It’s been 10 years since I was sexually assaulted and here’s what I’ve learned

You gotta love Facebook Memories. My memories this past week have been all about going to college for the first time. I was so freaking excited. I had this whole life planned.

In my 18-year old brain, I was going to go to college in the south, meet an adorable southern gentlemen, date all of college, get engaged a year after graduation, live my life as a teacher and cute little wife, have some babies and live happily ever after. Don’t judge me.

I found this perfect college in South Carolina. I applied to one school and didn’t even visit it. I just knew I was supposed to be there. My poor mama who was panicked that I only applied to one school. But I knew it was where I was meant to go. For reasons, I now understand.

So let’s go back for a second to my fantasy of how life was going to go.

Well lo and behold I met the cutest boy ever. Southern. 6 foot. (yes my 5'2 self prefers men at least 6 foot. Don’t @ me). Played football (score, I was a cheerleader). Just really checked all the boxes.

I text him all summer. I mean all summer.

August rolls around and I move into my dorm. The first person I reach out to? You guessed it. Mr. Perfect.

Well, Mr. Perfect was great for about a whole three days.

Then everything came crashing down. The night before classes started he came to my room and assaulted me. My roommate was on meds to help her sleep and slept through the assault. She also slept through the police raiding our room and taking all of my things out. She missed the whole thing.

He was arrested. I spent the night in the ER and they took my phone away as evidence. I had to call my mom the next day off of my roommate’s phone to tell her I didn’t have a phone because the police took it because I had been assaulted. Like a good mama, she drove right back down after she had left 2 days ago.

Well, we had school court. Regular court. Which let me tell you, parading the victim in front of the assailant hours after the assault in a courtroom is really not a good call South Carolina. Maybe sneak one of us in through the back next time.

Well, I truly felt like I was living in this weird episode of Law and Order. See Mr. Perfect who played football made the news. Cameras everywhere. Coaches being interviewed. The football coach made this awesome statement about the assault, “”He is a great young man.” More on that in a second. Horrible articles about what a terrible human I am were coming out. Football players were harassing me even after I had to move dorms. We had school court and lawyer meetings.

This isn’t about what happened though. It’s about what happened after.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the last decade.

Rape culture is real.

I googled the articles written about the assault and people were commenting on the articles 4 years later. People were commenting that I asked for it. That I deserved it for putting myself into a situation where I could be raped. 🤦‍♀ I must have been a drunk slut who regretted it the next morning. I should not have allowed myself to be alone with a boy at midnight. My rapist was an upstanding church going guy so therefore I must be lying.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

A large portion of the comments were in support of him. Out of 120+ comments, less than 10 were supportive of me. Some of the comments said I must have wanted it because he was a star athlete. Clearly, athletes never break the law. 😐

The whole situation was so normal for everyone. People were quick to blame me, including the football coach, because of rape culture.

Revictimization is a thing

Did you know that people who have been sexually assaulted are more likely to be assaulted again? It’s not just sexual assault either. People who have been mugged, robbed, etc. are more likely to experience that trauma again. According to GirlsGlobe.org, the likelihood of another assault is 35x higher. Just let that one sink in.

Education plays a factor

Women who have higher educations are less likely to subscribe to patriarchal norms. Women with higher educations are more likely to feel empowered.

You want to know want men who feel threatened by female empowerment do? They use violence, intimate violence, to try to put a stop to this empowered behavior.

Relationships are different now

We all have secrets to share when we’re dating someone or even with our friends. Most of those secrets are things like “once in 6th grade I shoplifted” or something that is “normal.” I cringe even writing that.

“A couple holding hands, standing on a sidewalk. Both are wearing bracelets.” by Elizabeth Tsung on Unsplash

But when your friends or potential partner find out you’ve been sexually assaulted, people look and treat you differently. They have this tendency to treat you like a delicate flower that needs to be handled with kid gloves.

I promise, I do not. I cannot speak for others but the minute you treat me differently is the minute I feel like a victim all over again. Navigating personal relationships even a decade later can still present itself to be a tricky balance.

Do you tell them? How do they react? Does the dynamic change? Do they even want to see you anymore?

All questions I have whenever the topic is ready to come up.

I need to care for me first

One of the most important things I learned was to care for me first. I had to learn to care for myself. I needed to be okay with myself. I needed to reclaim my sexual identity.

After being assaulted, your relationship with yourself changes. How you see the world changes. How you approach situations changes. Before the assault, I walked through life with rose-colored glasses on. Now, I know what the world is capable of.

With this new view, I needed to do things differently and that starts with me.

It’s vital we speak out

After reporting my rapist, more women came forward about their own assaults. The Dean of Students told me, they shared that my bravery to come forward gave them the courage to do so.

Years later, this campus is still reaching out for comments about the assault.

Back in 2012, four years after the fact, I was still getting calls from staff that attended the student hearing stating that my coming forward was one of the bravest things they’ve seen and it’s been encouraging people for years.

For years now assaults have been reported because I came forward.

Things are okay

It’s really easy after an assault to cocoon yourself into your little hermit place and stay there. It’s really easy to never trust anyone again. It’s easy to never date. To think you’ll never be okay.

I promise you will be okay. Eventually, you learn to be okay.

You have a new normal and that’s okay.

It’s okay for things to be different. It’s okay to have moments where PTSD rears its ugly head. It’s okay to have moments of depression.

What’s not okay is to stay there for long.

It’s so important that as someone who has survived an assault, we figure out how to be okay. We figure out our new way to be okay. We figure out how to trust people again. We learn how to have relationships, romantically and platonically.

It’s been 10 years and the thing I’ve learned most is that it’s okay to still be healing. It’s a lifelong thing that I’ll be recovering from. Each step will look different. Each stage of recovery will look different. And that’s all okay.