Trigger warning: This post contains explicit content and mentions sexual assault, rape, and harassment. Continue at your discretion.
Author’s Note: This article is a first-hand account for advice and is the opinion of one woman. Results may vary in the advice category. Do not feel obligated to do any of these things, they are simply advice that you may or may not follow.
Sexual assault is hard to deal with, especially as a victim. Women walk around everywhere in fear that it might happen to them. For Sam West, despite this terrible trauma happening to her, she maintains a positive attitude that draws people to her and her story.
Sam West is a graduate student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, studying to get a masters in communication with an emphasis in rhetoric and violence. She got her undergraduate in Washington. With her masters, she is going into politics back in Oregon to work in political communication. She grew up in rural Oregon in a working-class community, but it was very close-knit. Everyone knew everyone. When Sam experienced her own sexual assault, she did not comprehend it at first, because it did not fit societal norms of what counted as sexual assault.
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HCCU: What do you want readers to know about your own history?
Sam West: When I was 14 years old I was sexually assaulted by my brother’s best friend, and that was a lot to obviously handle at the time. I didn’t know how to process it until much later and he and his friend then tried to sexually assault me again when I was a senior in high school and were unsuccessful. And that story has fed my entire career and it’s one of the reasons I study what I study, but it’s not the whole reason. I think I thought I didn't think of myself as I didn’t identify as a survivor for many years because I never thought of what happened to me as what I pictured sexual violence to be in my head. I think a lot of folks experience that, I think a lot of women experience that. I can’t speak for nonbinary and trans folks and their experiences or even men for that matter but I think that one of the hardest parts about coming to terms with what happened to you is realizing that every story is different.
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HCCU: How do you maintain such a positive attitude despite this happening, or maybe in spite of it?
Sam West: Therapy is amazing and um I would encourage every single CU student to seek out counseling, CAPS, and or OVA depending on what you need. I think that there's been a lot of moments where I’ve been like oh my god, men are the worst and that’s a really hard place to start out from because they’re half the world and they run most of the stuff. I know a lot of feminists who are gonna be currently, and still at the ‘men suck’ place and I hear that. I’m not at that point because I actually- and I think a lot of feminists are also at this point- where we need to bring men into this conversation, and we need to bring trans folks and nonbinary folks into this conversation. Trans folks and nonbinary folks tend to be more into feminism because it benefits everybody… if we are assuming people come with good intent, it is really important to the healing process and when people reveal their true selves to you, you see that as the exception, not the rule but even then it's so important to be really patient with and meet people where they’re at.
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HCCU: What advice would you give to survivors?
Sam West: So this is sexual assault awareness month and this is vital. I want it to become sexual assault doing shit month. If you think that you have experienced sexual violence or you’re pretty sure or like you have an inkling that you did at some point, the most important thing that you can do is not retraumatize yourself. If you think you know who did it, try to separate yourself from that person figure out a way to seek out counseling. You are entitled to resources. The resources available to you, like counseling caps, ova, those resources are vital and free for the most part, so use them. Taking care of yourself is just such an individual thing that it's just vital that you seek out counseling to figure out what you need. Getting outside for me was really important to my own healing process. Being in touch with your body is not really a thing we do in western societies we use our bodies for purposes and then we then we’re kind of like 'oh I hate my body I have to exercise' or whatever. But a lot of people who experience sexual violence have this disconnect with their body post violation and that happened to me.
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HCCU: Is there anything else you want to be heard that you feel is important?
Sam West: You are not alone you did not deserve this to happen to you, and in no way is it your fault. Ever. You are entitled to be here. You are entitled to go through the accountability process. Your body is your own and nobody is entitled to touch it, at any point. Your body is your own, and in that way, you are also not entitled to anyone else's body at any point. It's such a weird thing to say to adults, but it's so important and it needs to be heard. It needs to be said more often, repetitively and enforced. CU does this consent education program, the online training, but I don’t think it does the work and I don’t think it will solve the problem. People just read through it and skim it and don’t take it in. Comprehensive Consent Education is a dang good start to preventing sexual violence. We need an in-person consent class for every incoming student. If we know statistics and we see how people are acting towards one another, why are we just sitting back and hoping for the best?
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Sexual assault is a big deal and if you are a victim or a survivor, you are entitled to the help you need. Resources at the University of Colorado, Boulder are:
OVA (Office of Victim Assistance) If you have questions about OVA services, please call 303-492-8855 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to meet with a confidential OVA Advocate Counselor, please stop by OVA (C4C N352) Monday - Friday 11am-4pm for an initial meeting.
OIEC (Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance) Main number: 303-492-2127, ADA Compliance: 303-492-9725
CAPS (Counseling and Psychiatric Services) 303-492-2277 (24/7 support)
Nation-Wide resources include the following:
RAINN: The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network is a telephone hotline that is completely confidential. When you call this hotline, only the first six numbers of your phone number are viewed on the call. (800-656-4673)https://www.rainn.org/
MESA: Moving to End Sexual Assault. Located in Boulder with a 24-hour hotline as well as in-person support, victim advocacy, and specialized support groups. (1-844-493-8255) https://movingtoendsexualassault.org/
NSVRC: National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Their services can provide you with support contacts, as well as putting you in contact with your local rape crisis centers https://www.nsvrc.org/
SARA: Sexual Assault Response Advocates. They have a hotline number. This is a center for rape crisis and a child advocacy center. (970-867-2121) http://sarainc.org
SAVA: Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Center. Located in Fort Collins Colorado. Their goal is to provide crisis intervention to survivors and offer to counsel to those affected by sexual assault. http://savacenter.org/