essay: Finally Clean: How Taylor Swift Helped Me Heal From My Assault

essay: Finally Clean: How Taylor Swift Helped Me Heal From My Assault

trigger warning: sexual assualt


words: Nina Braca
image: Scott Webb on Unsplash

I know that a violation is never the victim’s fault, but it still causes the victim (survivor) harm, obviously. My assault was while I was sleeping in a bed with someone I had been dating for a year and a half. I don’t want to go into details. I woke up during it, he claimed to be asleep, and we went on with our day.

I still remember the skirt I wore the next day, because I was uncomfortable in it. “You’re still all over me like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore” I shifted in my seat while telling my therapist what happened, feeling like I needed to be “covered.” She wrote my story down in case I wanted to report it, but I never did. He was asleep, so it couldn’t have been his fault, right? There was nobody to blame. “Hung, my head as I lost the war, and the sky turned black like a perfect storm.”

We broke up shortly after. It was the “final straw I guess.” I hadn’t realized, but I was being emotionally abused for months. When the sexual abuse happened, I felt the need to leave. “When I was drowning that’s when I could finally breathe.”

I thought it would help, but I still felt a lingering sense of uncomfortableness. I didn’t want to be touched by anybody - on mother’s day my grandmother gave me a hug and I remember shuddering. There wasn’t a way to describe it other than the fact that I felt a sense of “dirtiness.” Like I had been tampered with. I mean, I was. I was tampered with. But I had nobody to blame. He said he was asleep. Was he? Three of my therapists do not believe it to be true. “The water filled my lungs I screamed so loud but no one heard a thing.”

I felt haunted by that stupid night for months. I shunned away my friends and had to re-enter treatment for an eating disorder. It was around this time when Taylor Swift released her album 1989. I have always identified with her country-pop hits, even though I know how negatively she can be perceived in the media. I knew a lot of people wouldn't get it, so I didn’t talk about it, but I began to listen to the last song on her album, “Clean” religiously. I had read all of these accounts of assault and sexual trauma on the internet, but the idea of being “clean” really got me. I just wanted to be clean for so long, even after we had broken up.  “By morning, gone was every trace of you, I think I am finally clean.”

He would reach out to me, claiming to understand how I felt, even though he said it wasn’t his fault. “It was months and months of back and forth.” Even after everything that had happened, I still wanted him to like me. How stupid is that? I was trying to gain the approval of someone who assaulted me. I would think, well, maybe it wasn’t his fault! And then we would go back to talking as if nothing happened. This was a dangerous path. I ended all communications completely. “10 months sober, I must admit, just because you're clean don't mean you don't miss it. 10 months older, I won't give in, now that I'm clean I'm never gonna risk it”

Taylor Swift left the spotlight for a little bit after that, and came back this year to take a man to court who sued her for 5 million dollars. He was a radio DJ who assaulted her and claimed that her speaking out about the assault caused him to lose his job. She countersued for $1 and won. The case was pretty monumental- no matter what you think about Swift- and even caused a spike in sexual assault reports. You don’t have to like her, you but maybe you should try to acknowledge how her story has helped inspire others, like me.

Sometimes, I still feel that sense of “dirtiness” “ 10 months sober I must admit, just because you’re clean don’t mean you don’t miss it.”  But I identify stronger with the sense of being clean. It took me a while to realize that I wasn’t unclean, he was. Maybe he still is, I don’t know.  But I know that I am rid of that person and that situation. I still think about it from time to time, but I am no longer uncomfortable in that skirt I wore. In 2017, the world is truly a mess with abusers and assaulters everywhere. So, if a Taylor Swift song can help me feel better about one thing in my life, I’m going to hold onto that.  

“I think I'm finally clean.”