnating someone else. There should be better access to oral contraceptives, condoms and sex education. Consent needs to be taught, as well as how to communicate during sex. 

I want everyone to be heard and understood. Sexual assault is not something easy to talk about or even come to terms with. It takes time, patience, and support. I am grateful to have had my best friends who comforted me and still comfort me when I need them. 

As I said, healing is not linear. Your feelings are valid, and so are mine. 

You are heard, I stand with you all. 

Editor's note: The columnist is a staffer at The Daily Tar Heel.