Trigger Warning: sexual assault, rape, suicide
Here we are… the last interview with a sexual assault survivor as we aim to raise awareness about sexual abuse and create a healthy dialogue surrounding this important topic. If you’ve stuck through and read the other two interviews, thank you for sticking with me through this. If you missed my interviews with Wing and Jennifer, please be sure to read them, as these two wonderful people have opened their hearts and shared their experiences and advice with us. This week, I’d like to introduce you to my friend, my sister, my mentor — Rose Lee. Not only is she an amazing person, but she is also a very talented and successful writer in her 30’s who has been gracious and generous enough to share her story with us. As I’ve been saying in the last few interviews, this may be uncomfortable to read, but it’s super important to continue this conversation. So, here is my last interview with Rose Lee.
Q: Can you start by telling me what you define as sexual assault?
Although rape was my experience, sexual assault isn’t limited to that. Sexual assault can be as simple as someone forcing an unwanted kiss on you. Or someone placing their hand in a place it is clear you don’t want it. And while these acts may seem harmless, they aren’t. Violation is violation and the havoc it wreaks on the lives of those who experience it isn’t any less because their [assault] didn’t happen to be rape.
Q: Can you talk about the sexual abuse you experienced? Please share only what you are comfortable sharing.
When my assault happened I was 17 years old and a senior in high school. I was hanging out with a friend, and he came on to me. I refused his advances several times before he got tired of my consistent chorus of no. My no never stopped though and neither did my fight to make him stop. But he was stronger than me.
Q: What was going through your head during and after the assault?
My mind was a knot of so many things. I felt so powerless. So powerless over something that belonged to me. I remember just wanting it to be over and hoping that he would tire from fighting me and just stop, and he eventually did. Afterward, I was just in shock. I was stunned that he had done that, I had always felt so safe in his presence before. What stunned me more was how he acted after. He just acted like it had never happened.
Q: Did you confide in anyone about what happened to you?
At the time I told one person and that person didn’t really care. When I saw that this person didn’t care, I figured no one else would either. So I sucked it up and made myself forget. I will never forget coming home to a house full of people and feeling so alone.
Q: What about the police? Did you report it to them?
I never reported my rape to anyone. My life up until that point had taught me that when it came to sexual violation, authority figures (parental or otherwise) weren’t very helpful or even really concerned. I knew the agony of trying to convince someone I had been violated and the exhaustion that would be mine if I were to open up in that way again. By 17, I was so tired of fighting. I decided I would not add one more fight to that list.
Q: Has your mental health been negatively impacted as a result of the attack?
Being sexually assaulted changes you. Even answering your questions has been difficult. Answering the question: “Who am I?” should never be hard. If I’m being honest, this question was easier to answer before I was assaulted. The question “Who are you?” becomes a bomb that some days I can disarm and others I can’t. The idea that sometimes I recognize myself and other times I don’t is so frustrating. Some days I know where the trauma ends and begins, and others I am a cocktail of flashbacks, depression, and anxiety.
I have struggled with issues of worth, suicidal ideations, anxiety, fear, and sometimes an almost crippling inability to do the simplest tasks. Things that are simple or even fun for other people require a lot more effort from me. Normal isn’t normal for me. There have been times when I felt safest unshowered and unclean. Sometimes I hide myself away in my weight. Other times I make absolutely no effort in my appearance. I’m learning that all this is my own subconscious attempt to protect myself. The terrible thing about trauma is that there is no statute of limitations on it. Nearly 17 years later and I am still healing.
What advice do you have for someone who says hurtful things like, “What were you wearing?” or “What did you do to provoke the attack?”
For people who say these types of things, I tell them what I was later told by another survivor. “I don’t care if you were butt naked and swinging your panties around your finger, NO ONE HAS THE RIGHT TO ASSAULT YOU!” What I would also tell them is something that took me a long time to learn and know. What I was wearing didn’t provoke my attacker, the fact that he was a rapist is what made him rape me. When questions like this are posed to survivors, it sends the message that we are somehow culpable in this situation. We are not. Nobody has the right to violate you. Your clothes or location will never be a good enough reason.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who is a survivor of sexual assault?
My advice for my fellow survivors is to remember that every day that you wake up is an opportunity to heal. That beneath the trauma, it is possible to untangle who you are from what happened to you, even if the process is slow. It takes as long as it takes. Let no one make you feel wrong for still having to heal. It took me a while to know that I was not dirty and that I had no reason to feel shame. I’m still learning it. My rapist had violated my body but I was not the violation. I am more than his despicable act and I am determined to live in that light and to pull others into that light with me. I am more. So completely and absolutely more.
So powerful, right? Rose Lee has been an inspiration to me for almost a decade now, and I hope that by sharing her story with you all, she will inspire you too. I hope that by sharing her story, she has inspired you to offer support to someone who feels comfortable enough to tell you about their sexual abuse and not dismiss them or their story.
It’s so important that we become allies to our friends and family who have faced sexual abuse, as we should offer them a safe space to just feel. My hope is that from this interview, you will start to embrace the discomfort that comes from talking about sexual abuse and start talking about sexual assault with your family and friends. We must continue this conversation well beyond the month of April so that we can educate those who are misguided or may not know much about sexual abuse.
If you want to talk to a trained professional about sexual abuse, please use the National Sexual Assault Hotline.