Dear Future Sexual Assault Victim,
I’m here to tell you what I’m sure you’ve already read in Facebook posts and self-care articles. That it was not your fault. That the person who betrayed your trust was wrong. I’m also going to tell you something else. Something that you may have already experienced, or only glimpsed in (parenthesis) of all of those declarations of solidarity with the #MeToo movement and in between the lines of psych studies about the effects of sexual assault on a college student, which is that not everyone is going to care.
First, a recap: What happened to you is under no circumstances okay or excusable. I know that you’re scared. I know that you’re angry. I know that you might also be embarrassed, wanting to crawl out of your skin, dying to be anybody else in the world right now.
Now: You deserve access every resource available and you deserve unwavering support from your family and your friends. The chances of every aspect of that fantasy proving true are slim.
You deserve to live your life in blissful naivete about what sexual assault fully entails.
It’s going to temporarily take over your life.
You deserve to be able to slap a label on what happened if it helps you.
Instead, you will ask yourself if what happened even counted as sexual assault. Maybe it’s “just” sexual harassment or maybe you know only that it falls somewhere under the wide umbrella of your state’s “sexual battery” delineation.
You deserve to be able to press charges if you so choose and to have authority figures believe you and take action on your behalf.
Trends that draw skepticism and criticism of underreporting over recent years (in 2014, Florida State University reported 109 on-campus incidents of rape, which averages to about 0.09 rapes per 10,000 individuals, placing it in the 48th spot in the country in a an analysis by POLITCO Florida) may imply that this is not the accepting reception that you will receive.
You deserve to speak out about what happened, but you do not owe anyone any gory details.
Someone is going to want you to “prove” it, anyways.
You deserve to choose to move on.
You’re going to wake up from a nightmare six months later, anyways.
You deserve to have every single one of your friends stand by you through all of this.
You probably will not get that lucky. It’s going to split your friend group apart. You’re going to end up resenting someone because they told you they had your back but they still go to your perpetrator’s house parties on weekends. You’re going to wonder if you’re overreacting.
When I spoke about my own experience with my friends I was given an analogy about cheating in relationships. How friends might react when they all mutually know a couple. If one of the pair cheats on the other, the expectation is that the friends usually break along the lines of “who was whose friend first,” regardless of moral beliefs and obligations.
I’m not entirely sure to what extent this analogy is appropriate for sexual assault. If someone asks you about cheating, how many people do you think believe that there are no exceptions, no extenuating circumstances? Perhaps relating to the stature of the perpetrator within the community? Are even that many people going to tell you that sexual assault is about circumstance? Would that many people have the guts? I am deeply disconcerted by the idea that cheating (not to understate the feelings of betrayal of a relationship and the damage that does to one’s self esteem, plus the overwhelming feeling of wasted time and wasted love – but I do not believe it to be comparable) is somehow equal to the violation of my autonomy and body against my will, and so the responses of the people that I rely on are expected to be the same.
There are still resources for the friends and for the family that really want to help. I’ve found that I just want to get it in the open. I don’t believe it makes me weak. I want to help my friends that want to help and everything I’ve read takes care to point out that there is no clearly defined “right” or “wrong” way to help someone who has been a victim of assault. If you’re anything like me, if you’re still raw and frustrated, sometimes reading these is about as fun as raking your toes over hot coals. Yes, the victims of sexual assault go beyond the primary parties who were involved in the incident. Family has to watch you go through something that maybe they cannot imagine. Your mother is going to interrogate you, even though it’s born of concern. Your friends are going to want to help, but time is going to pass and with only secondhand vague details they are going to realize that this “mistake” isn’t the sum of their friend, and they are going to be torn apart between supporting you in your recovery, and supporting your perpetrator.
Let’s get one single thing straight, however, if nothing else: If you are clear about what hurts you and your friends or your family continue to do it anyways (whether its pushing you to your breaking point about getting a therapist or it’s chilling at the perpetrators house playing video games on lazy Sundays when you’re not available), it’s the “wrong” way. You should not be questioning whether what happened was “bad enough”. You are not in control of what your friends choose to do with this information, however, anymore than you were necessarily of what happened that night, that day, that evening, etc. They are adults now, and if when making an informed decision they prioritize preserving both relationships with the knowledge of what you’re going through, it is not on you. Unfortunately, that might see you spending less time with those individuals, and relearning how to prioritize your own healing. It cannot be overstated how much that shit sucks, especially when you thought you could count on the “ride or die” crew.
All the articles, posts, Oscar speeches, and the initial declarations (all of the good ones,anyways) had one thing in common that they got right, however. There is no correct timeline. There are no set milestones like “it’s been one month, I am able to see my perpetrator on campus without hyperventilating”, etc. This whole healing/moving on process doesn’t have to be about believing what your family said or what your pseudo-big brother friend said when you first told them and their response was “whatever you need.” Especially if they proceeded to let you down on that front.
It does have to be about believing yourself when you say it.
The last thing that I can say with certainty is that I am still learning. If nothing else, I have learned so much from my experiences. I’ve come across some priceless resources as well.
What a lovely group, who provided many a tissue when I just needed to get it all out. Also offer free group sessions if that’s your pace.
If you need to go through your legal options locally and quickly.
If you just need to talk to a stranger and brainstorm your options, CTL’s excellent staff has your back.
Especially or emergencies- I honestly believe that they want to look out for students.
You’re not alone. Good luck.