Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Advice From One Survivor to Another
To every person who has ever longed for sleep because even the worst nightmare couldn't compare to the ordeal you just went through; who feared closing your eyes because you don't want to feel vulnerable again; who had their heart skip a beat and body snap into an eerily rigor mortis-like state from a shadow cast across the room; who feared a simple touch as it can cause the pain to come roaring back through you all at once; who wished it would all just stop or that you could disappear: you are not alone and it gets better.
The invisible scar of sexual assault is unlike any other form of violence. The root of sexual assault is not sexual deprivation, but a desire to assert power and control. Whether the victim is raped "forcibly," drugged and raped, or too young to consent, the violent act and the culture that comforts and abets the rapists at the expense of the survivor can cause the victim’s life to turn completely upside down. Indeed, the kneejerk reaction of most when they hear about sexual assault is to blame the victim instead of show compassion towards her or him. This is indicative of a deep-rooted societal problem that must be addressed: rape culture.
Following the trauma I underwent and wrote about here, there were days when I wanted to just run far away from everyone and everything and never turn back. There were days where I couldn't bring myself to get out of bed. There were days when I couldn’t hold down any food from the anxiety in my stomach, days where I wanted to drop out of school and quit my job, and days where I was so angry with the world that I wanted to break all the things and, admittedly, did break many of the things. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I was disgusted in my own skin. There were moments where I thought the sadness would never end and days where even with binoculars, I couldn't find the light at the end of the tunnel.
Yet, here I am. It took me years, many tears, and several long, frank chats with loved ones to realize that I’m one of the lucky ones. Lucky! Sounds outrageous, but I am. I was lucky to have had people believe what happened to me was not my fault, lucky to have been able to find the support I needed, but most importantly, lucky enough to be standing here today. I won't lie: every day is a challenge. I still struggle to walk my dog alone without panicking, I can't take hugs from behind without being forewarned or I’ll suffer flashbacks, and nighttime, which used to be my favorite time of day, still sends chills up my spine. But two years ago, I never would have imagined that I would be able to write openly about the trauma that I underwent and, in many ways, continue to undergo. I never thought I’d be able to walk my dog alone again but I do now at least twice a day. I never thought I could look back at my trauma and feel anything but anger, yet I now feel overwhelmingly lucky to be a survivor. I never thought I'd be able to shake the fear, the pain, the anxiety, and the shame out of my bones but I'm well on my way. It's a long journey and one that no one should ever have to endure. But it gets better.
I’m writing in honor of Rehtaeh Parsons, who took her life after being gang-raped then later cyber-bullied, Audrie Pott who committed suicide after being brutally raped while unconscious and having seen pictures of the attack sent around the school, Lizzy Seeberg who was raped by a member of the Notre Dame football team and ended her life because she saw no justice in sight, and just this week, a young girl from Madhya Pradesh, India, who set herself ablaze after being forcibly raped in seclusion. I write in honor of the 30% of sexual assault victims who have contemplated suicide after undergoing the trauma. Society failed these women and continues to fail every two minutes as another person becomes victim to sexual violence. It breaks my heart that it takes the death of young people for many to wake up to the reality that is sexual violence. We have to do better and until we do, we will continue to hear of tragic cases such as the ones mentioned above.
Dan Savage began the "It Gets Better" project to address the epidemic of suicides among the LGBTQ community following bullying among peers. Because of the alarming number of young women who have recently committed suicide after being raped and then bullied, it felt appropriate to relay a similar message to fellow survivors of sexual violence. If these few words can touch even one other survivor then my mission has been accomplished.
I carry your pain because you are not alone. I carry your pain. When he trespassed on you, he trespassed on me too.
There are many resources for survivors that are safe, anonymous, and discreet. In fact, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) even has an online hotline if you are concerned of someone overhearing your conversation. The most important thing is your safety.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1 (800) 656-HOPE