SUBMISSION: Survivor, not victim

By Anonymous | November 23, 2021 10:46am

Media Credit: Annika Gordon / The Beacon

Editor’s note: It is not The Beacon's policy to publish anonymous submissions. However, the editor-in-chief is making an exception in this case because he believes allowing a sexual assault survivor to share their story openly and anonymously benefits the community's interest.

You might not know my name. Some of you do. At some point, I fear, more of you will. But you might know my story. 

Spring semester, freshman year. A party, if you could call it that. Just friends, all together. Drunk. Lines in black pen mark the number of shots on my arm. I sat beside a boy I trusted. I thought I trusted. Alone. Uncomfortably alone.

You know this story. This is a very old story. Sometimes, it feels like this is the only story. His hands on my back, moving up my shirt. Reaching beneath the hem of my shorts. Suddenly, when I realized what was happening, I was able to push him off. My friend came into the room then, and took him to bed. I sat quietly, unsure of what had just occurred. 

A week later, I spoke up. I told the people close to me, my friends. My therapist, too. I couldn’t hold back tears when I did. The words fell from my mouth like syrup. 

Betrayed. Hurt. Ashamed. Unsafe. Afraid. Lost. 

Immediately, I was a victim. I watched as the eyes of my friends widened, their mouths parting slightly to indicate their shock, their hands, reaching out to hold me, to tell me I’m brave, I’m strong, that they’re sorry this happened. I was sorry this happened, too. Their support was beautiful, but I couldn't shake the feelings of shame. I had internalized that I was a victim, that I was powerless while things happened to me, around me. It took a long time to realize that wasn’t the case. 

I am not a victim of sexual assault. I am a person. A woman. A daughter. A sister. A classmate. A friend. A peer. 

A human being, who had a really terrible thing happen to her, and wished more than anything that nobody would ever find out. 

But they did.

I trusted people I shouldn’t have and confided in gossips. People promised they wouldn’t say anything, said my story was mine alone, that they wouldn't tell a soul. But, promises go broken, words are slipped and lives, like mine, come crashing down. I had people I didn’t even know tell me my own story as if I wasn’t the one it happened to. I knew that it was spreading, and that I wasn’t the one doing it. 

As survivors of sexual assault, it is not our job to be martyrs. You do not get to spread around our stories as a way of warning other people. I know, in some cases but not all, my name was kept private, but the concept remains: my story is mine, how much, or how little of it is shared is my decision. 

When I discovered that people knew about what happened, I spiraled. I wouldn't leave my bed. I cried for days. I stopped eating. I lost control. I floated through the week, letting the world move around me. Everything was coming back. That night played on loop in my brain every single day. The feelings of betrayal, of hopelessness, of loneliness, all of it came rushing back. People might not have known it was me but that didn’t matter. I felt sick to my stomach every single day. 

I understand the desire to protect others, to tell people so that they stay clear and don’t meet the same fate as I did, but you are not the person who gets to decide that for me. Suddenly, I was a victim again. I was “the girl it happened to.” I was robbed of my agency. 

So this is me, reclaiming that ability. You don’t know me, but now you know what happened, and I got to be the one to tell you. 

This isn’t gossip, this is someone's life. This is my life. 

Sexual assault happens to students on this campus. It’s vile, and scary, I know. But this is me telling you, you are not a victim. You are not powerless. You are a survivor. I never wanted to be brave, I never wanted this to happen either, but I found that strength comes in many ways. 

Sometimes, strength can come in silence. Sometimes, it comes in speaking out. Regardless, that is for you to decide, and no one else. True strength is knowing that no matter what you do, you are strong, and no one can take that from you.

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