Trigger Warning: This post contains themes and topics related to sexual violence, sexual assault, and violence against women that may not be suitable for all readers and may also be triggering for some readers. We encourage those who are able to read this powerful piece and to seek out support systems, trained counselors, and loved ones for further support and guidance, if needed.
Sexual assault (n.): an action that encompasses the potential to transform a beautiful joyous soul into a shameful depressed victim.
In a matter of minutes I couldn’t feel anything, but I felt everything. His piercing brown eyes lunged into my soul when he violated me. I could hear his heart racing as his large sweaty palms were pressed against my hips along the table. That musty body odor will forever be etched into my brain. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. Its like my entire body shut down and in that moment all I could do was pray to God.
The first thing people who have experienced this are taught is that the victim should never blame themself, but it was too late. For a while, I was wrapped up in the idea that I could have prevented it…if I had just screamed louder or kicked harder. Maybe it was because I mislead him or wore clothes that were too revealing. Maybe I could have done something, anything. And the more I questioned myself, the more I silenced myself in the process.
However, in our most recent Under A Tree sessions in Stage II: Health, Wellness & Sustainability, we have been focusing a lot on how young people manage grief, pain, and depression. As we spoke about the burdens we carry with us throughout our days, I realized that my silence was a rock I carried on my shoulders every day…something I once thought protected me but was only weighing me down. I became clearer that I didn’t want to numb or ignore the pain…to shove it all in a box and throw it far far away.
I had previously refrained from admitting to myself that I was sexually assaulted and remained in denial. Growing up I was raised to believe that showing any type of emotion was an indicator of weakness, which fostered the mentality to always tell myself I’m fine, even when I was not. Internalizing everything led me to feel trapped in my own skin as that pain and agony continuously suffocated me. Every time I saw someone with deep rooted brown eyes, all I could think of was him. I never told anyone—not my parents, my friends, or the authorities. I didn’t want anyone to treat me differently or view me as “damaged goods” so I further isolated myself. I guess that goes to show that he had stolen my voice as well. I was still that bubbly girl at school, but behind closed doors, I was a girl who would pray to God for her old life back.
In our most recent Under A Tree sessions, however, we have been focusing a lot on how young people manage grief, pain, and depression. I heard stories about other fellows’ experiences with depression and navigating painful experiences. Although their causes were different, they understood the unbearable and indescribable pain that I had always believed made me alone in the world. Being aware that not everyone has a perfect life and also undergo some barriers gave me a weird sense of comfort…not because I found joy in their misery but because I found solace in knowing that they too were battling and working to overcome that trauma.. Their stories resonated with me because of how much strength and courage they had to speak their truths. As tears fell along my cheeks during the session, I realized that I could no longer stay silent and hide my story.
As time passes , I will now continue to let that event be a constant reminder that I am a survivor and that event alone does not and will never define who I am. Although I still refuse to say his name, confront him, or report him, or confront him to the authorities, I know that I hold the immense power of forgiveness. There is this sense of relief when you no longer decide to lie to yourself of carrying such a burden and choose to face reality…however uncertain, unnerving, or undesirable. But that reality is not changed by ignoring it, so I say it:
I was sexually assaulted.
As I type this post, I realize that the confidence that was stolen from me has finally been restored. I may not be the author of my experiences but I am the author of my own recovery. I am not alone, I remind myself. And in the course of sharing this story and hoping to spark more awareness and dialogue, I hope that you, too, can realize that you are never alone either.
Editor’s Note: This post was written by an anonymous Under A Tree Ethical Citizenship Fellow, publicly sharing their story for the first time ever. Although the UAT Blog Editors feel great remorse that one of our fellows experienced this, we are quite grateful to them for showing strength, resilience, and tremendous courage in insisting that their story be shared so that others can find some level or solace, support, and community in knowing they, too, are not alone in this world.