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Silence is the greatest enemy of justice

I am haunted every time there is a story about a woman being assaulted at a party.

The summer I turned 15, I worked at a camp away from home. Most of my co-workers were older, drinkers, and sexually active.

I wouldn't have known what that meant. I'd held hands a couple of times, maybe had a first kiss.

For weeks before it happened, I was sexually harassed by co-workers in the kitchen. I wouldn't have known what that meant, either. I was embarrassed, annoyed and scared by the touches, the suggestive looks and the razor-sharp ninja stars flying by my head and sticking into a dartboard on their door while I was asking one of them to turn down the radio.

In the end, I was sexually assaulted by one of them.

It was at an unsupervised, overnight staff party where I'd had a glass of punch.

I should have known better than to go, to sip, but the party was after pay-day pizza with everyone else, and I didn't want to ask for a ride back to camp when no one else was going.

He snickered to the others afterward, and what he said was not nice. At least it didn't happen during the cellphone age.

I blamed myself and told no one. I found ways to not be around them and tried to be invisible when I was.

But another co-worker, just a few years older than I, was later handcuffed to her own bed one night by those same boys who bothered me. Yes, I said boys; none was older than 17.

I was in the nurse's cabin and heard the yells as they were caught, saw the lights of the police cars.

I kept working there, but I never saw any of them again. Not the sweet young woman who helped me make batches of cupcakes for staff meetings. Not the ones who attacked her.

The police never asked any of us who worked with them whether anyone else had been assaulted or harassed. No one asked whether someone could testify that this was part of a pattern. No one at the camp talked about it, at least not to me.

There was an unspoken understanding that we just wouldn't talk about it.

If I had a teenage daughter, I would tell her about that terrible lesson. I'd beg her to say something if she feels harassed, not to go to parties where she thinks there will be alcohol and that she can call me anytime and tell me anything if she needs to.

That if something does happen, just because you do something unwise at 15 does not mean that you are to blame for the crime that happens to you.

To this day, most of my friends don't know about this. I didn't want them to look at me differently.

But when I edited the story about the young woman in Fort Wayne attacked by former college athletes, when I read about the 16-year-old Steubenville, Ohio, girl who was raped and videotaped, the survivor's guilt raised its ugly head.

It could have been me.

Anne Gregory is writer-editor for journalgazette.net.

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