My story isn't all that unique. In fact, in my heart of hearts, I worry just how common it might be. But that's why I'm telling it now — to help make it a rarer occurrence. And because when your colleagues win a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting on the issue, and that gives you a spark of courage, you run with it.
My story starts at a house party two weeks before my 19th birthday when a guy offered to get me a drink. He brought it to me already opened, and I thought "Hmn, unexpected chivalry."
The next thing I remember was trying to get out from under a different man who was at least twice my size, and being scared by the sound of my own screaming.
Even 15 years later, it's hard for me to decide if having a drugged, spotty memory of that night is a blessing or a curse.
What I do remember with a clarity so sharp it still smarts are the weeks and months that followed. The two guys, who were highly anticipated recruits, admitted to what they had done, and that ended any chance they had of making the team. Unbeknownst to me, the coach told the team I was the reason they couldn't come to the university — because I couldn't handle a little fun.
The university and city police were kind, but encouraged me not to pursue criminal charges because they were concerned it would make matters worse for me. I wasn't sure what they meant, until guys who used to be my friends started following me to and from class saying awful things, throwing things at me, and sometimes even knocking me down. I'd call my mom just in case something happened, so someone would know I needed help. One night, when they were outside my place hollering for what seemed like an eternity, my mom drove five hours to take me to a hotel.
All my friends were athletes, but I had become a social pariah. I spent my 19th birthday alone in my dorm with Kelly Clarkson and Christina Aguilera on alternating repeat. I was too stubborn to move home, but too scared to fight. I felt paralyzed. And very alone.
I finished the semester and went home for the summer never to return. But, with the painful knowledge that I walked away from an injustice unresolved. Since then, I have dedicated my education, my volunteerism and at times my work to combating social injustice, but it hasn't made me forget and it hasn't erased the complicated emotions lingering from that night.
Reading the stories of these brave women who had endured horrific circumstances and still had the wherewithal to speak up was an emotional experience; I felt equal parts pain and shame along with awe and inspiration.
Like a returning wave, it all came crashing back a week ago with the announcement of the Pulitzer Prize. The Salt Lake Tribune's reporting on these issues that are too often taboo and discouraged, but desperately in need of the exposure is, in fact, life changing. Too many of us — women and men — experience the weight of another human upon us followed by the weight of the silence. Like an emotional diet, I'm shedding that weight. I'm speaking up.
Thank you to the brave women who told their stories and to the brave reporters who were relentless in their investigations. Thank you for helping me realize that I am not a victim of sexual assault; I am a survivor.
Marina Gomberg's lifestyle columns appear on sltrib.com. She is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at email@example.com.