I was sitting on the edge of a tattered couch, having just left the hospital. I had been sexually assaulted 24 hours prior, and I was numb, scared, exhausted, and angry, all at once. In 24 hours I had filed police reports and talked to detectives and consented to a rape kit and I was already hearing words that left me feeling hopeless, instead of hopeful. There are so many things people tell you after you've been sexually assaulted, about what you were wearing or drinking and what you should do and how you should act. There are things no one will tell you about your rape, too; Things that you need to hear; Things that will let you know that even if you're sitting on the edge of a tattered couch, having just left the hospital and feeling numb and scared and exhausted and angry, you're not alone.
Because rape culture is so prominent in our society, and victim blaming not only exists, but is essentially solidified by politicians and elected officials, victims hear detrimental things about their rape or sexual assault. Victims are told that it's their fault and that they shouldn't have been drinking or they shouldn't have been wearing whatever it is that they were wearing. Victims are told that they should have been more careful or they shouldn't have been so trusting and, sadly, that they're lying and that what they experienced wasn't rape and that their trauma isn't real. That's not what victims need to hear. That's not what anyone should hear after they have been brutally violated. That's not what reminds victims of their humanity and their self-worth and their right to feel safe.
After I was sexually assaulted by a co-worker, I was told that I shouldn't have been at the work retreat (where my assault took place) if I didn't want to be assaulted. I was told that I shouldn't have been drinking. A detective told me that there was nothing they could do about my rape, because there wasn't enough evidence and "he said/she said" situations are difficult to prosecute. People who have never experienced sexual assault told me that I needed to "get over it" and "move on" and that, when I was afraid to go out in public, that I was being "dramatic."
I refuse to say any of those hateful, ignorant and hurtful things to any victim of sexual assault or rape. I refuse to add to a culture that values an attacker's future over a victim's wellbeing. If we want to end sexual assault, we have to change the way we talk about sexual assault. We have to change how we talk about sex. We have to change how we talk about rape. We definitely have to change the way we talk to and about victims. Drastic change will take time, to be sure, but every time a victim hears the following, that change is occurring. It might be occurring slowly, but it is happening, nonetheless.
It's Not Your Fault
It is in no way your fault. You didn't make a choice or a decision that in any way faults you for what someone else violently and illegally did. This is not your fault.
There's Nothing You Could Have Done
Please, don't bombard your mind with the scenarios where you made a different choice or decision that could have potentially altered the course of your life. Don't burden yourself with questions like, "What if I went to a different school?" or, "What if I had stayed home?" or, "What if I had left the party earlier?" or any other question that starts with the diabolical words "what" and "if." Don't do that to yourself. There's nothing you could have done because your rape is nothing you did.
You Didn't Deserve What Happened To You...
No one deserves to be sexually assaulted or raped. No one deserves to be ignored. No one deserves to be devalued. No one deserves to be mistreated. No one deserves to have the ability to control their body forcefully taken away from them. All of those things happened to you when you were raped, and no one deserves it.
...Regardless Of How Much You Were Drinking...
Drinking alcohol, either moderately or in great excess, does not give someone the right to rape you.
...Or What You Were Wearing...
Wearing a skirt or a low-cut shirt or high heels or anything that our society has deemed "provocative," does not give someone the right to rape you.
...Or If You Were Flirting
No amount of flirting or teasing, gives someone the right to rape you.
There's not a single thing you could have done or said or worn, that puts any fault or blame on your shoulders. It doesn't matter if you initially agreed to have sex with someone, then changed your mind. It doesn't matter if you made a promise, then backed out. It. It doesn't matter if someone paid for dinner or if you were drinking with someone beforehand or if you were dating and/or married to the person who raped you. It. Doesn't. Matter. You did nothing wrong.
You Don't Have To Stay Silent...
You don't have to hide what happened to you. You don't have to pretend it didn't happen. You don't have to keep your feelings and your fears and your pain and the countless emotions you may or may not be feeling in the wake of a sexual assault, bottled inside. You have a voice, and it is worthy and valued.
...But You Don't Have To Talk About It If You Don't Want To, Either
You also don't have to talk about it, if you don't want to. You don't have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. You don't have to open up to strangers or friends or family members or a romantic partner. You don't have to become an advocate and fight to demolish rape culture, if it makes you feel vulnerable.
There Are Resources Available To You
If you want and need help and support and resources, there are so many available to you. You can search RAINN.org and find International Sexual Assault Resources. You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline, which is free and confidential and available every hour of every day. You can also turn to the Sexual Assault Resource Center online, and contact additional support services if necessary. You don't have to go through anything, alone.
There Is No "Right Way" To Heal
Healing is not linear, but a circular cluster that cycles and stops and begins again. One day you might feel like you're "back to normal." Another day, you may feel completely debilitated and downtrodden. You might have an aversion to sex, or you might find yourself more sexually active than normal. You might want and/or need to talk to someone, and find a mental health professional you can confide in. You might want to isolate yourself and spend time alone. There is no "right way" to heal from the trauma someone else inflicted, as long as you are healing in a way that keeps you mentally and physically safe.
You Don't Need To Worry About Making Other People Uncomfortable...
Speaking openly about sexual assault makes people uncomfortable. That's not your problem. If you choose and feel comfortable talking about your sexual assault, know that you're not responsible for how someone else may or may not feel, because of it. Don't worry about someone being able to "look at you" the same way or feeling sad for you. That's out of your control.
I was so afraid of speaking about my sexual assault, especially to friends and family, because I didn't want them to feel sad. I realized that I was only further traumatizing myself by avoiding necessary conversations.
...Or "Disappointing" Someone When You Tell Them What Happened
There are so many social barriers that keep women from reporting their sexual assault, and how we treat victims is undoubtably one of them. Whether it's victim blaming or doubting victims and their stories, society has created an environment that makes sexual assault and rape victims feel unsafe and far from supported. Know that it's not your fault that this environment exists. Know that whatever someone thinks, is irrelevant. Know that if someone says they're "disappointed," that's a reflection of them, and not you.
If You Get A Rape Kit, It Will Be Scary And Uncomfortable...
A rape kit is also referred to as a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK). The contents of the kit vary by state and jurisdiction, but usually include the following:
- Bags and paper sheets for evidence collection
- Documentation forms
- Materials for blood samples
These materials are used to collect evidence from a rape victim's body, so that a case can be built against their attacker.
I can't speak for everyone, but when I had a rape kit, I was terrified. I didn't like having my body examined for hours. I didn't like having photographs taken of the bruises on my breasts and my wrists and my thighs. I didn't like stripping in front of strangers. It was uncomfortable and it was cold and it felt like another violation, just one I was willing to endure if it meant I could secure some semblance of justice.
...And It Might End Up Backlogged...
My rape kit was also backlogged for over a year which, sadly, is not that long of a time when compared to other rape kits in other states. Currently, for example, there are 6,000 backlogged rape kits in Washington state, alone. There are 9,062 backlogged rape kits in Tennessee. You can search how many rape kits remain untouched in your specific state, and what is being done (if anything) to rectify the problem.
It took a year for my rape kit to be analyzed. I was going about my life, having tried my best to move on from my sexual assault, when I received a call that my rape kit had finally been processed and the district attorney in my respective state didn't find a sufficient amount of evidence.
...But If You Chose To Report Your Rape, It Can Help
Rape kits are valuable, and they can make a difference, which is why the backlog of rape kits must end. While I want to be honest about rape kits, what they are, how they can feel and what can happen when they're over, I in no way want to deter someone from consenting to a rape kit if they do, in fact, want to have one administered. According to endthebacklog.com, a non-profit organization working to reform rape kit testing, new policies are providing powerful results. In New York City, there was a backlog of 17,000 untested rape kits before 2003, when the city developed a new system to test every rape kit. The city's arrest rate for rape jumped from 40% to 70%.
Things Will Get Better...
You will have good days again. You will laugh again and you will feel care-free again and you will be able to enjoy being you. It might take a while and you might need help getting to that place and it might not look how you had hoped, but it will happen.
...And You Shouldn't Feel Guilty When They Do
You deserve to laugh. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to feel safe. You deserve freedom. Don't feel guilty when you get them back.
You'll Have Difficult Days, When It Feels Like It's Happening Again...
The trauma of my sexual assault comes and goes. I guess, in a way, it's always present, just below the surface. Sometimes I forget it ever happened. Other times, it feels like I was just attacked. I have some bad days when I don't want to get out of bed and when I don't feel safe even walking outside my door and when large crowds give me great anxiety. Healing isn't linear. Healing is ongoing.
...And You Shouldn't Feel Guilty On Those Days, Either
Don't feel guilty when those bad days come. Don't feel bad about canceling plans that are giving you anxiety. Don't feel bad about being late to an event or not going entirely. Don't feel bad for staying in bed or calling in from work or doing whatever it is you have to do to feel OK. Your self-care is important. Your mental health is important. You are important.
I'm sorry that this happened to you. I'm sorry that rape culture exists. I'm sorry if someone didn't believe you. I'm sorry if you were administered a rape kit. I'm sorry if that rape kit is sitting on a shelf, collecting dust. I'm sorry if you weren't able to go to trial. I'm sorry if you had to go to trial. I'm sorry if you've ever been forced to see your attacker again. I'm sorry if you've seen your attacker by accident. I'm sorry that rape jokes exist. I'm sorry that society isn't doing enough to end sexual assault and rape. I'm sorry.
You're Not Alone
You're never, ever, alone. An estimated 1 in 3 women will experience sexual assault or rape. While that statistic is staggering and heartbreaking and something we all must work to combat, it is also a reminder that you're not alone.
I Believe You
I believe you. I believe you, I believe you, I believe you.