Tonight I Will Be Attacked: 1 in 5


“The price of a college education should not include a 1 in 5 chance of being sexually assaulted.” – Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

One in five collegiate women will be raped during their time at school. One in five.

One in five collegiate women will be raped during their time at school. One in five.

Tonight I am going to be attacked. The lights will be off so I won’t be able to see but I’ll probably be able to feel it coming, if only a second before contact. A man who is bigger than me and stronger than me is going to grab my wrists or grab my throat or come from behind and bear hug me with so much force my lungs empty with a blasting cough. His hands are huge and his arms are strong, stronger than mine, so I really have to scrap for any inch of freedom I might gain as we struggle. Stomp, kick, hit, bite…I’ll do whatever it takes. I’m going to try to fight him off while I’m still on my feet and hope he doesn’t take it to the ground. If we do end up on the ground with him on top of me I am going to try break his choke hold before he starts bashing my head on the floor or block his punch to my face, wrap up his arm with one of mine and grab his head and neck while I flip us over so that I can deliver a hit and kick before I try to run. At that point I’ll be hoping there isn’t a second attacker.

I know the man who is going to attack me, kind of. I’ve spent several hours with him over the past six weeks, so we’re acquaintances I guess you could say. That is usually how it goes, right? You know the guy who attacks you. So many times it is a friend or a date or a boyfriend, and that is what makes it so much worse. I remember thinking that when it happened to me a month before I went to college. In my case tonight my attacker will be one of my self defense instructors. We’ve worked for the past five weeks on fight and survival skills and tonight is the last class, when the attacks come in the dark. I’m scared out of my mind. I’m still showing up for class.

The same could be said for countless collegiate women all over this country. They are scared yet they still show up for class.

1 in 5.

Despite the bruises I have on my wrists and arms from previous classes, this is all just practice. It is pretend. We laugh and joke around during class. If we didn’t do the break away correctly they choke hold or head lock us again, making sure we understand how to correctly break free and get to safety. During class we’ve said how important it is for high school girls to take this course and I keep thinking what epic bullshit that is. We have courses that teach women how to not get raped, but nowhere in my town is there a course teaching boys and men not to rape. The male instructors at class are beyond respectful and nice to all of the women. They take extra time to really make sure we understand the moves, they are invested in our safety. The head female instructor is great. Still, every minute of every class I think about what happened to me at 18 years old.

I think about my daughter, when she will be 18 years old. 

I essentially have no fear of my young daughter being kidnapped, therefore I let her run free to explore her world. Of the 74.5 million children in the United States only 115 are abducted by strangers per year.

Yet even though her journey to college is ten years away I am already worried about her safety there. She has a 1 in 5 chance of being raped. 

1 in 5. 

When we look at the mathematical probability of our children being abducted by a stranger they have a greater chance of being struck by lightning on a trip to Florida than being abducted by a stranger in your neighborhood. And I’ve never worried about my kids being struck by lightning. I think stranger abduction is a deep, dark fear for ALL parents because it is our worst nightmare. But it is EXTREMELY rare. Yet our entire generation has changed the way we parent because of fear mongering and misinformation.

What we should be concerned about is our daughters being raped and our sons being rapists. Yet I never hear parents talking about that. Ever.

1 in 5.

I read about these issues online, but in my day to day life I have never heard a parent correct another after “Boys will be boys” or “that just means he likes you!” is uttered, explaining that is what builds Rape Culture. I almost never hear a parent teach their sons about consent. Maybe the occasional, “We don’t hit girls.” Perhaps it is because my kids are still young, but I don’t hear parents talking about what seems like the systematic covering up of rape by high schools and universities. I have never, ever heard a parent of a boy wonder aloud if they could be raising a rapist. And this is odd, because many of these mothers would have gone to college, so they either were the 1 in 5, or they were the other 4 but knew someone who was the 1.

Why aren’t we talking about this?

1 in 5.

Which numbers do you think American parents should be obsessing over and completely changing their parenting in response to? Which number should inspire a rash of safety products and apps to be developed and marketed? Which number should be discussed by parents at playgrounds and playdates? Which number should be covered relentlessly by media?

1 in 5.

Tonight I will be attacked, I know it is coming. I know who is going to do it. And I know when it is over that I’m going to be okay. This should never be what goes through the minds of our daughters when the embark on their journey to college. Rape should not be a foregone conclusion, part of the checklist we review when packing our children off to university.

Rape should not be the price of college admission.


This is how I teach my children:

1. Your body belongs to you, no one may touch it in a way that upsets you or hurts you. You own the right to demand people respect your body.

2. You must respect other people’s bodies. It is never appropriate to hurt or violate someone’s body. I will teach my son never to rape.

3. You must ask if it is okay to give a hug, kiss, hold hands, etc. Wanting to show affection is sweet. Making sure it wants to be received is critical. No means no.

4. My husband and I demonstrate respect towards each other so that this is the foundation my children grow with: Men and women respect each other. We are equals.

5. My children are young and establishing their framework of the world. I do not allow media that normalizes violence against women nor that which sexualizes and objectifies them. (As my children grow our conversations about this will dig deeper into cultural attitudes about women’s bodies and Rape Culture. We will also talk about boys/men as victims.)

6. If you see someone hurting someone else you must speak up, stop it, or seek help. You may not be silent.

More on this:

One Student – become a change agent on campus

NPR: Rape On Campus: Painful Stories Cast Blame On Colleges

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month 

If You Don’t Like “Rape Culture” Then Focus For A Minute On Sex and Status

Huffington Post series for Sexual Assault Awareness Month


  1. Wow, Melissa – your writing seems to be getting more and more powerful.
    I am one.
    I never discuss it.
    I never discuss it because even these many years later, I can’t bring myself to say, even to myself “I was raped” without coming up with the reasons it was my fault. I drank too much, I should have realized I didn’t have my keys before my friend left the party, I should have been smarter, I should have really believed that “No means no.” (It doesn’t, by the way, if the person you are saying it to doesn’t believe it also.)
    Thank you for writing this.
    While I still cannot say it out loud, even to myself, I am off to write.
    And I am going to be sure that my daughter is raised differently than I was. Thank you for giving your voice as one of the resources for me so that I can do better for her than was done for me as a child.

    • L –
      I am sorry that we share that common history. Writing about it here was a big step for you, and I thank you for sharing part of your story with me. What happened is only a fraction of who you are, it does not define you. I hope that you find avenues that allow you to take hold of it, work through it, and eventually find power in seeing yourself as a survivor and not a victim. That happens one step at a time. I’ll be here ready to walk with you when you need it. One step at a time.

  2. Kimberly says:

    I remember my first rape prevention class – 6th grade. The coach had to explain what rape was. One of the girls from my elementary school said – Oh that is what (Bully) says he is going to do.”

    The teacher looked shocked and asked what the girl meant. After 6 years (K – 5) of no one believing us/taking us seriously it all spilled out. The graphic threats, the beatings all the bullying.

    The coach walked to the door and locked it. The girls from other elementary schools pulled as far from us as they could. The coach asked us, “Where is he – what class is he in now.”

    One of my friends said, “Oh he goes to private school now. Kimberly’s parents threatened a lawsuit after he kicked her in the throat. So his parents put him in private school.” (Bit more complicated – Dad had witnesses to the a school board member telling him “Well if your daughter doesn’t like getting beaten up she should stop annoying the boys” that was the real tipping point. )

    Fast forward 8 years, I m at a party in University. I run into a boy from my HS that does not go to my University. He tells me a good friend of mine is visiting, and I won’t believe who is upstairs.” I couldn’t see my own face but the expression scared several people into coming over to make sure I was ok. The boy from my HS quickly reassured me no not Bully but nice guy. Didn’t I know that bully was in Huntsville for raping and beating several women. No one ever did anything to “Fix” him. He never got any help. He was threatening rape in graphic detail at age 5 – and No one did anything to protect us or find out what was wrong with him. Of course it was midway through my freshmen year at university before a girl from my HS and I looked at each other and realized that most people didn’t consider the building of pipebombs to be a normal HS activity for the popular students. BTW this high school wasn’t in a bad neighborhood – it was one of the wealthiest in Houston.

  3. I’m so glad you wrote this. I’m terribly sorry that you have a personal experience to speak from. I’m the mother of a CSA survivor. She was 4.5 yrs old and he was 15. I refuse to keep quite on this topic and I will make sure that I get schools and organizations to talk openly about this because we need to stop putting all the responsibility on our girls. Your strength gives others strength!

  4. Melissa, I, too, want to thank you for this. I minored in Women’s Studies in college, and was amazed to hear the stories from several of the young women in my classes who had been raped by their boyfriends, or boys who were friends, some even before they had started college (like you). I could not believe my ears. Being gay (but clueless, even in college the first time–came out at 23!), I didn’t really date in high school or college. I led a fairly sheltered life, I suppose, and though I knew it happened, I had not come face to face with it until that point.

    When I went back to college after doing a tour in a Navy band, I studied psychology, and did the Wm St minor. When I think back to that time (mid 90s), I am still completely shocked by the revelations of these young women, these girls. I am still shocked that I was so shocked. It was a case of confronting “real” life, I suppose. I knew it in theory, but not in a visceral sense, thankfully, in a way.

    So, aside from being gay and not being too often in close proximity with boys, except for controlled, monitored situations, I guess you could also say that I am not the ‘typical” target. At least, that’s what I was taught back in the 80s and 90s. I am nearly 6 ft tall, and, though I was always on the thinner side, still was built solidly. I didn’t dress like a man, but I also wasn’t ever the frilly type. In college in the late 80s, when the fad was to raid your dad’s closet for ‘boy-style’ clothes and things, then repurpose them, I “borrowed” and old winter coat of his from the 50s. I had short hair. And I was tall. So, by all accounts, I was not, as I said, your typical target. Still, when walking home alone at night from the music school, I frequently found myself walking down the middle of the street, out in the light, to see and be seen, and away from any bushes or trees, dark corners where a predator could hide. I was almost always terrified to walk home, and if possible, would snag a ride or ride my bike (before it was stolen!). And I hated it. Hated every moment that I walked in fear. Still, I was lucky to never have been attacked.

    I did have an odd experience once. My freshman year in college, I lived in a dorm that was far across campus from the music school, and from the marching band practice fields. And because I did not live in the dorms with other musics students or band members, I often found myself walking alone for at least part of the way. One night, I noticed that there was someone following me. Not closely, but close enough. Then I noticed him again, and another time, and another. I knew on some level that he was specifically following me, but the every day part of my brain didn’t really want to acknowledge it, that old, “it couldn’t happen to me,” mentality. I had finally mentioned it to my best friend, who insisted that I tell one of the instructors in the beginning taekwondo class that we were taking. That instructor was horrified, and insisted on making sure I got home from tkd club classes safely. That really embarrassed me, that someone thought it was a serious threat to my safety. I had the idea that if I ignored it, it wouldn’t be serious. This kind of thinking was way too prevalent back then, and though there is much more awareness in society now than back then, it’s still too prevalent a way of thinking for many girls. We don’t want to cause a fuss. We don’t want to acknowledge that there might be a danger. And, probably the most important thing, girls, young people that age in general, don’t really believe that anything bad can happen to us. We feel invincible! And though I would never want to take that sense of possibility and freedom away from anyone, I also know that it needs to be tempered with a dose of reality.

    I was very lucky that my story ended in a positive way. I’m not sure why I did it, maybe I had heard somewhere that it might be a good idea. But after seeing this “stalker” during the day one time, I confronted him. I turned around and said to him, “Hi there. I’ve noticed you following me a few times now. Is there something I can help you with, or is there something you wanted to ask me?” He mumbled something, then left. I never saw him again. It was daylight, in the middle of a busy quad, so I wasn’t too worried at that point about him doing anything. But I was tired of feeling scared, and I wanted to let him know that I knew he was there and that I would be looking for him. But I was polite about it, not wanting to agitate him or anything. As I said, I was lucky. Unfortunately, some of the girls I met later on were not. The boys, the men in their lives that they trusted turned out to not be so trustworthy after all. And I still remember that feeling of complete and utter shock that I felt, and how much it hurt and scared me that these girls I had been sitting with, discussing issues with, having coffee with, had been victims of assault.

    My point, I suppose, is that in retrospect, my situation could have turned out very differently. It’s quite likely that the boy who had followed me was in one of my classes. In those first years of college I had many large lecture classes, with hundreds of students in them. It could have easily been someone who even sat near me, but I never noticed him. But he could have felt as if he knew me. I was so scared whenever I went out alone on campus, which hasn’t changed, by the way, even when I was in my thirties and in grad school!

    I have children of my own now, and though they are only 6 and 4, I know the day is coming when they will be in high school, then in college. I know that my daughter will be one of a group of five. And I know that my son will be out there among the boys, being egged on, dared, pressured, and whatever else they might do to demand he prove his masculinity. We try to be extremely clear about personal boundaries with them, teach them that no means no, always, even if it is just hugs between siblings or something. That if someone says no, we must respect their choice, respect their boundaries, respect them. And we will continue to do this. I only hope that other parents will do it, too.

    I am so sorry, Melissa, that you had the experience you did. And I am thankful all the time that I did not. I pray that my daughter will not be that “one,” and that my son will never be the aggressor. But most of all, I hope that we will be able to change the mindset in this country. I hope that we will be able to educate our lawmakers, our law caretakers and judges, to make sure that they never say things again to lay blame on a woman, on her wardrobe, on her behavior. No woman ever asks to be raped. In that sense, our culture hasn’t changed much in the last 1500 years or more. Blame has always been placed on women, for tempting men, for showing her ankle, or her hair, or her face. The onus has been on her to make sure that she didn’t do, say, or behave in any way that might even be considered provocative. We need to have mandatory training in schools, in homes, in churches, etc., to make sure that our boys, young men, adult men learn and know that they are in charge of their own bodies and actions. That they need to control themselves, not blame women for their lack of self-control, or their anger, or whatever it is that makes them think it is ok to rape a woman.

    I’m sorry if this has rambled on. I didn’t mean for it to be so long. But apparently, I had much more to say on the subject than I realized. I guess I am just a woman frustrated with the status quo, and a mother afraid for her children. But thank you, Melissa, for making your statement, telling your story. Thank you for making this a priority. We are all better off for it.


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