Finding a voice
Survivors of sexual assault heal by sharing their stories
Published: Thursday, November 15, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 18:11
He and Sarah were best friends; they were always together. She never thought he would take it to the next level. She didn’t want him to, but she didn’t have a choice.
One in four women will be sexually assaulted during their time in college.
Sarah is one of them.
Eighty UB students admitted to having sex with someone without consent while under the influence of alcohol in the National College Health Assessment Survey in 2010.
Every once in a while, Sarah spots her attacker around UB and even though she wants to punch him in the face for what he did to her, she doesn’t.
She holds her head up and looks him straight in the eye. She knows her look says more than a punch ever will.
She doesn’t crumble because she knows she is not alone.
Jessica shares her pain.
“Not only had I been assaulted by people I knew, but people I believed to be friends had stood by and allowed it to happen, and in some cases, even encouraged it,” Jessica said.
At UB, 180 students admitted to being forced to have sex without their consent, according to that same survey. According to the National Institute of Justice, the victim knows the attacker in 85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults reported by college women. About half of them occur on a date.
Sarah and Jessica, like most victims of sexual abuse, knew their attackers.
Sarah remembers every detail of the assault by her “best friend” four years ago.
It haunts her to this day.
“He grabbed me and put me on the floor with him,” Sarah said. “We never had a relationship like this, never even kissed. I thought he went crazy – ‘No, I’m not going to have sex with you.’ But he persisted. I was wearing pajamas so when I tried to scoot away from him on the ground, he held on and my pulling away only helped his cause. I remember how the basement floor felt against my bare thighs – scratchy carpet, brush burns all down my legs. He was able to get inside of me, but I kept fighting him off.
“I don’t know why I didn’t scream; my parents were upstairs. They could have saved me. I was just so ashamed it was happening to me that I just sat there in silence.”
Sarah was not only emotionally scarred, but her attacker left a black and blue hickey on her neck. It was a constant reminder of the incident for the next few days.
She felt like a whore.
“Sexual violence is like a wound that never completely heals,” Jessica said. “It may turn from an open wound into a scar, but it’s always a tender pink mark that aches when touched.”
To this day, Sarah questions whether or not it was her fault.
Sarah entered a state of extreme depression after her attack. She began physically harming herself and used just about every drug to desensitize her body. She just wanted to forget.
“I was a raging ball of emotions,” Sarah said. “I repressed all of the memories and just refused to acknowledge why I was so upset. I am now in the process of getting clean and can finally think clearly about it, which has aided in the coping process.”
Jessica had a similar reaction.
She knows she didn’t ask for it, it wasn’t her fault, but to this day it’s always inside of her head. Jessica blames herself.
In the years following her attack, Jessica felt alone. She told her story to a fellow survivor who was supportive, but Jessica said, “Just telling one person doesn’t make that trauma go away.”
She turned to drugs to separate herself from her past and the people who would try to get close to her – especially intimately.
The thought of someone’s touch made her nauseous and shake with nerves. She blames this and her fear of being alone for the “parade of bad relationships” she entered.
“While I feared intimacy, I wanted so badly for someone to distract me from the shame I felt,” Jessica said. “My choices in relationship partners became more and more desperate – and in some cases dangerous – until I realized that I had to make a change and work with myself to heal.”
The most difficult part of recovery for Jessica was establishing healthy relationships and trusting other people.
It took her years to stand up and admit: “I was raped.”
Even though she never reported her attack to the police or went to the hospital and to this day, she’s never told the most important people in her life what happened to her, Jessica is OK with herself.
She no longer thinks of her body as “damaged goods,” through the continuous support of those close to her.
Sarah is also on her way to regaining confidence.
“I have pushed every boyfriend I have had since away when they got too close,” Sarah said. “I do not believe anyone could possibly love me. I feel like damaged goods. I believe that they all want to screw me over or cheat on me.”
Now, Sarah and her current boyfriend are taking things slowly. He respects her strict boundaries and she couldn’t be more grateful to have someone who understands her like he does. He was one of the first steps in aiding her recovery.
Ashera Buhite, a senior global gender studies major who has been working with SBI Safety Services and sexual health for a year, said this is normal in survivors.
“Learning to trust yourself again after trauma is hard, especially when the world seems to be making you question the validity of your experiences,” Buhite said. “It’s important to have people to talk to and to work hard to restore your own sense of self.”