From the moment I heard about the UCSB shooting, I couldn't stop reading about it. Whenever tragedies such as this happen, I latch on. I have this habit of trying to figure out the why. Columbine, Newtown, 9/11. I immersed myself in these stories, spending more time trying to understand them than any person should. But this time, this shooting, struck a cold, hard nerve like none had before. Judging from the #YesAllWomen conversation that has started out of the Isla Vista tragedy, I wasn't alone.
Women began speaking out about their everyday experiences of violence in many forms, driving home the point that this shooting isn't the first time misogyny has threatened lives. These women know what it's like to live in fear. So do I.
His name was Charlie*. He sat four rows over from me in our 10th grade geometry class and two seats back. He had cinnamon-colored skin, curly black hair and dark eyes. He wore glasses. I wouldn't have called us friends; he craved attention in the wrong ways during class, and I was a total goody-goody. But we would chuckle to each other whenever our teacher droned on during a lesson and share homework answers. Like most of the kids I crossed paths with in high school, we shared our AIM screen names and chatted online.
We would IM each other -- about class or our lives. He told me about his depression and how sad he was during almost every conversation we had. Through his venting sessions, I listened. In my mind I was being a supportive classmate -- and that's all. But to Charlie, it meant more.
One night, he chatted me and told me that he liked me, really liked me. And how beautiful I was. He wanted to date me. I didn't want to hurt his feelings, so I told him that he was very sweet, but I wasn't interested and just wanted to remain friends. But Charlie didn't like that very much. In the past, boys I rejected got sad, but he got mad -- very, very mad. Then our conversation took a turn for the worse.
You're going to be sorry.
You're going to wish we never met
And the one that haunts me to this day:
I'm going to shoot you in the head and watch your brains splatter against the wall.
Upon hearing this, I did the only thing my 15-year-old self could think of: I told my mom. I knew what she would say. I knew she would want to report him, yet I still begged her not to. Even after threatening my life, I didn't want to hurt him. Perhaps I told my mom, because deep down I knew she would do what I couldn't find the strength to do myself. Back then, I called my reaction "being too nice." Now, I call it being naive. The truth is, I was being manipulated, controlled, and threatened. Up until that point, no one, not even authority figures, had really taught me the difference.
My mom reported him the next morning and, after the police searched his locker, he was gone. Within the week of the ordeal, my school sent him back to an alternative school. Apparently, they did end up finding something in his locker -- a knife.
Despite this, I, the girl on the receiving end of what could have been a terribly tragic scenario, was told nothing, offered nothing -- including counseling or investigation into the matter.
Having the authorities and my school pretend like nothing ever happened wouldn't have been so bad if they didn't allow him to return to the high school two years later. Without warning, in the halls my senior year, I locked eyes with the boy who had wanted me dead. And still, I felt like it was my fault. I had ruined his life.
What does that tell you about how we condition and treat women? You don't need to hold a knife up to our throats to hurt us. Doing nothing, victim-blaming and guilt-tripping, are torture too.
The UCSB shooter's parents tried to get authorities to intervene after seeing his 137-page long manifesto on his hatred for the women who rejected him -- but as we now know it was too late. And it was, but not because they couldn't stop him in time. It was too late because we live in a culture where men feel entitled to women and it's so engrained in us, that women, like me, fall victim to the system every day.
Every time we tell women it's their fault that they were assaulted or raped, we are to blame. Every time we let another rapist go free, we are to blame. Every time we let cases of domestic violence get swept under the rug, we are to blame. Every time a person stands by as a woman is harassed on the street, or not taken seriously as a human being, we are to blame. And every time we do not put women or victims first, we are to blame. We should ask how instead of why. How can we help them. What can we do as a culture to make them... me... you... feel safer.
Yes, mental illness plays a role, and, yes, the shooter may have just been a cold-hearted killer. But by specifically seeking revenge against women who he could not control, he exposed the thinking that abusive men use to justify their abuse.
The #YesAllWomen made me feel less alone, but it wasn't until I saw the "When Women Refuse" Tumblr -- which shows woman after woman killed for saying "no" to men -- I knew I had to share my story.
Whenever I see a photo of Elliot Rodger's blank face, shivers flow up my spine. It is a startling reminder of what could have been. But it's a reminder to keep fighting, too. I know what it's like to fear for your life just for not complying with a guy, but others shouldn't have to anymore. Women shouldn't have to die a brutal and unexpected death for saying "no."
I should know. I could have been one of them.