Trigger Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.
"The Path to Recovery," Kristen Perry
As an undergraduate, I was very involved. I joined hall council, and then became an RA for the next three years. I participated in the National Student Exchange program, and I always got involved in campus wide events. I loved everything about my undergraduate career, except for the shadow that followed me. That shadow was my date rape.
I had been on and off with a guy for about a year, and we came to the decision that we should just stay friends and stop trying to be anything more. As soon as we made that decision, my life changed. I went to hang out at his apartment one night with his friend, and we started to drink. The next thing I remembered was waking up practically naked on the bed the next morning. Neither one of them said one word to me when they drove me back to my place.
I texted his friend asking him to tell me what happened, but he said he didn’t know. When I asked the guy, he began making jokes and asking how much I had to drink. When I asked him if we had sex, he took a long time to respond, but he finally answered yes.
Fast-forward a year and a half to my senior year-my third year as an RA. Our training changed a little bit, and they added two extra sexual assault sessions to the agenda. As I was sitting through a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner presentation, my worst fear hit me: the person she described in her survivor presentation was me.My life shattered. My last year of college turned into a huge blur of counseling sessions, completing sand tray therapy, and taking medication for anxiety and nightmares.
I was mad at myself because I didn’t know it happened. I couldn’t remember that night, he said we had sex, and yet, my brain didn’t process that I had been sexually assaulted even after years of RA training. I still struggle with this concept, and I am learning to forgive myself. As professionals, we need to know that not only is the attack never the survivor’s fault, but they are not responsible for the aftermath either.
I am still, and probably always will be recovering, but I know that I can use my experience to empower others. At the end of my senior year, I started the Clothesline Project at my school, which addresses all types of violence towards women. It was a small program, but I left it in the hands of returning RAs to make it greater in the future.
What happened to me was terrible; I can’t even say rape out loud without bursting into tears. I want to say that I’m glad it happened to me instead of someone who doesn’t know how to ask for help, but that’s terrible too. Sexual assault happens too often, and society tells survivors that it’s their fault and that they’re wrong to ask for help or report it. I’m one of the lucky few that didn’t receive backlash for asking for help. I didn’t choose to report it, and I don’t regret that decision.
Many colleges are educating students about sexual assault, but what if they don’t know how to ask for help? What if they do ask, but the school sweeps it under the rug, or creates uproar when they try to report it? How can we ensure that survivors feel safe and protected instead of vulnerable and ridiculed?
I am now across the country starting a College Student Personnel graduate program. I have an assistantship as a hall director, and I couldn’t be more excited. I am at this point in my life because of the endless support I had from professional staff, friends, and fellow RAs. Not many people know details, but they know that I went through a traumatic experience, and all of them walked through my recovery with me.
I don’t want survivors to travel down that path alone. The path to recovery is scary, dark, and sometimes seems like it’ll never end. As professionals, we need to walk with them until they can see the light and they don’t need us by their side anymore.
I will probably never know what happened to me that night, but I do know that my life has changed, and I want to walk someone else down the path of recovery.
About the art:
When Katy and I first met Kristen, we knew we needed to collaborate. We watched her practice her PK talk earlier in the evening and it brought both of us to tears. I immediately told Kristen I would paint literally anything she wanted. This interaction is actually what inspired us to create this project.
The red bird from her PK talk, was, of course a necessity, and since Katy is the person I go to for creating replication of pieces, I knew I needed their help!
Katy definitely came through in the clutch, creating a gorgeous rendition of Kristen's red bird. I took the quote as seen in Kristen's PK talk and painted the words above and below the bird to give the piece some necessary balance. All in all, this initial piece for the project looks and feels exactly as it should.
The painting is loving, fierce, and brave--all words i would use to perfectly describe Kristen's resilience as a survivor.
Thank you, Kristen.