The Unspoken Aftermath of Sexual Assault
Real quotes from college students about their experience with sexual assault: giving a voice back to those whose voices were taken away
***TRIGGER WARNING: if you have experienced sexual assault, please procced reading with caution, as there may be triggers***
Although we have made strides in the fight against sexual assault, we don’t often talk about the emotional detriment assault has on victims.
It’s traumatizing, heart-breaking, life-changing, and can take years to accept and recover from. But it’s also something that can never be undone.
So that’s why we're going to talk about it today:
The Unspoken Emotional Aftermath of Sexual Assault.
The Initial Reaction:
Initial feelings after an assault are often shock, denial, and guilt. It’s like you have no voice and you don’t matter at all; even if you reject it and say no, they don’t care. It doesn’t matter.
“Being raped made me feel like I was worthless. No matter how many times I said no he kept saying ‘oh just relax’ as if he knew what I wanted more than I did. And because of that, the next day, I thought it was my fault. I felt SO guilty and ashamed. I literally said to my friend ‘how could I do something like that’ as if I hadn’t said no.” (Female, 19)
First, it is never the victim's fault. And you should never feel ashamed. No one asks for this to happen to them and it is NO measure of your worth.
“For the first couple of hours after it happened it was almost like I was in a state of shock. I didn’t know what had happened and since I had never had sex before I felt so disgusting and impure. A million thoughts kept going through my head, “Did I want that to happen?” “I thought I was clear I didn’t want that,” “was it just the heat of the moment as they say?” After the incident, my friends, who either knew or didn’t, all said I was broken.” (Female, 20)
From what I have heard, it is not uncommon to feel impure afterward. It is normal to not feel uncomfortable in your own skin.
But how is that okay?
How is it okay to let someone else have so much power over us?
‘Purity’ is a construct that correlates guilt and shame with sex, which can be severely mentally damaging. Especially if you didn’t even want it? That’s not your fault, that is the assaulter's fault for their impure mind and soul.
Can Time Heal?
As with any broken bone or cut in your skin, it takes time to heal your mind from sexual assault. And because it’s not a superficial wound, a topical treatment won’t help. The mind and soul are broken much easier than any bone.
“Thinking about the situation now, I know I am strong enough to make it through even my worst days and, unfortunately, it took me two years, but I finally know now that I am more than just a body. Honestly, I gained my self-worth back.” (Female, 20)
“It took a long time to realize it wasn’t my fault. It still triggers me, and I still don’t really want anyone to know, but I at least can forgive myself.” (Female, 19)
Time may heal, but not entirely. And it shouldn't have to.
Because this shouldn’t happen.
Rape has the ability to completely shatter a person and their worth, and you have to be so fucking strong to sew yourself back together.
What’s also not talked about enough is how drastically sexual assault can change a person. How we deal with trauma is very individualistic, but sometimes we forget that and we judge people way too fast; we have no idea what they have been through.
“I started measuring my worth by how I could please others. I've always been a people pleaser, but after that, I became a sexual pleaser. I felt like it didn’t matter what I wanted… I had to sleep with someone because they wanted me too. I definitely became hypersexual, and I hated every minute of it.” (Female, 19)
Your worth is NOT measured by others.
You are worthy of
and everything in between.
You are more than a body.
You have valid feelings, aspirations, a past, and a future. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
“I pretty much acted out to the point where I don’t recognize the person I was a year ago, who would go out of their way to hook-up with someone at a party, black out every weekend, and isolate myself from my friends out of fear of them not wanting me around. The thing about a sexual assault incident is that it doesn’t just affect your relationship with that person, it affects your relationship with everyone, including the people you thought you could trust the most.” (Female, 20)
Again, trauma responses come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. And maybe you look back and regret what you did in retaliation to that trauma… but it happened.
You didn’t know how else to cope. And as long as you grow from it… it’s okay. And if you’re going through it now, that's okay too.
Just know your worth is NO LESS because of it.
Fear of Speaking Out:
And a lot of times, we don’t like to talk about our trauma. So that’s why rape and sexual assault often go undiscussed.
“The fear of speaking out came from after I told a few people because their responses honestly made me feel worse. Some were like, ‘I hope you got STD tested after,’ ‘What did you expect,’ or ‘Wow, so you’re not a virgin anymore?’ It felt like my friends were becoming my enemies in the situation, so I just decided to pretend like I was fine and nothing happened.”
This is why people feel they can’t speak out. I am all for ‘sticks and stones may break my bones’, but there are some things that should NOT be said.
It shouldn’t be acceptable.
We, as a society, don’t talk about the emotional damage sexual assault inflicts. Even a forced kiss can make someone think they are only useful for their body.
Self-worth is drained when someone’s voice is silenced or ignored.
Sexual assault renders a victim powerless, and they will carry that with them for who knows how long. And, in turn, they do anything they can, including self-sabotage, to try and gain that power and control back.
So, the moral of the story, sexual assault and rape is not something that only affects you in that moment. It can affect you for the rest of your life. It’s something you’ll always have to cope with, and that needs to be talked about more.
“The best coping mechanism I have found now is to always stand up for myself, because I am worth it.”