This week I sat in my first panel.
Its purpose was to provide insight and advice from the perspective of survivors of sexual assault at a local high school. Of course, I was more than ecstatic to join! I love any opportunity to practice my public speaking, and love to speak about these issues even more.
I have sat in the audience of several panels, and have always lamented when I’ve missed one…so for anyone interested, here are the general set of questions that I had to answer in several sessions, along with a summarized version of my answers.
TW/CW: Rape, Sexual Assault
Tell us about yourself and your experience with sexual assault.
I was first molested when I was two years old by a family member. I did not remember until I was 14, and began self-harming when I was 12. I hated my body and did not understand why. I was coerced into sexual acts within my first relationships, and was fake-raped in my first high school repeatedly as part of a bullying system. I began doing pills, sleeping around, and getting black-out drunk to feel as if I had control of my life. I believed that if I made decisions that affected my body, no matter what they were- that I would prove that I still had power and autonomy over myself. In my first college, I was in a sexually abusive relationship with a boyfriend. I went back into self-harming, drinking, smoking, and quitting everything I loved. I transferred to another college, and was raped by two strangers after leaving a club one night. (I then had several other accounts of adverse sexual encounters afterward, as well.) After the last incident, I began speaking out a lot more about my experiences with sexual assault.
Who in your life did you go to for support? In what ways did they help you get through this?
My best friend was with me when I was raped. She doesn’t remember anything, but I do, so we have different ways of coping. I remember talking to her the next morning, after I had stayed silent while the men drove us back to where we needed to be. I told her what had happened, and she was the first person to tell me that I had been raped. I’ve never been so grateful for anyone in my life. She was the first person to tell me that I am a survivor, and that I’m not a bad person. That I didn’t choose the things that happened to me. To this day she is still my biggest support system, and we help one another heal from what has happened to us.
Months after that, I met someone who did not shame me for what happened, and who had more patience with my PTSD than anyone I had ever met before. They helped me learn that sex did not have to be a painful excursion of proving myself and my ability to do it. They encouraged me to love my body, and to talk about my feelings. They remain the person most closest to me, and I still feel grateful for their kindness, patience, and listening ear.
Once I finally told my family what had happened, they were also very supportive of me. One family member told me that I no longer had to “carry the weight on my own,” and I never knew how long I had been waiting to hear that.
For the majority of my life I thought I had to go through my experiences and pains alone. I believed I was destined to survive alone, and never let myself ask for help. But now I’ve started doing therapy, and that has helped a lot. The place I go to is free- so no excuses!
Did anyone imply or say straight out that they thought it was your fault that this happened to you? If so, how did you respond to that?
I once was hallucinating in a field with someone who took advantage of me believing that my boyfriend was present. We had sex, and I realized what was actually happening mid-act. I freaked out when I saw this other person’s face, and ran crying back to my house in the middle of the night. I then told my boyfriend, who refused to believe that I had been hallucinating, or that I hadn’t intended to have sex. He went on to use his blame and my guilt to sexually abuse me for half a year. He told me things I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and treated me worse than I ever had been, or have been since.
I had another relationship at my second college when I was double raped by two men. I instantly blamed myself, and told the person I was dating. They said every line in the book; “you shouldn’t have… why didn’t you… it’s your fault because…” And then broke up with me for not “being there for them enough.”
Outside of these relationships, I was blamed in passive aggressive ways by mentors, officials, and teachers. They suggested that if I had a bike or had used my techniques, that I would have remained “safe.” They asked me to “be more safe” going forward.
Victim blaming isn’t just outright telling someone that they were or are wrong. Victim blaming is also insisting that the person could have somehow survived in a “better” way.
How have you been able to get from where you were when this first happened to where you are today, able to speak publicly to a group about what happened?
I had to make a very conscious decision to stop trying to destroy myself. To stop doing drugs and getting involved in behavior that wasn’t getting me anywhere.I decided that no matter how much someone else had hurt me, I would choose to try and grow myself into something better- because if I didn’t, that would mean that they had won. I made it to age 18 and was surprised that I was still alive, and decided that I needed to do something with my life. To try and heal myself, make myself better. Stop wasting the energy I was using to get myself in trouble, and start using that energy to try and get ahead. I want to be able to provide support to people who have been in my shoes, and I want to use my big mouth for good. So I choose to try my best to spread the word about the truth of sexual assault, and my experiences, because hearing what I know now would have saved me a lot.
What is one thing you want to be sure these high school students remember about rape and sexual abuse after you’ve left?
No matter what happens, choose to Love Yourself. I know that’s a clique thing to say- something you could make a sticker of and put in anyone’s home as some type of cheesy home decor- but it’s so important. When I was your age, I wish I had taken self-love as seriously as I do now. Bad things will happen to you in your life that are out of your control and that you would never chose for yourself. So make the choices you DO have the power to make, matter. Don’t try to get into trouble just because you can and just because you don’t want to feel. It’s a cycle of recovery when you’ve been raped or sexually abused, but you have to live on the hope that tomorrow will be a better day. And if it’s not, at least yesterday was.