For those of you who know me it is very unlikely that you know my story. For those of you that don’t know me it is even less likely that you know my story. Yet whichever category you fall into, it is not unlikely that you or someone you know understands what I have been through. I am one of the many; one of the countless survivors of sexual assault. We live in a society in which we are often told that we are at fault, taught that our bodies are here for the pleasure of others, and shamed into keeping it a secret because no justice will be served even if we do seek help.
I went out on a Friday night just like many other college students. To a Halloween party where I had a few too many drinks and quickly lost track of names, the friends who I came with, and soon, consciousness. Led into a dark basement by someone I didn’t know, who forced himself upon me. Dragged up the stairs by another stranger like an object void of feelings, without a loving family, goals, or meaning. I woke up on my living room floor, knowing what had happened but unable to remember a name, a face, or call it what it really was.
Sobbing while washing him off of me, pulling the covers over my head, and letting sleep sober me up. I let Sunday pass in bed and Monday, finally said the words out loud to my best friend. I had been raped. Telling my mom was the most difficult thing I have done; it felt as if I shattered her idea of holding her baby girl the day I was born and ruined every idea she had of me. I felt dirty and overwhelmed. Unable to cope, I went home for a week to seek help. With the help of sexual assault services in my hometown, I received counseling and legal advocacy to decide which steps to take and I am forever grateful for those around me in the difficult days after the incident. They treated me as a person, a survivor, someone beaten but not broken. In their eyes, and soon, mine too, I was not a victim any longer.
I have good days, I have rough days, I have “I can’t get out of bed” days. I have days where I almost forget, days surrounded by friends, and days where I long to travel and see the world. Every day is something new, I could be triggered by someone wearing a similar shirt or someone sitting too close on the train. Often I feel like few understand. This does not make any of this my fault I have come to understand. What one person chose to do to me whether I was intoxicated or sober will never be my fault. I am learning to forgive myself, to be okay with who I am after that night, and to use this experience in the future to help other women feel that they are never alone. I am learning to live my life in a way that shows I am not sorry for what I have been through because I survived and am taking my life one minute at a time.
To my fellow survivors, know that you are not alone. You will have days where it feels like it is too much, but what you have to give the world is way more than the bad that the world can ever give you. You must believe that what you have been through is something you can handle and that asking for help will never make you weak. You are no longer a victim, you are now a survivor and that is a powerful thing.
And to those who fail to understand, I am not sorry for the words I have written here, for my truth, for living my life to the best of my ability. I will not apologize for drinking that night or the clothes I wore or my choice not to seek legal action. The choices I have made are my own and I stand by them as I heal and become a better, stronger woman. We are no longer victims. We are survivors. We are powerful.