Co-written with Amelia Rothermel
When a person experiences the traumatic event of sexual assault, they relive their trauma every day. Some days are better than others, some days they can’t move from their bed. There are certain times, places, and things that will trigger survivors like a gun being pulled. They’ll feel like they’ve been shot in the heart and the pain is unbearable. The pain spreads to every inch of their body, including their mind. Their mind makes it impossible to look in the mirror or stop crying. Their mind will wake them in the middle of the night replaying the voice and violent acts of their perpetrator. When a person experiences sexual assault, they become a SURVIVOR. They are a survivor because they have endured all sorts of pain and are still here. Living, breathing, and trying their best to return to a life that will ultimately never be the same. It takes weeks, months, maybe even years to reclaim their voice, who they are as a person, and happiness before they realize that this crime doesn’t define them. In fact, it makes them stronger. Here’s a growing survivor’s story. One year ago, she was raped. Now she is learning, it ultimately gets better. Sparkle on survivors.
October 1st, is the one-year mark of the worst day of my life. More specifically, the worst night of my life. I was living at home as a freshman in college, commuting to Penn State Berks. I planned with a friend to visit her at college at her school and stay overnight with her. This friend goes to a college in Reading, PA, and was only about 15 minutes away from home. The night that I visited her, I had too much to drink and went back to her dorm to sleep. This is where I met him. I usually refer to him as “the bad guy” because I still can’t say his name without feeling sick. He took me up to his dorm room and assaulted me while I was barely awake. All I can remember is the pain. I remember thinking to myself over and over again, “this isn’t right, this isn’t right.” I didn’t physically fight back. I was paralyzed with fear; I had no idea who this guy was or what he was capable of doing. I said “no, stop, this hurts”, but none of that was enough. It was like he wasn’t hearing me. I didn’t know his full name until three days after the assault, when my friend who I was visiting told me that he is her friend and he, “would never do something like that.” The day after the assault, I went to the hospital. This was the first step for me. I had the most invasive and painful exam of my life and I was told that there were internal injuries. I was told that what they could see is a, “textbook example of a rape.” I still had not fully processed what had happened to me. The next day, I went to the Reading police and reported the assault. I could go on and on about the processes that I went through with the police and the way that I was treated poorly by the people at the college where the assault occurred, but I’m not going to do that. That isn’t what this is about.
The first week, I felt numb. I felt disconnected. I could barely leave the house. When I did leave to go to class, I began crying and had to go home. This was new for me—I had always been social and someone who didn’t really like spending too much time at home. I didn’t wear anything but sweatpants and sweatshirts for the first two weeks. I didn’t want to draw any attention to myself. I couldn’t bring myself to look at myself in the mirror. All of a sudden, I didn’t want the same body anymore. I know this sounds weird, but it’s the only way that I could explain it. Why would I want something that was damaged? My body was the evidence and the crime scene. I completely disassociated. I had been pricked and prodded at, leaving me feeling like a shell. I felt so, so empty. Within the first few months after the assault, I lost 20 pounds. I completely lost my appetite. The thing about sexual assault is that even after the moment has passed, your body remains in survival mode. I never felt like I could relax- I was always on edge. I absolutely hated being touched, even just hugs from friends or family. I went through some of the stages of grief. First was the denial. I knew what happened to me, but I kept telling myself that it wasn’t a big deal. I felt guilty. I felt guilty for reporting and I felt guilty for burdening people with this. Eventually the guilt disappeared and was replaced with anger. How dare someone touch me when I wasn’t able to make a decision for myself or fight back? I was so angry at the friend that I was visiting for leaving me alone with this guy the first place even after I told her I didn’t want to be left alone with him, and then siding with him. How could she do that to me? I thought she was my best friend. I was angry because I felt like he took so much from me. He took my ability to trust others, my ability to enjoy doing social things for more than an hour or so. He made it hard for me to even complete a 4-hour shift at work.
I feel compelled to tell my story in the wake of the “Me Too” movement. Over this past year, something that has really helped me is reading about other people’s experiences. When I first read the victim impact statement of the woman who was assaulted by Brock Turner, I cried. I cried because I really understood pain she went through. No matter how much support someone has, recovering from sexual assault is a lonely process. I was lucky— the friends who stuck by me through this and my family could not have been more supportive. Dealing with the aftermath of trauma is the hardest thing that I have gone through, and I am genuinely so, so sorry if anyone reading this understands how I felt. I would highly advise anyone recovering from sexual assault to reach out to friends and family. I would advise anyone who knows a survivor of sexual assault to listen and to believe them. The worst feeling is telling someone your story and feeling invalidated.
One year ago, was the worst day of my life. However, I am glad to report that I have never in my life been happier than I am now. I have transferred to Temple University and I have the best people in my life. I am doing well in classes, have amazing friends, and I now would like to help others that have been in the same situation as me. I plan on going to law school and doing everything I can to prevent another person from going through the same things that I did. I have joined forces with Devi Jagadesan and Karmen Auble, Co-founders of The Sparkle Bracelet, to help launch their mission to raise awareness and educate individuals on sexual assault. Now that it has been a year, I confidently can say that it does get better. I know that if you’re in the thick of it right now, this is the most annoying thing to hear over and over again, but it’s true. It won’t always be the number one thing on your mind. You will move on. You will find happiness and peace again.