By Marissa Burr
Anxiety, bullying, global pandemics, loss of family. These are all unfortunate things that I’ve had to overcome in my young life in order to become stronger and continue on.
At the end of my freshman year of college, another was added to this list: Sexual assault.
It isn’t any easier to talk about it than it is to work through. Honestly, it shouldn’t be. The minute anyone becomes okay with having to talk about sexual assault is the minute they become numb to it.
I’m not there.
I didn’t go to that party. I wasn’t under the influence of any substances. I didn’t engage in any high-risk behaviors.
I wasn’t even out of my own home.
My situation didn’t line up with any of the warnings I was given at presentations or from flyers and commercials.
So why did this happen to me?
Because the reason behind sexual assault cannot be broken down into a pie chart with percentages showing what factors contribute most to the crime. It’s not something that people can do as a guarantee-prevention. When it comes down to it, there’s usually nothing a person can do to stop it.
The reason for sexual assault is the existence of rapists. There’s nothing more to it than that.
My story–-just like that of many others–shows that there is no other factor that is present in 100% of rape cases. Age, appearance, gender, sexuality, outfit, tox-screen, or personality don't have anything to do with it.
So for all the survivors out there, in no way are you to blame for your assault.
Media will say that it’s because of alcohol, drugs, provocative dancing, flirting, or what someone’s wearing that rapes occur. But these do not correlate with rape. This is a victim-blaming mindset that society has unfortunately taken on.
You probably know of someone who has been sexually assaulted. Is their case the same as mine? Or as the one on the news last week?
The answer is no. How it happens can be different for every single person. The way someone works through it is the same way.
I don’t pretend to know how all survivors cope with their assault, nor how they continue their life after. For myself, though, my entire life shifted after that night.
First there were months of denial. I chalked my experience up to misjudgement on my own part and buried the scarier parts of what happened so deep, that not even I could find them. I didn’t even process what really happened to me until way after the fact.
Next, I was reckless. In an effort to take back control over my life–my body–I went places I shouldn’t have and made decisions I’d come to regret. My health and safety were no longer a priority because it seemed like someone else had stripped that away from me.
Processing–and I mean truly doing so–was the hardest part. I would shudder every time I even thought of the assault. Realizations and flashbacks would hit out of nowhere and knock me off balance. I had no choice but to break down and try and get to the root of my emotion. If I could give any piece of advice to survivors about this stage of the aftermath, it’s to get professional help. Both through and outside the college there are thousands of licensed mental health professionals who can help you through this. It can make a huge difference.
Over a year later, and I’ve finally come to terms with my assault. That doesn’t mean I am “over it” or I’ve forgotten that it happened, but rather I no longer am plagued by the memories every day. I can go weeks without giving it a second thought, but as you can tell it wasn’t easy to get there. It’s been a really messy journey, and it’s never really going to be over.
But I let it control my life for long enough. I quit my job, took multiple personal leaves from school, moved houses, and constantly made changes to my life in order to get through the day. It wasn’t an easy process, nor was it as fast as I wanted it to be, but I made it through to the other side.
So I’m telling anyone who has suffered the way I have, that it’s possible. This shouldn’t end your life. It may be one of the hardest things you will ever have to overcome, but I promise that you can do it. You are better than them, and more importantly, you are stronger than them.