Trigger Warning: sexual assault, rape, child sexual abuse
We are continuing to shed light on sexual assault in my series of interviews with sexual assault survivors. If you haven’t already read the first interview with my good friend Wing, please check that out when you can. This week, I’d like to introduce you to Jennifer, a recent graduate from Davidson College with a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre. She is passionate about working in the Education field and is planning on going to graduate school soon. Her proudest titles are “Wife” and “Mom”, as she recently married her best friend and is elated to have an amazing, happy, chocolate baby boy. Jennifer has given me the honor of sharing her story with you all today to continue the efforts of creating a healthy and open dialogue about sexual abuse.
Q: Can you start by telling me what you define as sexual assault?
Sexual assault is rape, sexual abuse, change of consent but no change in action, and sexual harassment (verbal and physical).
Q: Can you talk about the sexual abuse you experienced? Please share only what you are comfortable sharing.
It was the first weekend back on campus at the start of what should have been my junior year in college, and I had a few drinks with a few girlfriends of mine. After going to a party on campus, we followed the golden rule and walked back to our dorm together. After getting to my room, I realized that I didn’t have any snacks, and I really wanted something crunchy to eat before going to bed. I made my way down to the main floor to go to the vending machine for a snack. While deciding what I wanted, a guy walked into the building and we struck up a conversation — nothing flirtatious, just genuine conversation. He offered to give me a snack from his room so I could save some change and we could finish our conversation in the lounge on his floor. I agreed and climbed up the stairs with him as we continued talking.
When we got to his room door, I had planned to keep walking and meet him in the lounge, but he had other plans. He pulled me into his room and started kissing me. He pushed me up against the door and locked it behind us. I pulled back and told him I wasn’t interested, thinking that was enough for him to apologize for making a wrong move and let me leave. This is not what happened. He pulled my shirt up saying that he knew I wanted him because of how I was looking at him. I said, “No,” as firmly as I could, but he kept trying to take my clothes off.
He then picked me up and tossed me on the bed and said, “Come on, what’s a little harmless fun? One little hook up is all I need,” and he proceeded to take off my clothes. I had been sexually abused as a child and went back to that mindset, and I froze while he did what he needed to do to climax. When he was done, he put my clothes on my chest, said thanks, and left to use the bathroom. I got dressed, went up to my room, and showered for about three hours, scrubbing and crying and hoping to forget what happened.
Q: Have you ever seen your attacker before, or was he a stranger?
He was a stranger — I believe he was a friend of a student on campus, since the guy who lived in that room wasn’t the person who assaulted me.
Q: What was going through your head during and after the assault?
During the assault, I completely blanked out. After realizing what was happening, I just froze. I was mad at myself for the longest. Why didn’t I fight or try leaving? Why of my three choices to flee, fight, or freeze did I have to choose to freeze? After the assault, I just wanted to feel clean. I wanted to remove his scent, touch, and everything from my body, which is why I showered so long. However, I couldn’t remove any of that no matter how long I showered.
Q: Did you confide in anyone about what happened to you?
Initially, I kept it to myself and went about the next day as if nothing happened. It was the Monday after my assault that I truly struggled. I couldn’t sleep the night before. I had two bottles of wine before crashing for about 30 minutes, and I woke up paranoid. My friend knocked on my door for breakfast, but I couldn’t speak or move.
After missing my first two classes, I finally contacted the health advisor on campus and told her what happened. She and the only female campus police officer came to my room for details. I couldn’t do the ‘rape kit’ since I had showered right after, so getting DNA evidence was hard (the guy didn’t wear a condom). I did get tested and thankfully everything came back negative. I also called my high school counselor and told her everything, and she insisted I come home immediately. I also called my mom and told her what happened. Everyone I told believed me. My mom even blamed herself for a while because she said she had an urge to pray for me that particular night but fell asleep before she could.
Q: When you reported this assault to the police, how did they respond to your story?
Well, I initially didn’t want to report it, but the officer convinced me to report it. Unfortunately, the evidence was inconclusive and they never found the guy. The officer I spoke with was empathetic and extremely patient with me. The other officer was dismissive and very interrogating — he was more concerned with what I did, wore, had to drink, etc…
Q: What would you say to the people who say things like, “What were you wearing?” or “What did you do to provoke the attack?”
Stop attacking the survivor and start questioning the predator. Why did he/she feel led to do something that was unwanted? At what point did you gain consent for your actions? Tight/short clothing is not consent, a VERBAL yes is consent. Yes means yes!
Q: Has your mental health been negatively impacted as a result of the attack?
Yes, after my assault, I was diagnosed with anxiety, and my initial PTSD diagnosis changed to Complex-PTSD. I also got pregnant from the incident and had a miscarriage, so that just emphasized my depression.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who is a survivor of sexual assault?
You are not alone. Whether you decide to report or not is up to you, but seek help immediately. Assault has a damaging impact on your mental health and self-esteem. I waited almost two years before seeking help and wish I had reached out sooner. The people who truly love and care for you will forgive you. They understand that you aren’t lashing out at them or pushing them away. Most importantly, THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT. I’m sorry this happened to you, but we survived it! We’re not victims, but SURVIVORS!
Stories like these may be difficult to hear or read about, but there are millions of other stories out there just like this. Many of these stories turn silenced voices into advocates for sexual assault victims, and some of these stories keep silenced voices silent. Silence is an option for anyone who does not wish to share their story, but some people choose not to share their story out of fear of being called a liar or fear of being blamed. This is not acceptable! Anyone brave enough to share what happened to them should not be blamed, judged, or automatically deemed a liar. It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable, and we should continue to support survivors of sexual assault in whatever way we can.
If you need to talk to a trained professional about sexual abuse, please use the National Sexual Assault Hotline.