011: I Thought I was in the Clear
Content Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.
"I Thought I was in the Clear," Anonymous
Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain anonymous in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.
When I was in third grade, as an 8 year old, I had no idea what sexual assault was. I just went over to a friend's house, who happened to be male, and what happened that afternoon changed my life forever.
When I was in third grade, I was raped. I didn't realize this fact until after many trainings and discussions that I went through within the Department of Residential Life as an RA, and holding other leadership positions on campus.
When I was in third grade, what happened to me was automatically suppressed in my brain for so long. Locked into a little box in my mind, never to come open. What I didn't know, was that this event would become a huge part of my identity in years to come.
During my senior year of high school, I became friends with a group of girls who I felt very comfortable with. They tended to be called "popular" which made me excited to be a part of. One night, we went to a birthday party at a friend's house. There were many women, many men, and a lot of alcohol. This was one of the first times I ever drank. The last thing I remember is sitting on a futon with three of my friends and then waking up, alone on the futon, completely naked, unable to breathe. It took me a minute to process what was going on. I woke up to a door slamming, in the middle of the act of a guy, known for his acts against women, sexually assaulting me. I got up, and screamed.
I don't remember what happened for much of the time after that. I know that I broke down the next day in school, was brought to my school counselor, the police got involved, and I stopped eating. The police told me that reporting would do more harm than good. That my case, despite written admittance of guilt, would be thrown out in court. That I would be hurting the people around me because it would be a long, grueling process. I chose not to report.
What hurt me the most during this experience was that I had willingly had sex with this guy at a previous party. I thought by doing this, everything that had happened was my fault. I was guilty. I was sad. And I felt alone.
Lucky enough for me, I was distracted by the craziness of graduation and award ceremonies for the rest of the year. I joined track, began to love bodybuilding and other activities that defied the gender stereotype of femininity and what it meant to be strong.
When I got to college, I thought I was in the clear. No one knew my story. It was in the past, and I had left it the moment I walked across the stage. But, this wasn't true.
The September of my freshman year of college, I was raped after having gone out to my first college party. I was alone, trying to walk to the lounge where I knew my friends were. Because I had gone through this whole process already, I thought it was completely fine. I told my RA, had a meeting with my Hall Director, and carried on with my life. I then started dating a guy on my floor. A close friend of my chose to tell him what happened to me that night, and he then felt entitled to have sex with me. I said no, but it didn't matter because in his mind, it was necessary.
What is greatly misunderstood about sexual assault is that it never goes away. You cannot pretend it didn't happen, because memories and negative thoughts will bring it all back. It has taken me a very long time to accept what has happened to me throughout my life. But, I have learned how important it is to use my experiences to empower other women. I have found my "tribe" of supporters, people that I know would be there to support me in a heartbeat if I ever needed it. I have turned the sadness, the guilt, and the anger into passion for change.
When I was in third grade, my path was shaped for me. After struggling through science classes, after many tears of frustrations and anger, I fell in love with being an RA. I fell in love with student affairs. I truly believe that this is the path I was meant to travel, and the career in which I will be able to help the most people.
When I was in third grade, I became a different person. I began a journey I never knew was possible within myself. I went through hell, and came back, still standing. I wouldn't trade my experiences for better ones because I have been given the opportunity to use my identity to help others. My hope is that I can use my experiences to educate, support, and show women to not be ashamed for what happened to them. Because it is not your fault. You are good enough, you are capable, you are important, you are worthy, and you are not alone.
About the art:
When I read this survivor's story, I felt an immediate sense of strength and hope in how they persevered through every struggle. After reaching out and discussing their motivation for getting involved in the project, and what inspires them to maintain that hope, this survivor shared the following:
When I was going through a really difficult time this past year, a friend of mine told me to listen to Alessia Cara's "Scars to Your Beautiful". From hearing that song, I fell in love with Alessia Cara's lyrics. The song's lyrics strongly related to my story, and gave me hope. It gave me the hope that there was a reason behind why I was going through what I was. I listen to this song every time I need to remember the importance of self love. I didn't have to hide from my story anymore, and was connected to the most amazing tribe of supporters possible. Now, every time I need confidence, I listen to "Scars to Your Beautiful" on repeat and use Alessia Cara's lyrics to bring my perseverance back into the light.
After listening to the song (see video) and its powerful lyrics, I offered some ideas about how to bring its message to life. We decided to focus on bringing light to darkness as a symbol of their journey, and brought in this survivor's favorite color (teal) as a calming and bright influence.
I hope that this piece can help to be a reminder of the strength and hope that this survivor has demonstrated in their life and survival story. The students that cross their path are lucky to have such an amazing source of light and inspiration in their community, and I am honored to have such a strong future leader in our field.