“What were you wearing? Weren’t you on a date with him? Are you sure you didn’t want it?”
One after the other, the line of interrogation, judgment, and stares came flying in following my sexual assault.
From initially speaking with police, then to a slew of medical professionals, coworkers, and of course friends and family, I quickly became overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, fear, anxiety, and depression. How do I explain to the people I care about the most that I had been sexually assaulted? How can I share my experience and vocalize how fearful I am of it happening again? Ultimately, the bigger question looming in the back of my mind: will everyone understand and stand by my side? Or will they leave?
In addition to the emotional turmoil, on a personal level, I struggled to accept my rape. I initially went into a state of denial, then moved towards sadness, and finally reached a point of anger. In the first few months following my rape, I found myself unable to vocalize how I felt without becoming overwhelmed with emotion. I couldn’t go anywhere alone, and I feared that my words would ultimately be misconstrued by others; just like so many other victims of sexual assault in the United States. I truly felt hopeless, unworthy and felt my confidence levels drop dramatically. I lost my entire sense of self and I truly didn’t know how or when I was going to get back up.
Now, imagine going through this as a young, scared 17-year-old girl. It was nothing short of terrifying.
My story began back in 2012. It was the summer before my sophomore year at college and I had been granted an exciting opportunity to work for an online magazine company in Hong Kong. This was my first real opportunity to experience a new country and culture on my own and I couldn’t have been more excited.
Approximately a month into my internship, I agreed to go on a date with an Indian student studying at a university in Hong Kong. That same night, unbeknownst to me, my “date” followed me home and proceeded to attack and enter me without my consent. The very next morning, he sent me a text message saying that he had a great time and that if I told anyone about what happened, there would be problems. Needless to say, the course of my life dramatically changed from that night forward.
This was the first time that I truly felt like a victim. Shame and self-blame were put into effect in full-force. I felt like I had been taken advantage of, that I hadn’t been properly protected and was victimized. As much as these details were true, I also blamed myself, heavily.
“Oh, I shouldn’t have gone out with a man I just met,” I thought to myself, “I brought this on to myself”.
Living with this guilt, I felt as though I brought shame and embarrassment to not only myself but to my family. Over time I repressed my emotions and masked them with laughter instead. I pretended to be okay in order to not make anyone feel uncomfortable, despite feeling awful myself. I was given the labels of “strong” and “confident” when in reality I felt an immense sense of loneliness and despair. I only trusted my secret to a select few people, and even then, I didn’t provide all of the details. I avoided going out to parties or events unless I was in the company of friends I trusted. I always had my guard up and didn’t let anyone in.
I found myself longing for my old self to come back. I wanted to be happy again. I wanted to have a semblance of control back in my life. I wanted to be the one to call the shots, to decide what happened. I wanted my power back.
However, in my heart of hearts, I knew that I still feared my attacker.
I feared that he would find me and my family if I reported him.
I feared that he would ruin my reputation, that he would lie to save himself, or that he would come for retribution.
I feared that I wouldn’t be able to find true love and get married and I feared that I would be too emotionally damaged to live my life to the fullest.
Looking back, almost 8 years ago now, I see the strides that I’ve made since then. Now I’m happily married to an incredible man, I’m working for a progressive women’s health organization and I’m regaining my self-confidence again.
Here’s the good news; time truly allows one to heal and grow. Through my own time and journey, one day, I felt different. That day for me was when I got up, looked at myself in the mirror and decided that I wasn’t going to let my attacker win anymore.
He wanted me to fear him. He wanted power and control.
I decided that enough was enough, and that I have control over my life. I realized that my attacker can’t take anything else from me unless I let him. I decided to put on makeup, and take a walk by myself. I went to the store. I started meditating and working out. Slowly but surely, I started to take care of myself again, for the first time in a long time.
Now am I going to sit here and tell you that upon trying to get my power back, I suddenly feel like cupcakes and rainbows all the time? Absolutely not. Do I still have anxiety and depression? You bet. But do I have a better hold on what makes me, me? Do I think I am strong? Do I think I’m worth it? I know it.
Something else I’ve learned along the way? Somedays, you just need a good cry. Say no sometimes. Stay in. Treat yourself nicely and the rest will follow. Remember to take a step every day and breathe. Everything will work out in due time.
I am no longer just surviving. I am living. Stay strong queens. Don’t drop your crowns.
Per the Joyful Heart Foundation (http://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org/learn/sexual-assault-and-rape/about-issue/know-signs), if you feel like a friend/family member/neighbor may have been sexually assaulted, here are some signs to look out for:
- Bleeding (vaginal or anal)
- Difficulty walking
- Broken or dislocated bones
Survivors may have a hard time maintaining relationships. In some cases, it can become challenging to determine who can be trustworthy.
Survivors may also remove themselves from their community and loved ones following acts of violence. Changes in behavior may also occur, including having outbursts of anger or similar reactions.”
With these signs in mind, here are some suggestions that you can implement to subtly support your friend in need:
- Go for a drive around town: Survivors are often in their own heads and are afraid to go places alone. This small action can help them find some solace and help them remember the good that is still in the world. Make small-talk and laugh. A small gesture goes a long way.
- Call often and actively listen: Survivors will think that no one will understand their struggle or their experience. Anxiety and depression are extremely common amongst survivors. Sometimes it’s better to just sit and listen to them without interjecting. This is their way of releasing and trusting someone. Let them.
- Eat meals together: Survivors are facing internal demons and a lot of the time, their wounds aren’t seen. Help them take care of themselves by ensuring that they’re eating and engaging with others.
More about the Author, Ragini Chatterjee:
I’m Ragini, and I’m a proud feminist and pro-choice advocate. I share personal stories about what it’s like to be a survivor of sexual assault because the more society knows of signs and how to be a better ally, the better off the world will be. I hope my posts will inspire you to speak and own your truth.
Follow @ragini93 and @ouronceinalifetime on Instagram for additional content.