Last year, I was sexually assaulted a few weeks into fall quarter. This was an extremely traumatic event, and has created a long journey of high and low points in my life over the past year. Sexual assault is a difficult issue because of the shame which surrounds it. Especially in college, when there is a layer of social anxiety that can be added. This experience has impacted me in almost every facet of my life. I think the hardest part has been to accept love from myself and others.
Healing is not linear by any means, and I have had many times when I thought I figured it out, and then took some steps back. The biggest thing that helped me was not giving up. A lot of working through this has been building up the courage to share my story with my peers and loved ones. One of the most challenging and terrifying things I have ever done was tell my family that I was assaulted. That was worse than any intake report I ever had to do. Once I did I felt relieved. I opened up to them a little over six months after and I did so over the phone while they were 3,000 miles away. It was hard to know how they were feeling about it, and also how they felt about me not sharing with them for such a long time. Once I had their support things got a lot better.
Additionally, I realized that I was surrounded by some of the greatest people ever. I did lose some friends throughout this process, but I found the ones who mattered, and who would do anything they could to help me. I have people in my life who have and would stay by my side at any time, and they have done more for me than I can ever thank them for. One of the most incredible things is just to have people who believe, love and support you unconditionally. There may be points where you feel alone, and don’t think these people exist, but I promise that they do, and when you are able to make yourself vulnerable, people might surprise you in how increible their responses are.
Sexual assault is an issue that until more recently, people avoid talking about at all. It can be uncomfortable, confusing and triggering so putting it on social media was something I never thought I would do until the #metoo movement took off. It was really crazy timing because my feed was blowing up with #metoo statuses on the year anniversary of the day I was assaulted. It was something that I had been thinking about all day, and I read this one article that a woman wrote really just ripping into the issue in kind of a f*ck it type way and I really resonated with it. At almost midnight I opened my laptop and just wrote everything I was feeling about it and hit post. I just put it out there and for a few minutes experienced a terrifying and relieving feeling.
Within twenty minutes of my post being up (it was past midnight at this point) four people reached out to me privately and disclosed their own experiences with assault. It was really hard to process this because they were people I loved and thought I knew very well. But it just goes to show how much we can all hide our issues & especially on social media. The next forty eight hours were nothing short of insane, but I had felt like a literal weight had been lifted off of me. In the past I had felt so ashamed and like such a burden if I wanted to talk to someone about my assault, but now I didn’t care at all. I didn’t care if people didn’t believe me, I didn’t care if they didn’t understand because it wasn’t about them. It was about me, and my story and that’s what mattered. Posting that status was one of the most freeing things I have ever done.
My main goal of posting my #metoo status was to empower other women, especially those who had been assaulted. My message was to encourage others to speak up and speak openly about these issues. The only way we can educate one another on these topics is by sharing our experiences and validating how important they are.
The responses to my post varied, but were overwhelmingly supportive and positive which was really healing for me. One thing however, that many people said was “don’t let this ruin you” and that really bothers me. I think that if we are to share our most vulnerable parts of our lives in this way, we are strong. We are handling it. We do not let these experiences negatively define us, impact us or control us. I know the people who made this comment were well intentioned, but that phrase really shifts the blame back on the survivor. If I had let this “ruin” me (in my personal experience - many people handle trauma in their own way and however they choose to is fine) but I would not have gotten out of bed. Which I barely did for around three weeks after I was assaulted. I took my time and then I got to a place where I stood up, put my hair up, and took on life.
In the past year I have given a TED talk on my work in affordable prosthetic devices, completed an internship to develop assistive technology for a wounded veteran, lead a team of engineering students to develop a training fin for a triathlete and amputee, and I am now an intern with Cal Poly Safer working with the administration to create a better campus culture and combat sexual assault. So to the people who told me not to let this ruin me, and to all the people listening, we are strong women. We rise up against life’s most difficult tests, and we will never let anything and especially not sexual assault “ruin” us.