Sexual Assault Survivors Suffer Long After The Attack Is Over

Back of brunette woman's head overlooking trees
Ravi Roshan

My story isn’t unique. Although the experience itself has left its scars on me, mentally and emotionally, it won’t make headline news and it won’t be different than any other rape story you read about.

People aren’t drawn to normalcy – we’ve been consciously unaware of the amount of violence we’re exposed to on a regular basis, whether it is the news, a tragic story that’s gone viral on Facebook, or some sadistic thriller that hits the box office.

Our threshold for what disturbs us has dramatically increased and we’ve become desensitized as a society. There are millions of victims that suffer in silence because they feel that their story doesn’t matter; it’s insignificant compared to other far worse incidents.

I won’t ever forget the day after my attack, returning home from five grueling hours in the emergency room having an intrusive rape kit performed, followed by two hours of interrogation by detectives that didn’t take me seriously, when someone said to me “you should consider yourself lucky, it could’ve been worse.” I do realize that people close to a victim of sexual assault struggle to comfort their loved ones – it’s hard to find the words when they have no frame of personal reference to what we’ve experienced.

Rest assured that there are no words that will alleviate the pain that person feels; just being there is enough, trust me.

While rape and sexual assault remain taboos in our society, I found that the aftermath of an attack is far worse than the attack itself, and no one prepares you or talks about what comes after. When you hear the word PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) you usually think of warfare, right? Someone who’s experienced horrific things, things so terrible that it has literally altered the person’s ability to cope in everyday life. Well for the past five years I have suffered PTSD from my attack, and I know I’m not alone. No I wasn’t beaten, I wasn’t near death, but nonetheless I was assaulted by someone who I trusted and cared for as a friend.

I was raped in my own home, in my own bed and my attacker was given nothing more than a slap on the hand.

PTSD from sexual assault is a double punishment – your body was violated and used and now your mind won’t let you forget it. Like so many others, my attack occurred after I had been drinking heavily at a party (and no, that does not warrant an invitation to have sex with me for those Brock Turners out there.) I was asleep when he let himself into my room and into my bed, I was restrained when I woke up to him aggressively pulling my clothes off my body, I was silenced by his hand over my mouth when I said stop, I was too drunk to defend myself or fight back and he knew that.

It wasn’t a scene out of Law and Order SVU in a dark alley with a gun to my head, but that doesn’t exclude me from the nightmares of the attack, or the fact that I developed severe insomnia as a result of being afraid to fall asleep; I was no longer safe in my own home. But hey, “it could’ve been worse.”

A sense of pride surges through my body when I see other victims stand up and tell their story; the hairs on my neck tingle and my heart races, because frankly we’re in this together, and although my case didn’t see justice, I want theirs to – I applaud them. Sitting in a law office full of lawyers, detectives, my parents, my advocate and having to retell every explicit detail is traumatizing all by itself; there were times I wanted to say to my mom and dad, “please cover your ears,” as if I could shield them from hearing what I knew would break their hearts.

There have been a handful of times I’ve seen my father cry in my lifetime and ironically, I was the one consoling him as he hysterically cried in my lap. They don’t tell you that after the rape you won’t be the only one personally affected, and watching my family suffer was salt on an open wound. After the difficult decision to press charges was made, my mother sat me down and said “honey, are you sure?” – knowing full well that my story and my self-esteem would be ripped to shreds.

People don’t tell you that after the attack you feel worthless and tainted, that your rapist takes away your privacy, safety, and confidence after they discard you.

People don’t tell you that you will lose faith in humanity, that you’ll struggle letting anyone close to you and that something as genuine and sincere as a hug will make you recoil in fear. Being a survivor of sexual assault is a very dark and lonely place.

Why is it more shameful to be raped than to be a rapist?

It still baffles me when I think back to my interrogation after reporting the attack, questions like “Had you been flirting with him?”, “How much had you had to drink?”, “Had you hooked up with him before?”, “How do you know what happened if you were too drunk to stop him?”

I get it, innocent until proven guilty and all of that other judicial bureaucratic bullshit, but did you realize that less than 2% of assaults are proven to be false claims? The detective on the case pointed out the high amount of alcohol in my blood, as if this entire thing was my own fault. Apparently, it’s easy to get away with rape: just claim that it was consensual and that my vaginal tearing and bruising was just the result of rough sex. Again, “it could’ve been worse.”

One thing stays true – an untold story never heals, it grows and festers within you, it welcomes the depression and darkness with open arms and offers it a stiff drink. The person I became after my attack wasn’t someone I liked; I turned to heavy drinking and drugs to numb the reality I was trying so hard to escape. I wanted so badly to prove that I was okay when clearly I wasn’t.

Surprisingly, my real strength came when I stopped pretending I was fine. When the smoke cleared and the dust settled, my real strength came from actually feeling my feelings and allowing myself to grieve. I wish someone had better prepared me for the aftermath of sexual assault – the stigma that society has placed on both women and men and the battle you’ll continue to fight long after your attack is over.

Allow me to share some insight, however dreadful it may read; if this gives even one person a moment of solace in their recovery, then I have done my job:

  • It’s common for the victim to feel sympathy for the perpetrator. My attacker was a friend, he was someone who referred to me as a little sister. Our friendship was never consent to have sex with me; I never would have given my consent in the first place. It is human nature to be compassionate for others and I remember crying because I didn’t want to be the one to send him to jail, I remember crying because I was confused why he would do this to me. The betrayal was so raw that it will forever effect how I choose my friends and who I let into my life.
  • People will say horrible things about you. Once you press charges, everything by law becomes public knowledge. Rumors will spread, the story will change from person to person. I’ve been harassed by my attacker’s friends on multiple occasions, all while police told me there was nothing they could do. You will have to be prepared for the hurtful name-calling and that your name and reputation will be dragged through the mud.
  • Yes, you will hate yourself. I’ve read that victims of sexual assault feel that the blame is their own and that it personally affects their self-image, I never understood this until it became my personal reality. You need to know that the feelings you feel after the attack are normal. You will hate yourself; you’ll blame yourself for what happened, you’ll think “Am I so insignificant that someone thinks they can do that to me? Use me that way?” You’ll feel unworthy of love and you’ll think of your family and feel like a failure. These thoughts are all fallacies that I wish someone had prepared me for.
  • Sex will be forever different. I was someone who took sex very seriously; it was always intimate and meaningful for me. In my group of friends I was always the one in a long-term relationship that couldn’t understand how casual sex worked. Sadly, you will feel guilty the first time you really enjoy sex after your attack, you’ll feel like you’re not worthy of the satisfaction. You’ll be counting the minutes until it’ s over because it just feels… wrong. All I can say is to find someone who is kind and understanding, a sensitive soul that won’t rush you.
  • No one will want to talk about what happened. Can you really blame them? This is something I still struggle with. I am not one to weep to friends or family over my sadness; I was raised by stoic women that didn’t show pain and held their heads high. But when no one discusses the one thing that you obsess over every hour of every day, you start to feel legitimately crazy; you start to question everything, including yourself. I felt resentful, I wanted to scream “This happened to me and none of you give a shit!” Just know that anyone that cares about you does, in fact, give a shit. Be patient with them and explore options like talking to a professional.
  • Dating becomes worse than it already is. Hard to believe, I know. When I was ready, I wanted to meet new people. My friends were surprised to find I was doing some browsing on Bumble; of course they were shocked – there I was, post-rape and considering meeting up with complete strangers! In my eyes I had just been through hell and back, I was no longer naive to the wicked ways of the world, and I felt stronger than ever before. Here’s how it worked– if I genuinely hit it off with a guy and we made it past a few dates, then I would tell him point blank about my attack. Of course I spared the details, but I let him know this was something that I was still struggling with and that it was now a part of my story. This wasn’t some attention seeking ploy. In fact, for some men I was doing them a favor, but I figured that if it scared him away, he wasn’t the one. Take your time, trust your intuition and be selective.

Here I am five years later, I’ve successfully grown in my career, I’ve rid my life of toxic friendships and people that I felt hindered my emotional progress, I met the love of my life who took his time understanding my story page by page and helped me learn to love again. Does it get easier? Yes. Do you ever get over the damage? Eh, sort of.

I still have nightmares; I still get triggered by something on t.v. that gives me flashbacks so realistic that it reduces me to tears. You learn to accept this as your “new normal” and you adopt healthy coping mechanisms. I’m learning how to turn my misfortune into a happy ending one day at a time, but it can be scary to navigate these dark waters on your own, I know. We collectively have the power to change sexual assault and it begins with awareness – however big or small, I promise that your story matters too.

“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth.” – William Faulkner TC mark

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