Girl Holding Her Knees

TW: What I Learned as a Sexual Assault Survivor

Trigger warning: this article contains references to rape, sexual assault and abuse

Since I was a child, my mom always told me to look for the silver lining in things. While you may think it sounds crazy to look for the silver lining even in some of the worst scenarios imaginable, I've always prided myself for still managing to find a way.

Although I don't remember how it happened, my freshman year of high school I somehow got a "boyfriend"and I use the quotations here because putting a label on it was an attempt at seeming way more mature than we really were, considering neither of us even had our drivers license, so our moms still drove us everywhere. Nor did we have jobs or any real money to go on dates. I will say, though, since he was my first boyfriend in high school, 14 year old me did take it quite seriously. 

It was shortly after the initial excitement of our new relationship wore off and two weeks before my 15th birthday when I realized things weren't right. On an evening after school, right before our spring break was to begin, I went over to my "boyfriend's" house, thinking we would spend some quality time together before I went away on vacation with my family. Little did I know, he had other plans in mind.

As I recall, that afternoon was the first time we ever kissed. However, the giddiness inside me didn't last long as things quickly escalated, from kissing to much more in a matter of seconds. Being young and inexperienced when it came to relationships, especially on the sexual front, I had no idea how to handle the situation. This had gone on for what felt like hours until I worked up the courage to tell my "boyfriend" how uncomfortable I was. When he finally decided to acknowledge me, he said, "it's fine" and continued doing what he was doing until he was ready to stop. 

I remember sitting in my room that night, disgusted by what had happened. Not only that, but my already existent anxiety kicked into high gear: "What if I'm pregnant?" "What if I have some type of disease now?" "Was it supposed to hurt as badly as it did?" All these thoughts raced through my mind, but it wasn't until years later that I had processed how 14-year-old me had lost my virginity and been raped that day. It took me four years to tell my best friend at the time, and to this day, I still haven't told my parents. If anything, my mom has actually helped me cope with my sexual assault experience without even knowing it - by teaching me to look for the silver lining. Believe it or not, I was able to find a few.

Sun shining from behind clouds Pixabay

The first silver lining was that I learned a great deal about consent and the important role that it plays in any sexual relationship. If I could go back ​and talk to my 14-year-old self, I would tell her that consent should never be assumed or implied just because you're in a relationship. If your partner truly cares about you, they should respect your boundaries and decision to move at whatever pace you feel most comfortable. Another thing I would tell myself (and this is one I notice people tend to forget), is just because someone doesn't explicitly say 'no,' does not mean they're saying 'yes' to consent. I had blamed myself for giving my "boyfriend" the wrong message for so long after the fact because I did not explicitly say no.  Although body language should not be the only factor determining consent to sex, it's still important to pay attention to it. There are plenty of non-verbal cues that people can give off to let their partner know if it would be okay to open up communication about possible sexual relations. Many resources, such as the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault, can provide information on how to properly identify and interpret these non-verbal cues. 

The second silver lining that came from my sexual assault was that I was able to reclaim my body. Being raped left me feeling not only violated, but vulnerable too. While healing from my experience, I tried to learn more about my body, gain confidence and embrace my sexuality. There are plenty of ways to do this, such as performing acts of self-care that make you feel sexy, touching yourself or simply just have conversations about sex. 

Lastly, being sexually assaulted, especially at such a young age has made me more alert and prepared me for how to handle situations that may arise in the future. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women in the United States is raped during her lifetime. We've seen that sexual assault on college campuses is becoming more prevalent each school year, and in order to reduce the risk of sexual assault on campus, it's crucial Ito identify warning signs. Carleton College provides an excellent list of examples, some of which include: gradually increasing physical contact or sexual comments/jokes, separating the potential victim from other people by getting them to leave a social gathering, or attempting to get the victim more intoxicated.

This April marks seven years since my sexual assault, and here I am speaking about it for the first time publicly. Seven years ago, a dark cloud lingered over me. It's inevitable to avoid the clouds that float into our lives, but every cloud has a silver lining that you just might find if you look hard enough.