Before continuing to read, please note that this post speaks of rape and sexual assault, and may be upsetting for some readers. I have refrained from going into much detail of the incidences, and instead focused on the feelings and procedures experienced afterwards. If you would like to discuss any of these details below with me, please feel free to message me through my contact page, Instagram, or Facebook.
I have been asked before, with varying degrees of intent ranging from true caring curiosity, to disproving disdain, why I call myself a "survivor" of rape and sexual assault. My rapist did not jump out at me from a dark alley with a knife or flailing fists, my attackers did not leave scars upon my body, none of my bones were broken. The most serious physical injury I had that was caused by a rapist were the two hand shaped bruises on my inner thighs. Surely I was just a victim? My life was not threatened, I was not rushed to hospital, sirens wailing.
This may all be true, but nowhere does it take into account the devastation caused to my life and mind in the aftermath. Self doubt, self hate, agoraphobia, PTSD, suicidal thoughts, anxiety triggered by anything or anyone related to my experiences, broken down relationships, and so so much more.
Physical wounds heal, they may leave scars, but the pain fades until it is gone. Emotional pain endures, it creeps up on you when you least expect it, and creates a crippling whirlwind in your head, disrupting daily life. Surviving this is hell, and you cannot be blamed for the dark thoughts that dwell in your head on sleepless nights where you cannot bear to turn off the light or close your eyes. Some days are fine, others pass in a fog. We struggle to be heard among life's other issues, and few understand what we are truly going through. The fact remains, however, that your feelings and experiences are completely valid, whatever form of abuse you have experienced, and how you choose to cope with them is completely your own choice.
In the first two instances of abuse that I encountered, I chose to report them to the police. This is a long, drawn-out, harrowing experience in which every detail of your assaults must be relived multiple times. My first case could not proceed to court through lack of physical evidence, but the police assured me that the perpetrators would not get off without a stern talking to. I did not want to go through this rigmarole again - but I reported a sexual assault again which was dealt with my a different police force. This time, I experienced disgusting victim-blaming from the police, that I may detail in another post. For now though, my point is that the world has so many ways of trying to silence survivors of sexual abuse, that our thoughts can often remain locked inside our head, overwhelmingly taunting us at how we will not get justice. Brock Turner only served three months for his crimes - 6 people who have abused me will never see the inside of a law-court, let alone a prison cell. Surviving with this knowledge every day is hard enough. I did not report my last, and most horrific rape - I cannot bear to go through it again.
Things said to me by others include:
"I'm not stupid enough to let that happen to me" and "why didn't you come and get us to stop him", and "Well, you sounded like you were enjoying it" - former flatmate
"You blamed yourself so you must have wanted it" - ex boyfriend
"Maybe this wouldn't happen if you weren't such a lightweight" - many, many people
"You wanted it. You needed better sex than your boyfriend gives you" - rapist
At each stage of healing with sexual abuse, there is more to survive. Gathering the strength to return to a place, to see a person, to listen to a song, to drink a drink, to wear an item of clothing that reminds you of the events. Survivors are strong though - even in your darkest moments, please believe me when I say that you are so, so strong.
If there is a survivor in your life; whether they be a friend, family member, or lover, the most important thing to do for them is to support them in whichever way they need. They may need space, they may need a hand to hold, or they may need an ear to listen to them. You may not understand, you do not have to fully understand, but in being there for them and accepting their pain you are ding the most important thing for them - believing, accepting, and validating. Research consent, rape culture, and other issues surrounding being a survivor, or their particular experiences to avoid asking them any triggering questions. If you do not believe them, then stay well away - this is a much too painful thing to be lied about and your doubt will only serve to increase their self-blame and possible suicidal thoughts.
I am a survivor. I will continue to survive, and you can too. There are fantastic organisations out there offering help also, for example Rape Crisis, who have previously helped me deal with the police and provided me with a course of emotional support therapy.