Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales every year, and many of these assaults happen at university. I was one of those people. On Saturday the 4th of November 2017, I was on a bus off to Jesters with my flatmates, not knowing that the girl who got on that bus, would never come back.
What most people find surprising is that the actual rape has been far from the worst thing about this experience. The real trauma, the suicidal thoughts and overwhelming anxiety: that comes from the aftermath. Because when that man, that monster, decided that he had the right to use my body as he pleased, my life was changed forever. Simple things like going to Tesco, or having sex again all of a sudden seemed to be a personal Mount Everest.
I’ve always been passionate about social rights and have openly advocated for women who are in the same position I am currently finding myself in, but when it happened to me, I broke down. I found myself describing others as survivors all the while looking at myself as a victim. Before, I’d be outraged at the victim blaming assholes who claimed women deserved it if they drank too much or dressed too sultry, but here I was, thinking those exact same things about myself. Somehow, I thought it was all my fault as if I was guilty of a crime I didn’t commit. I felt used, ugly and broken. Just the thought of my own body disgusted me to the extent that the first time I had sex again after the assault, I was so insanely drunk that I do not even remember it; I just woke up, and I was not in my own bed.
Feeling like I had no agency over my body left me thinking I had no agency over my life at all. The anxiety I’d been struggling with for my entire life suddenly turned to PTSD and depression. Assignments, laundry, and my weekly food shop seemed futile when juxtaposed to what was going on. Despite the anti-depressants and amazing support my friends constantly showed me, it got to a point where everyday life was so astonishingly challenging that I did not want to live anymore, at least not if I had to live with this.
The support offered to survivors of sexual assault is abysmal considering how widespread this issue is. I had an amazing GP who did all she could for me, but the waiting list for Southampton’s main counseling service for survivors is 9 months. That means I still have half a year of suffering to go through before I get any professional help, and had it not been for my incredible flatmates and friends, I may not be here writing this article today. Even though my trauma put a strain on our friendship, they stuck with me, and for that, I will be forever grateful.
This may all sound dismal, but I won’t lie to you – it is. That is why this week is so important. We need to talk about this issue. Educate yourself, educate your friends, take a stand. If I hadn’t have been so scared, I would have written this earlier and encouraged you all to take part in this week’s events, but it is still not too late. When so many people are suffering not just from rape and sexual assault, but the crippling consequences it has, there is no place for the romanticization of male aggression, victim blaming, rape jokes, locker-room talk, you name it. Every time you contribute to rape culture, you are making the life of a survivor even more difficult, and believe me, it is hard enough as it is.
I am crying as I am writing this. I lost who I was and I haven’t found her yet. I wanted nothing more than to just be normal again, but like a friend told me, the person I was is gone, and she is never coming back. I may grieve for her, but I have faith that who I will become will be even better, even stronger. Right now, being okay in any sense of the word does not seem feasible, but healing is not a linear process. There are ups and there are downs; somedays I will be laughing and smiling from ear to ear, and the next I can’t bring myself to get out of bed – but that is okay, and most importantly, that is normal. Vulnerability is not a weakness, it is our natural reaction to trauma, and if we don’t let our emotions out, they build up until we eventually explode. I may be sad, I may be angry and I may be depressed, but I am strong and I am determined. I will heal, and so will you because a predator is not allowed the power to ruin us.
So why am I telling you this? Well first of all, I’m hoping to get some sort of catharsis out of it, but most importantly, however difficult it may be to hear, it is crucial that we talk about it. Because even though I am far from fine, I know that at some point, I will be, and so will all the other survivors out there. If you’ve experienced sexual assault of any kind I want you to know that there is no shame in being melancholy and apathetic, but at some point, you will get through this, however unimaginable that may seem right now. We are strong and we are brave, but sometimes, we need a little support and love from those around us. If somebody in your life is struggling, you may not be able to relate, but please, do your best to understand – something as little as a hug can literally save a life.