You're Not a Victim, You're a Survivor

Sexual assault is a topic that people tend to tip toe around because of the stigma and victim blaming, but I will be upfront; I was sexually assaulted when I was in high school by a man I knew and trusted. Typing that sentence brought back so many horrible but necessary memories. I think it is important as a survivor that we acknowledge what has happened to us. For a while after it happened I asked the textbook questions: was it something I did? Could I have prevented it somehow? Should I have reported it? Will anyone ever love me now? Will I ever allow a man to touch me again without having an anxiety attack? Many of the questions I focused on portrayed me as a victim, but I see now that I am not a victim, I am a survivor.

This photograph is from "Project Unbreakable" where victims wrote what their attackers said to them. 

There are things that take place after a sexual assault that no one really talks about that I think are necessary to point out. For instance, people will criticize you for going to authorities but there are others who will criticize you if you don’t. It is your choice whether you go or not. I can say that I didn’t go because my situation was slightly complicated and people still ask me why I didn’t. Your attacker has already taken something from you, do not allow others to take control over how you handle your situation. For a while there will be an overwhelming sense of anxiety that follows you, but I promise this will eventually go away. What helped me the most was separating myself from crowds during times of stress to just catch my breath. It is important to find a coping mechanism to help you heal. Many people recommend journaling or counseling, but it's all about what works for you personally. 

It was not something you did. Regardless of if you were drunk, dressed proactively, or said yes and then changed your mind. If you did not give consent, it was rape and it is not your fault. Victim blaming is extremely prominent in our society and it can cause many survivors to wonder what they could have done differently or even make them start to hate themselves because they think they contributed to their assault. Blaming yourself only makes healing more difficult. 

At the time of my assault I was in a long-term relationship. When my boyfriend heard what happened, the first thing he wanted to do was hold me, but I wanted to hide from his touch. I didn’t know how long this feeling would last, but after a few weeks I was afraid that it would be forever. In most instances this feeling does eventually go away with time. The only thing you can do is explain to your partner that physical contact brings back the memories and hope they understand.

Healing takes time. There is no magic amount of time where you will be healed. There are still times when I think back to that day and start to get anxious, even years later. Do not put pressure on yourself to heal faster. Don’t put yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable just to “feel normal again.” This will just cause more damage in the long run. You will forever be changed from this experience, but you are not broken. We are not just victims, we cannot allow ourselves to just be victims or else your attacker wins. We are survivors. We have been through something terrible, but we will overcome it. It is never too late to healIt was not your fault. You have survived. 

National Sexual Violence Resource Center Hotline - 1-877-739-3895

Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN) National Sexual Assault Hotline - 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

Safe Helpline for Sexual Assault Support for the DoD Community - 1-877-995-5247

My name is Kelsey Haught and I'm an English major with a concentration in literature at California University of Pennsylvania. This is my first year writing for HerCampus and I am very excited to be a part of the team!

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