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Supporting Sexual Assault Survivors

Until recently, I always believed that the dialogue on sexual abuse had been open and accessible. I would watch a documentary, or read an online article about one of the few cases of sexual abuse that actually made into the mainstream news, and think that I could understand. I would think that should anything happen to me, I would know exactly what to do and who to report to.

It’s so easy to deal with a situation when it’s purely hypothetical. It’s easy to make empowered claims about dealing with these crimes. It’s easy, until one day it’s not. 

Going through something traumatic is a strange thing – at first the world seems surreal, that you are separate from the physical space you inhabit. The person who went through that experience wasn’t you. It couldn’t have been.

Then, it is you. You re-enter your physical body and feel the anger, confusion, fear. You try to make sense of the experience, and figure out what you should do next. You tell yourself to be strong as you keep an impassive expression at the drugstore while purchasing Plan B.

And then you cry. Uncontrollably, and for what seems like hours. The few people you’ve told, if any, tell you that you’re going to be okay. But you’re not okay, because how could you be?

You might even laugh. Not because the situation is funny, but because of its incredulity. You tell yourself again that this is not you, it couldn’t have been. This stuff only happens to the girls in documentaries. But it is.

This did not happen to me, but it did happen to one of the best people I know. I too, cried and felt the sadness, anger, and confusion. I could not wrap my head around the situation. 

Instinctively, I asked her about contacting the authorities. In my mind, all I saw was red. This guy could not get away with doing this. But she refused.

Her refusal was not the result of her not caring about what happened to him, but about what little faith she had in the process of reporting sexual abuse, and her embarrassment for what happened.

She blamed herself for not fighting back hard enough; for laying passive while he violated her. She wondered if he was too drunk to know whether he had done something wrong.

She tried to piece together a fragmented night, but couldn’t.

We talked, and didn’t talk for hours.

What are you supposed to say?

One thing we never said was the word rape.

It is the hardest thing watching your best friend question herself over something she had no control over. It seemed as if she was trying to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, except herself.

Although sexual abuse is a large problem, the issue of a society that does not make survivors feel comfortable enough to speak out is just as big.

I now realize that going through sexual abuse is something that is impossible to truly understand from the outside. Not only do you face the impossible task of dealing with the abuse itself, but you face the fear of judgement, and the hopelessness of proving yourself to a system that so commonly dismisses the severity of these cases.

So I write this as a reminder that ‘no’ is the only defence you should ever need.

I am writing this to raise awareness of the frequency, and inexplicability of sexual abuse — something so difficult to realize until it occurs too close to home.
I write this to let all survivors know that you are not alone, and not to blame.

I am writing this for my best friend, who is the strongest woman I know, and who deserves to live out the rest of her university experience to the fullest.

I encourage everyone to keep this conversation open, and to speak out freely.

Although, we may not always find justice, let us always have support and a reminder of self-worth.

We have a responsibility to each other, to rebuild what someone breaks, and to break the stigma surrounding a crime that is all too hidden, and all too common.

This is the contributor account for Her Campus Western. 
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