Trigger Warning: Please protect your mental wellbeing while reading this story. The following narrative speaks about sexual assault, rape, and suicidal ideation from the perspective of an FSU student survivor – this story is meant to make you feel less alone, not hurt you further. If at any point you feel your body or mind entering a triggered space, please step away, close your laptop, or close out this tab. Take the time to acknowledge your feelings and allow yourself to move through it until you feel safe again.
Here are some important hotlines, just in case you need them:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day in English and Spanish (800-273-8255).
RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24 hours a day (1-800-656-4673).
The Crisis Text Line is available 24 hours a day. Text HOME to 741741 to be connected to a trained crisis counselor.
As an advocate for sexual assault survivors and as a survivor myself, I find it difficult to use the actual experience of assault as fuel for my advocacy efforts. If I’m completely honest, the memory of my assault is spotty from disassociation, somewhat re-traumatizing, and I usually avoid thinking about it at all costs. However, in my recent healing journey and through camaraderie with fellow survivors, I have learned it is incredibly powerful to name the abuse. Whether I’m writing about it, speaking about it alone in my room, or leaning on a friend to shoulder the weight of my assault experience, it’s validating and illuminating to acknowledge its existence and set myself free from it.
I serve as the Campus Champion for Callisto, a sexual assault recording and matching system that gives survivors the opportunity to coordinate action against repeat offenders. In this work, I find myself speaking about sexual assault to fellow college students who may have their own stories to tell, may be allies working to bring awareness, or may even feel disconnected from the issue. Therefore, in order to quite literally give survivors a voice and bring the issue of sexual assault as close to home as possible for my readers, I interviewed a survivor on campus who is embarking on their own healing and advocacy journey. Divine Survivor Candles, a small business dedicated to researching image-based sexual violence and uplifting survivors’ narratives, referred me to a survivor who was willing to share their voice. This is their story:
“I was sexually assaulted for the first time when I was a preteen. Before my assault, I used to be so confident, so sure of myself. I used to jump from friend group to friend group, and my confidence attracted many people to me. I used to love journaling, playing with Bratz dolls, and drawing people. Because my parents were school teachers with lots of paper scraps, I had a unique talent for building ‘paper cities’ as I used to call them. I was innocent and full of life.
When I was assaulted for the first time, I felt like a glass mirror that was shattered into a million tiny pieces. I felt like a piece of paper, once so clean and perfect, that was crumpled and thrown away by someone who didn’t care about me. I felt disposable. Because I was so young, I didn’t have resources for healing, and my peers blamed me for my assault. I was under the impression everyone considered me a ‘hoe’ and less worthy of respect and consensual sex. I began to think that the abuse and hypersexualization of my young body was normal, and I truly believed everyone got raped because I was so vulnerable to it at such a young age.
Leading up to my second sexual assault, I started to see myself only as a sexual object. Instead of choosing clothes that I liked because of the color or design, I used to choose clothes based on how they emphasized my breasts and butt. I would switch between extremes of hiding my body and flaunting it. Because my assault was my only sexual experience up to this point, it established my understanding of sex and intimacy. I thought that if I said no, someone would hurt me just as much as if I didn’t say no. Throughout my teen years, I used aimless texting with boys, excessive scrolling on social media, and dark humor to distract myself and deflect the trauma I relived every time I looked in the mirror. I internalized the negative, victim-blaming messages put forth by my peers, and I saw myself as someone who deserved what happened to them.
Surprisingly, my family was the only source of support for me through my sexual assaults as a young person. I am so grateful for them, but I remember wondering, ‘Are my parents only helping me because they don’t want me to off myself?’ The world around me placed the blame of my sexual assault on my shoulders even though everyone knew the truth, and my assault experiences convinced me that my value lied in what I could offer someone in bed. I lacked a healthy understanding of boundaries, and I saw myself as broken and dirty for many years. I knew a part of me was killed when I was sexually assaulted. I felt empty and numb.
Doing the internal work to heal requires commitment, and it was not something I had the privilege of doing during my childhood. I am a first-generation American who had to help their parents clean, teach their siblings English, and hold back my own traumas because my family didn’t have the luxury of free time or therapy. Being assaulted again and again made me a very intense young person; even as I’m older now, I find myself not fit for everyone’s preferences in friendships. I have extreme opinions because I’ve lived through extreme life circumstances.
After my assaults, I would have sex with people not because I wanted to, but because I liked having the freedom to choose. Since my choice was stripped from me in my early teens, I became more vulnerable and struggled to say no. Even now, there is always the thought in the back of my head, ‘What if I say no and they don’t stop?’ I think it’s very easy for someone who has never experienced assault to say, ‘Well, just fight them off.’ Unless you’re in that moment, you don’t understand the fight or flight feeling that activates in your body when you are cornered and forced to do something. The thing is, if you fight, it only makes the violation more real. As a kid, I was ill-prepared to deal with that truth. I remember arguing with a guy who was trying to coerce me into having sex with him. Because of my lack of sex education and little exposure to healthy sex, I thought this was normal. I started smoking weed in high school as a way to cope and make it to college in one piece. This developed into substance abuse which persisted throughout college, and my dependency only grew during the pandemic.
Throughout all of my struggles, I knew I wanted to go to FSU. I knew I wanted to come to the state capital and fight for policy changes, and I knew I wanted to escape my pain. When people heard about my assault, instead of asking me if I was okay, they would push me away or proclaim I just ‘needed help.’ That I was just sick, struggling with depression and anxiety, and that there wasn’t much a single person could do for me. The truth is, I do struggle with those things, but it doesn’t excuse anyone from recognizing or validating my pain and my experiences. I still deal with night terrors and assault flashbacks where I feel like I’m a kid again, staring at my abuser(s). People say that time heals, and unfortunately, I disagree. My body remembers everything. Years after my assault, I will find myself asking, ‘Why am I so tired? Why am I so sad? I’ve been taking care of myself; what is going on?’ Then I realize the date of my previous sexual assault is approaching, and I’m flooded emotionally and drained physically all over again.
My sexual assaults made me believe at a very young age that no one really cares about you. People only pretend to care about you when it’s convenient. When I viewed the world like that, it became very easy to disassociate from my trauma and push anyone out of my life that made me angry or didn’t agree with me. To this day, I am still teaching myself that it’s okay to let people get to know me, and it’s okay to talk about the things that hurt me. I struggle with trusting that other people have my best interest in mind instead of plotting against me.
Right now, I am working on healing and advocating for others like me. I work to empower myself and my body by remembering that if I say no and someone has an issue with it, it’s their problem and not mine to fix. I am connecting with my inner child, the one who loved to create paper cities and felt so sure of herself back then. I speak power over myself every morning, and I’ve been meditating and painting more. I have invested in my relationship with God.
Occasionally, I reflect on an important conversation I had with my mom when I was at my lowest, and my childhood home was baby-proofed so I couldn’t commit suicide. She looked me in my eyes and said, ‘No one can stop you if you really want to kill yourself. When someone wants to do something, they are going to do it. So you can kill yourself, or you can feel what you’re feeling and do something about it when you’re older. I love you, and I’m here for you when you’re ready to talk. I need you to know this wasn’t your fault.’ I made a decision that day to recognize the parts of myself that died and to build myself back up through advocacy. That’s the conversation that led to where I am now in my healing, how I deal with my trauma, and how I identify with it.
One of the biggest things that has helped me gain control of my body again is going to the gym. It sounds odd, but moving something and being sore the next day reminds me that my body belongs to me. Learning about my experiences has also allowed me to understand myself and my trauma responses. I still struggle with how hard I used to be on myself after I was sexually assaulted. Now at the age of 21, I’ve been assaulted several times in four different stages of my life, and it can still be hard to trust that this won’t continue happening to me. All I can do is trust that I will be there for myself to pick up the pieces if someone shatters me again.
My healing focus is turning my spite and anger into motivation by remembering that even though people have hurt me, I’m going to use my experiences to keep this from happening to others. I want to help people like me who used to think sexual coercion, violence, and assault were normal and expected. I want to build my survivor community and protect each other. I believe it’s a gift to talk about my trauma and disrupt the isolation that survivors often feel when processing their experiences. Giving other people visibility, to know they are not alone, is what motivates me to keep going, to keep healing.”
In sharing their story with me, we were able to build a deeper, more authentic relationship as survivors who experienced some of the same trigger responses and social reactions to isolation and trauma. The purpose of this article is to do the same for any survivor who feels seen and validated by reading another survivor’s story. Know that we are traveling this journey together. Know that our voices deserve to be heard when we are ready to speak our truths. Know that there are resources and people who want to help you. Know that your body is yours, and you deserve respect, kindness, and consensual, clear communication before, during, and after sex. Know that you are worthy of healing.
For those that are reading this article and haven’t experienced sexual assault, there is a good chance someone you love has experienced these same things. Remember to be there for them and always extend warmth, kindness, and a shoulder to lean on. Just one person can make a huge difference in the trajectory of a survivor’s healing.
If you or someone you love has experienced sexual assault, please visit either of these websites to support survivors: mycallisto.org and divinesurvivorcandles.org. As a survivor network, we must look out for each other and utilize these resources to move us forward.
Thank you for reading this survivor’s story and opening up your heart to sexual assault survivors at FSU. Remember that sexual assault prevention starts and ends with you.