What I want journalists to know about being a rape survivor.
I’ve always been petrified to tell my story. I have seen the way females are portrayed in the media after being sexually assaulted, and it absolutely scares the shit out of me. I never wanted to be viewed as a lesser human being, especially when it came to my sexuality. As a woman, I am not ashamed to say that I am sexually active. That being said, I make it a point to have a verbal, consensual agreement with my sexual partner before doing anything either of us may or may not be comfortable with.
I was raped my sophomore year of college. It happened in a way that I never expected. He was my friend, and I trusted him. What sickens me the most about the whole thing is that my best friend was in the room next door, and she couldn’t hear my muffled calls for help.
I felt sad, empty, and alone.
I didn’t tell anyone for months, partially out of fear of judgment, but mostly because I didn’t want our mutual friends to be forced to pick sides. His fraternity brothers were my friends and thought I was a fun person, so what would they think of me if they knew about it?
I remember seeing my assailant on campus a few weeks after it happened. I literally froze with fear, and that’s not an exaggeration. I froze in my steps and could not will myself to move until he was out of sight. My breath was so shallow that my chest was barely rising with each inhale. At this point, I knew that he had this sort of power over me that would be difficult to shake.
After the assault, in just 3 months, I had lost 27 pounds. I suffered from major depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I would often wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, having to spend several minutes convincing myself that my flashback was only a dream. My most recent sexual encounter could not have ended worse, as well. This was a person I care a lot about, and yet, despite being aware that it was him I was having sex with, I still could not stop having intense flashbacks to the night of my assault. I eventually told my partner that we had to stop because I could not quell the panic intensifying in my gut.
That is what I want journalists to know.
It’s mentally and physically debilitating.
It changes you forever.
As survivors, we are already scared as hell to even be within the same city as our assailant, so when we decide to seek justice, we are putting ourselves in an even more peril position. Some viewers might see us as “brave” or as an “advocate” for those who don’t have to strength to speak out. But mostly, in modern media, we are viewed as “easy,” “careless,” and worst of all, “someone who was asking for it.” Not only are we in a weakened mindset from our own self-destructive thoughts and behaviors, but being labeled as nothing more than that makes us want to crawl back into that hole of solitude we had dug down into for months.
I want journalists to know that, while we appreciate the willingness of them to write down our story, that we just want the truth to be put on paper. We just want our story to be respected and viewed objectively. We are not victims, hence the reason I have consistently used to word “survivor” to describe us. We are not to be reduced to smaller versions of ourselves because of what happened.
It’s been one year, one month, 2 days, and 21 hours since the attack. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it. As expected, there are good and bad days. On the good days, I feel stronger and able to conquer my fear of being on campus knowing that he could be just around the corner. On the bad days, it’s difficult to even get out of bed.
I want to tell my story to let other survivors know that they are strong; that they too can overcome that mental grasp their assailant has on them. However, I really just don’t believe that I can with the current atmosphere that survivors have to live in. I truly believe that there are journalists out there that feel the same way that I do, that want to tell the truth and be that support system for the survivor. But at the same time, that’s not the story that sells in our current society.
I hope that this letter helps you in your endeavors as a journalist. I hope that it makes you want to exploit the truth, not an embellished version of our real-life nightmare.
This letter was written by an anonymous individual.
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Resources for sexual violence survivors