I usually try to limit my exposure to things about sexual trauma and assault because it just makes me relive my own. But trying to avoid rape culture is like trying to avoid the wind– it’s impossible. Articles, even when they are trying to be empathetic to the survivor, generally frame everything around the aggressor. Their narrative is the narrative because they haven’t been shamed into silence. Funny how that works.
I tried to avoid reading too much about the Stanford case. It didn’t stray far from the usual: man rapes woman, woman is revictimized in court, he might get convicted but probably not justly, we forget about it until another case comes up by the end of the year, rinse, and repeat. But when I saw that she wrote something in HER words I knew I had to read it. It was hard not to cry, hard not to want to go and hold her and tell her she was not alone, hard to reconcile the flood of emotions about my own experience but it was worth reading. It made me realize that in most of our conversations about rape, it’s on the act itself. We talk about the 20 minutes, but what about the 20 years after it? What about the life sentences we are resigned to? Where is our justice?
I was sexually assaulted by another student in elementary school. I was ten. I didn’t tell anyone until I was 21. I remember sitting my dad down to tell him first. I waited for him to yell at me, that’s how scared I was, but he just listened. He asked me what I needed. I needed the nightmares and flashbacks to stop. I needed the cramps I’d get after a flashback in my thighs and lower abdomen to go away . I needed my desire to end it to stop. I needed to want to live. I needed to heal.
I’ve made great strides but even still there’s a lot to unpack in the fifteen years since it happened. It changed everything.
- The way I automatically distrust men until they prove otherwise. Even my own father was put under the same scrutiny. I don’t just look at a man and see a man, I see someone who could do me harm.
- The anxiety I have not just about being seen but about people seeing the shame of victimhood. It’s not the fear of others’ knowing I was molested, it’s the fear of the look of pity they’ll give me when they do. That look has killed parts of me, knocked the wind right out of my lungs, and made curl up in bed for days.
- The constant blame I carried for not wondering why at 10 years-old I didn’t realize he was grooming me, didn’t tell someone I felt uncomfortable, and wasn’t strong enough to defend myself.
- The hate I feel for him because I even had to struggle with the mental acrobatics of believing any of it was my fault.
- The fear I have of being in a functional relationship because at some point I’ll have to sit him down and tell him why I’m not ready, why it doesn’t just hurt it terrifies me, why I cried, why I need the lights on so I can clearly see his face, why I need him to tell me what he’s doing so I can mentally prepare for it. The fear that he’ll leave when he realizes he was to work to show me he won’t hurt me like I expect him to.
- The quiet rage that sits just below the surface, waiting to erupt because I will never forget him , his face, or his hands, while he probably doesn’t even remember my name. He was an indelible experience I never elected to have.
- The resentment of living with undeserved shame. Knowing that you did nothing wrong but knowing that no matter my age, disposition, or honesty, as a woman someone will always see me at fault.
- The sadness I feel when I still flinch at hugs from loved ones not because I don’t love them but because sometimes being touched literally hurts.
- The uncontrollable emotion I feel when suddenly my amazing day is interrupted by the memory of what happened to me. My mind doesn’t just relive it, my entire body does as well.
- The exhaustion that comes from trying to just get to the end of the day while forcing smiles, conversations, and tasks all while knowing NONE of it can make you who you were the moment before it happened.
- The downward spiral you can take at any point in time when depression, anxiety, and flashbacks overwhelm you.
- The fatigue of fighting all of them while clawing your way back to the light.
- The isolation of suffering silently so you don’t disrupt the lives of the people you care about most.
- The desperation to cling to anything that can take you away: church, alcohol, sex, drugs, cutting, anything for those few seconds that you are not constantly bombarded with the mental image of you being helpless.
- The times I feel the urge to run out into the street and scream because it’s just too much. Because I just want the scared little girl inside of me to feel safe and the 25-year-old woman to believe that can ever be an option again.
- The constant terror I carry that it might happen again.
It isn’t something I get to forget so it’s not something I will ever be silent about again. I know not everyone is at the place or will ever be at the place where they can speak about their own sexual trauma. Many of our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers never did. They never thought they had the option to but we do. We don’t just have to survive trauma, we can live again. You WILL live again.
I’m always here if you need to talk lovelies.