How Sexual Assault Effected My Relationships

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual Abuse; Assualt

On my thirteenth birthday, I was sexually assaulted. I don’t have much of a poetic story of overcoming that trauma, and with the seventh anniversary of my assault just passing on October 17th, I still very much so find myself struggling to come to terms with all the ways I’ve been affected by this. I know that my birthday brings me more anxiety than excitement, and I know that I still think about the assault more than I’d like to. But, what I’m still unpacking and learning is how this trauma has shown itself through my romantic relationships.

At the time of my assault, I didn’t even know what had happened to me was illegal, or all that serious. I knew I was scared and uncomfortable, and I knew that it was weird for an older man in my family to want to have sex with me, a child, but the severity of the situation just didn’t click for me. So, I went to school that day and tried my best to act as nothing had happened just a few hours before. Most of the day was fine. My friends wished me a happy birthday and one even brought me a cupcake. I felt okay…That was, until lunchtime. At the time, I had the biggest crush on the star football player, and, somehow, he liked me back. He’d walk me to class, and every day we’d eat lunch together and hold hands under the table. I was living every seventh-grade girls’ dream. On my birthday, though, when he reached for my hand, I snatched it back. My palms got sweaty and any appetite I had was gone. All I could see was a graphic, minute by minute instant replay of a grown man assaulting me for over five hours. At the time, I thought that the situation was just fresh and that my emotions would settle soon enough. But, they never did. Months came and went, and every interaction I had with a boy I thought I had a crush on was plagued by visions of what had happened on my birthday. A simple hug or touch of the arm gave me severe anxiety.

Eventually, I moved away, leaving the city I was born in and all of my friends to live with my dad and go to an inner-city Catholic school for eighth grade. A fresh start seemed like everything I needed, and I was eager to reinvent myself after such a bumpy school year. This catholic school was small, and there were only 10 to 15 kids in my grade. It was easy to make friends, and even easier to put myself out there. On my first day, I met a group of girls that wanted really badly to be my friend. How could I say no to that? One girl, in particular, stood out to me. She was a huge goofball, dressed nicely, and was super nice to me all of the time. Her name was Sam*. We got super close, super-fast, and I eventually found myself questioning if I had feelings for her or not. Amongst our friend group, she was openly gay, and I admired her transparency and ability to be herself. But, despite all the great things about her, I was confused. I had never even thought of girls in that way! What would my family think? What will all of my friends back home say? I had no clue what to do and was confused beyond words. So, I took it slow. Sam and I continued to get to know one another, and my feelings continued to grow. It was nice to have someone who understood everything about me, and, best of all, Sam was a girl. My anxious feelings were tied to boys and men, and I knew that Sam being a woman comforted me. It felt like home. 

We eventually began dating, and not long after, sex played a gigantic role in our relationship. Often times, we had sex more than we had real conversations. I thought this was normal; everyone I had ever been romantically involved with would only talk about my butt or boobs, and my abuser told me he couldn’t resist himself because my boobs were bigger than other girls my age. I believed my value lied in my curves. Sam and I ended up “dating” for four years. We had broken up and gotten together more times than I can count, and I was consistently cheated on, left for other girls, and, eventually, hit during arguments. My first love became my biggest heartbreak, over and over again. During our breaks, I had short-lived relationships with other men. In these, I was happy with the companionship and was truly cared for, but as soon as I became close to them, I’d get reoccurring nightmares about the sexual assault that happened just a few years before. I would cut off the relationship with some phony “it’s not you, it’s me” excuse, and avoid them at all costs. I felt trapped like my own body wouldn’t let me be with or love anyone else but Sam. My body and mind didn’t feel like my own. 

During the winter break of 2017, Sam and I were on a break, although still sleeping together occasionally. This was until I found out that she had a girlfriend for about a month by then. Surprisingly, I didn’t really care. My heart didn’t ache like it used to, and I just wasn’t surprised by her betrayals anymore. I felt it was done, and, honestly, I felt free from the reigns of the abusive relationship I was stuck in for so long. Even though I was supposed to feel joyous that I finally just didn’t care about Sam anymore, I was still scared. I knew I hadn’t healed from my sexual assault, and I wondered who would love such a damaged girl. In my reflection, I even wondered who I would love next. I hadn’t felt attracted to another girl other than Sam, even in our times apart, and I was nervous that trying to be with a man again would be a waste of time. I had begun to wonder if my attraction to Sam was the outcome of my fear of men. “Am I truly attracted to women, or am I turned off by the thought of a man touching me, in the same way, the man who sexually assaulted me did?”. It was a question that ran through my head day and night and still does to this day. 

After I called it quits with Sam for good, I met the man who is my boyfriend today, Jermaine. When we met, he talked to me about everything under the sun. He picked my brain and wanted to get to know me for the person I was. Sex wasn’t a topic of conversation, and that simple thing made me so incredibly comfortable. I relaxed, and I talked about my past experiences of abuse with Jermaine, and we had an open honest dialogue. Taking him through my journey step by step, starting on the morning of my birthday, helped me process the trauma I went through.

My sexual assault made me feel stuck for seven years. I stayed in an incredibly abusive relationship because I truly believed I had nowhere else to go. I didn’t understand that I could be loved in all the right ways and thought that I was supposed to be treated in horrific ways. I ruined several promising and loving relationships because my PTSD refused to allow me to care for another man in any way. Being assaulted was, without a doubt, the worst thing to ever happen to me. But, I chose to be better than my trauma. I chose to talk about it, reflect on it, and grow. Although Jermaine helped me heal in healthy and beautiful ways, it took me reflecting on my relationships and gaining my confidence back on my own to understand that I am not my trauma, and I will not allow my past to shape who I am, or what I do today.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of mentioned individual