Sunday, April 14, 2013

Reflections from an F&M Survivor

In light of the recent guilty verdicts in the Steubenville rape case, this seems like a timely moment to print this piece. A friend who knew that I was a victim of an on-campus sexual assault approached me about writing this for the newsletter. I’ve had some reservations in the past about publicly discussing my case. But, ultimately, I’m writing this letter for all the women on campus who have been sexually assaulted. For me, the most heartbreaking part of this has been the number of women who shared their experiences with me. It happens all the time and yet we, as a community, refuse to recognize it. It’s not out of malice that we choose to not address this issue, but ignorance. One in four women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. We’ve all heard that statistic. If you’re like me, initially it’s very shocking, but after hearing it so many times, it begins to wash over you. It’s just another number. It’s just a statistic until it happens to you, or your friend, or someone you love very much.

Once inducted into this macabre society, people start to come out of the woodwork. I’ve had people call me a liar, a tramp and a life-ruiner. I’ve lost friends. I have people who whisper when they see me, or refuse to sit next to me at public functions. When newspapers write about sexual assaults, many people write editorials or snide Internet forum comments about the victims. For some reason, everyone seems to have an opinion about this situation, but no one has ever asks the victim how she feels. Never in any of the articles does someone pause and think, “Would this be something she wants discussed?”

Because I’ve been sexually assaulted and no one asked me my opinion of the event, I’m here to tell you that it’s none of your business.I’m not here to discuss the specifics of my case. I don’t want to give any more attention to the injustice that was done to me. Consequently, I’m choosing to write this anonymously because in the end, it doesn’t matter who it happened to. This could happen to anyone, your girlfriend, your sister, your mother, your best friend. It happens to men, and to the LGBT community as well. I wanted to write this piece because I wanted to let other survivors who have been sexually assaulted know that you are not alone.

This year has easily been the hardest of my life. The choices I made in the aftermath of the assault cost me. Telling the truth didn’t get me the result I wanted. But that doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. And it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hold people accountable for their actions. At the end of the day I can go to sleep knowing that I stood up for myself and said, “this is unacceptable.”

I can tell you that it’s so much easier to pretend it never happened. It’s so much less life-altering not to admit that something that has happened to you. Once you say, “I was sexually assaulted,” you can’t un-ring that bell. But there’s a different kind of pain that comes from trying to make something like that disappear, and I would argue that holding in that secret will destroy you. Of all the people who I have talked to, almost all of them have said that they wish they had taken some kind of steps against their attacker in the aftermath.

I don’t mean to presume that my choices are the best decision for everyone. I acted as I did to healthily move forward with my life. I had to write this because after months of silence, I know that this article will help someone.

To anyone who is sexually assaulted, I urge you to talk to someone. Going through this process alone is impossible. Living alone with the secret of sexual assault is impossible. I absolutely would not have been able to make it without the support, understanding and love of my friends and family. Healing from this experience takes time.

I will not let this episode define me. As far as I am concerned, this is a blip on the timeline of my life. I will get stronger. I will surround myself with people who I love, and who love me. I’m going to run. I’m going to read. I’m going to pray. I’m going to go hiking. I’m going to walk my dog. I’m going to continue living my life.

That being said, I still have nightmares about that night. Any sort of loud, sudden noise frightens me, and I haven’t been able to be with a guy since this incident. I’m scared of walking alone after dark. I’ve been told that with time this will ease, but that I’m going to have to live with some of this for the rest of my life.

As a community, what we allow will continue.

I will move forward. I have learned so much within the past six months from the strong women in my life and within this community. I would never wish sexual assault on anyone, but this experience has made me stronger. It has made me a fighter, and most importantly it has made me a survivor.