* possible trigger warning *
How many of you knew that April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month? Sadly, I’ve discovered that not that many people actually knew that. April is also Autism Awareness Month and while I know and agree that Autism Awareness is important, I firmly believe that Sexual Assault Awareness is JUST as important, and in some cases, more so.
I’m sure that you have heard the statistics:
* Every TWO MINUTES another American (women AND men) is sexually assaulted.
* 80% of survivors are under the age of 30.
* 60% of sexual assaults are NOT reported to the police.
* 97% of rapists never spend a day in jail.
* Approximately 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone the survivor knew.
You’re probably tired of hearing the same old statistics quoted over and over again. So why am I doing it now? Because Sexual Assault Awareness is a passion of mine. Because people hear the statistics and ignore it thinking “that will never happen to me”. And hopefully, it won’t. But the fact is you probably know someone who has been assaulted. Even if you’re not aware of it. Plus, as if sexual assault isn’t bad enough, victim-shaming or victim-blaming is alive and well these days.
Nearly six years ago, I was raped. I’m not going to sit here and post the details. Personally, I don’t need to have that floating around cyberspace, and I’m pretty sure no one really wants to hear them. There are only a few things that need to be known:
1) I was raped twice. In the same year. Less than six months apart.
2) The first time was by a stranger. The second was by a man I knew. One I even had strong feelings for.
3) I wasn’t drunk/stoned. I wasn’t wearing “slutty” clothes. I wasn’t “being a tease”.
4) The police didn’t help at all. In fact, in some ways, they were worse.
5) I used to blame myself. For all of it.
6) I lost several “friends” because I “had to be making it up.”
There are two words that I can use to describe how I have felt in the last six years. Fearful is the first. And lost is the second. Everything is taken away from you when you experience sexual assault. Your sense of safety and security. The ability to trust. Sleep is practically impossible. You pretty much shut down. Everyone is different so the “shut down” varies from person to person, but it usually happens. I’ll be completely honest with you. After my first rape, I became hypersexual. Which apparently, can be common for a rape survivor. After my second rape? I became celibate for almost two years. Sex completely terrified me. I had no desire to have a man touch me or even look at me. I was convinced he would see that I was “used goods” or see me as “damaged”. I became withdrawn. I picked up a horrible habit that I had dropped years before, and started self harming again. I was depressed and was terrified to sleep at night. Hell, I left the state I was born and raised in because I no longer felt safe there. I flew 3000 miles away hoping to get as far away from my attack as I could. And it helped. For awhile. But I still had weekly nightmares. Triggers that would take me back to that moment. I still slept with a knife under my pillow, just in case. I started to think that I would never get over it. That I would never “get better.”
And six years later, I still deal with some of that residue. The nightmares still happen but are far and few between. I’ve conquered most of my triggers. I’ve started seeing a therapist. And I’m actually dating again. Or, at least trying to anyway ;) One of the harder obstacles I’m facing now is “when do you tell a potential suitor that you’re a rape survivor?” Clearly, if I end up in a relationship with someone, they would need to know. But I don’t exactly want to scare someone off by bringing it up. I’ve actually discussed this with my therapist a little and I think part of the reason I kept talking to and slipping into old habits with my ex was because, it was easier. He already knew the horrible things that had happened (which actually makes everything he did, all the more horrifying) but I digress. The fact of the matter is that while I’m not “cured” I FEEL better now than I have ever felt in the last six years. I feel more comfortable with men and strangers in general, I don’t freak out in crowds anymore (rarely anyway) and I am able to walk to and from work – in the dark – without feeling like I’m having a panic attack. I also feel more confident.
But why am I posting this? I’m posting this because I AM ANGRY. I AM PISSED OFF at the way people find ways to blame the rape survivor for what they have (literally) been forced to endure. I was asleep, wearing a t-shirt and long pajama pants when the guy I had been seeing, broke in and raped me. But I have to explain what I was wearing to the cops? I had to hear “No one gets raped twice in a year” by a man who is wearing a uniform that is supposed to show that he serves and protects me? I had to be given a lie detector test, have a rape kit, be interrogated for FIVE AND A HALF HOURS and deal with the aftermath while my RAPIST serves 3 MONTHS for the scratches and fat lip he gave me? I have to deal with nightmares, panic attacks, PTSD, triggers and fear while my rapist walks around free and clear? And people have the balls to ask me “What were you wearing?” or say “Well you were sleeping with him, so it wasn’t rape.” or my absolute favorite line ever given to me by a male “friend” a month afterwards “I don’t believe you were raped because when I tried to come over with my friends to check on you that night, you said not to come.” Yes. I told a male friend of mine not to come over the night I was raped because he was hanging out with three guys I had never met. And it was too strange that I didn’t want strange men near me after what had happened.
Why? Why has it become acceptable to blame the rape survivor? Why has it become okay to play a video game and say “Dude, he totally raped you.” Yes. Because losing a fight is TOTALLY on par with the forced and unwanted sex act that we have had to endure. Why are politicians throwing around asinine phrases such as “legitimate rape”? Why are we just saying “guys will be guys” when said guys said unsolicited penis pics as a first contact? Why are we laughing at rape jokes and calling that comedy? Why are we teaching “don’t get raped” instead of “don’t rape.” Why is this all okay?! And this is why I’m angry. And this is why Sexual Assault Awareness is important. Not just as a month long thing. It’s something that should be discussed every day, not just in April. And not just when a new “rape scandal” has broken.
There’s one last statement I have to make. If you have come here and are a sexual assault survivor, please, please, please remember this last thing:
YOU ARE NOT YOUR ASSAULT.
What happened to you does not define you. Yes, your assault has had a hand in shaping who you are now. But it does not define you. What does define you is your strength. It’s okay if you don’t feel so strong. But you are here. You’re alive and you have hopes and dreams. Which means you are strong. It’s okay if you have nightmares or have triggers or still need to take hot showers. None of that makes you any less strong. You have overcome one of the most traumatic experiences anyone could face. That makes you so much stronger than your attacker. They might have had the brute force. But doing what they did? Shows just how cowardly they are.
If you agree or even disagree with anything I’ve said here, please feel free to comment on this post. (Please note that all comments are moderated before being published.) If you have any ideas on how to promote awareness of sexual assault and/or rape culture, I’d love to hear them!