*Trigger Warning: sexual violence and rape*
Around 6 months ago, one of my best friends raped me. I won’t say his name because this story is about me, not him. I didn’t want to file a Title IX report because at the time, I didn’t think that what happened was rape, and the police in the town my university is in are notorious for not believing survivors of sexual violence. I only told a few close friends about what had happened but I was so in denial that I would ever experience this, that I refused to call it rape. I didn’t tell my parents, and I still haven’t told my father.
I spent the summer working for a nonprofit organization, which empowered me as a woman and a person, more so than I ever thought possible. I saw my therapist twice a week, which let me talk to a person who I knew would never try to tell me I was wrong and would only ever be supportive. In July I wrote a poem about the first time he abused my body. I called what happened rape for the first time, and I started really actively trying to heal. It didn’t really work, though. After all of my hard work, I still felt broken and crushed by the rape. Although this is normal, it was exhausting and completely disheartening.
If you ask anyone who works with those who have experienced sexual violence, they will never utter the word victim. The word victim is often associated with being helpless and powerless, and fighting back after experiencing sexual violence is all about taking that power back. People who have experienced sexual violence are survivors because they have overcome. That word never quite fit right on me. Frankly, for me, being a survivor meant being able to use my own experience to fight sexual violence and I wasn’t at all prepared to do that. I’m still not.
I didn’t know how to talk about it and I didn’t want to, so I just stopped. It was easier. And it hurt, but not as much as thinking about what he did to me. I didn’t want to be a survivor of anything; I just didn’t want to have had experienced the thing I was surviving in the first place.
I’ve never gone through something as devastating as being raped by someone I trusted with my whole heart and I don’t know if I’ll ever fully heal from what happened. But I do know this: I am more than the worst things that have happened to me. I am an activist, a fighter, an advocate, and I’m working on recognizing that I am a beautiful person worthy of love and respect. Most of all, I’m a human being and I did not deserve to be raped.
I am healing. Slowly, but surely. I continue to see a therapist, I continue to complain to my friends, they continue to support me. I continue to open up to more and more people as I feel comfortable and safe and welcome. And I continue to not be able to identify as a survivor. It feels like a group I can’t be a part of. Survivors are beautiful people who have turned their assault into something powerful, whatever that means to them. I haven’t healed; I’m sometimes still embarrassed to tell people that I was raped, I still try to erase it from my memory on my worst days. But I had never heard anyone referred to as anything else. You were either a victim or a survivor. And I felt like neither, locked out of this community of people with similar experiences who were all dealing with it in a productive way, while I wasn’t able to.
This September I was at a conference where some members of SEIU Local USWW spoke. USWW represents mostly female, mostly of color, mostly immigrant, janitors across the country. They have fought for decades to end sexual violence in their workplaces, and are currently trying to instigate a program in which women who have experienced sexual violence working as janitors are the ones educating current janitors about their rights in regards to sexual violence. They call these women Promotoras de Justicia.
As soon as the woman speaking said those words, I perked up. This was exactly what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. These women don’t base their identity on their worst experiences, but rather on the action they have decided to take. They don’t necessarily use their own experience with sexual violence as part of their fight to end it, but they still fight to end it every day. These definitions are just my opinion and the way I see the world, which I understand can be very skewed and completely different from what other people feel and think. What’s most important is that you are valid, and your feelings are valid. Whether you’ve fully healed, you talk about your experiences openly or are still having a hard time admitting it even to yourself, you are valid. I support all those who have experienced sexual violence, whether they label themselves victims, survivors, or something else. But I have found my place and I know that now and forever, I will be a promotora-a promoter of justice.