In light of recent events at KU, I wanted to take time to dedicate a space for survivors of sexual assault to feel heard, understood and empowered. To my sisters and brothers who have survived the worst, this letter is for you.
There are few people braver than survivors of sexual assault. And although no experience is exactly the same, I imagine they’re all similar in a few ways. I’m not here to offer expert advice or a how-to guide on healing, but I can offer my personal experience and things I’ve learned along the way that may help someone else. I’m not a trauma counselor, doctor or anything professional. I’m just a 19-year-old college student with a few life experiences. I don’t know who exactly will read this letter, but if just one thing I say can help just one person, then that’s all I want to do.
Firstly, I want you to know that there are no strict guidelines that define a sexual assault. The only person who can validate your experience is you. Even if you don’t speak up about your experience, it still stands valid. It happened. So if you don’t want anyone to know, that’s totally okay. But it’s important to allow yourself to validate your own experiences if you want to move forward with healing. In my own experience I didn’t know I had been assaulted, because I had one image of what that looked like and mine didn’t match that image exactly. But as time went on and I continued to reflect back, I realized that if I felt violated, uncomfortable, unsafe, etc., I absolutely had the right to name the situation for what it was. Even if it “hurt the other person’s feelings.” I completely understand the guilt and shame that follows an assault and how you might want to protect the other person for unknown reasons (and it totally makes sense), but hurting their feelings by holding them accountable for something they actually did is not something to ever feel bad about. You endured the most personal violation—the situation is no longer about the perpetrator, but about you.
Allow yourself to feel. You don’t need to get up the next day and decide that you’re strong, powerful and taking your life back. I’m sure you are those things, but if you don’t want to be them for awhile, then don’t. There’s no time frame that tells you how long you can hurt, how long you can take to grieve or when you have to move on. The kindest thing you can do for yourself is feel what you need to feel when you need to feel it. You don’t need to have a quick and resilient comeback to be deemed a survivor. You already survived. Now, the best thing you can do for yourself is whatever the hell you want.
Lastly, I want to leave you with a quote that sticks with me and helped me get through one of the hardest times of my life. It’s a long one, but every word is worth the read:
“And all of those things can make you feel like you’ve lost yourself, or you’ve lost your way, or can make you feel like you’re going nowhere. And it’s never a good feeling to feel like you’re standing still, but, when you’re feeling like you’re standing still, I want you to look in the mirror and remind yourself what you are, and what you are not, okay? You are not someone else’s opinion of you. You are not damaged goods just because you’ve made a few mistakes in your life. You are not going nowhere just because you haven’t gotten where you want to go yet. If you get rained on, you walk through a bunch of storms, life is constantly coming at you—that doesn’t make you damaged. It makes you clean.”
– Taylor Swift
I want to put extra emphasis on “You are not damaged goods.” Somebody else’s actions toward you do not define you. What happened to you is not a scarlet letter that you must carry for the rest of your life. And it might take a really long time, but walking through this storm (even when you feel like you’re drowning), really does make you clean. A sexual assault can leave you feeling isolated and hopeless, but you are not alone—even if you don’t want to speak up or go public. Allow yourself to feel, to heal, to grieve, and most importantly allow yourself grace. Know that if you haven’t felt heard, seen or understood that right now I hear you, I see you and I understand. I’m not sure who’s reading this, but there’s one thing I know for sure—you are strong, capable and valuable. You are not just a victim, but a survivor.
All my love,
National Sexual Assault Hotline
National Suicide Prevention Hotline