The days leading up to my birthday are the worst ones I face every year. I can’t stick to a clean eating plan because I spend the week stress-eating. It’s hopeless to try to stop biting my nails because that’s how I cope. I can’t spend time with family and friends because I’m being an emotional wreck at home.
This is all because I was violently sexually assaulted on my birthday several years ago.
It took a long time before I could tell close friends and family members about the assault, let alone publicly blog about it. It wasn’t until I suffered a major panic attack after running into him this past summer that I finally started attending counseling. But why blog about it at all?
A couple years ago, a friend of mine suffered a miscarriage. It was devastating to her, but she talked about it openly. Having a miscarriage is still considered to be a shameful, taboo kind of thing by many women, and she wanted to let other women know they weren’t alone and it wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. I always thought it was a very brave and important thing that she was doing.
Then one day, when I was leaving the Saffron Centre, I saw, for the first time since I’d starting going there, another young woman waiting for her counseling appointment. It struck me that you wouldn’t know she’d been sexually assaulted just by looking at her, which is an incredibly stupid and obvious thing to think. No one “looks” like they’ve been sexually assaulted. Which means that you probably know other women who have been sexually assaulted, you just don’t know it. Like me.
Resources estimate that between 1 in 6 to 1 in 3 women in the United States will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. I remember hearing numbers like these in high school and naively thinking to myself, I’m a smart gurl – I won’t be sexually assaulted. I won’t be a statistic.
At the time, I had this idea in my head of what a rapist looked like. You might, too. But the truth is, it’s not usually the scary man in a dark alley. Like with most sexual assaults, the perpetrator was someone I knew (and trusted).
I did become a statistic – but through a lot of support and counseling, I’ve been able to accept that it wasn’t my fault (I shouldn’t have to say this, but in case anyone is wondering – yes, I said “no.” I screamed it; repeatedly. Even if I hadn’t said it, it still wouldn’t have been my fault.) and I’ve allowed myself not to be defined by the assault. Since the assault happened, and especially over the last year, I’ve worked really hard to heal myself. I’m not done yet; maybe I won’t ever be. But I’m at a point where I feel ready to talk about it, help others and work to prevent sexual assault.
So I ask that you educate yourself and others. RAINN is an amazing organization. I’ve also received support from the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton and the University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre (the resources at the U of A SAC are free, even if you aren’t a student). I teach young women to have confidence and recognize abusive relationships through my volunteer work with the YWCA GirlSpace program. If you can, I ask that you donate to these organizations. If you can’t donate, volunteer. When I first called, it was expected to take up to 10 weeks to schedule my first appointment with SACE because no counselors were available. Amazing organizations like these ones can’t run without our help.
I’m writing this because survivors need to be aware of the support that exists for them. Society needs to take rape much more seriously; I don’t think we are doing enough to prevent sexual assault. In 2012, I witnessed the campaign against Anita Sarkeesian, Todd Akin’s rape comments, Belvedere Vodka’s ad and the Daniel Tosh rape joke controversy. Rape is not a joke or a game. Rape is never the victim’s fault. Sadly, those aren’t the messages society is sending and they’re not the messages our children—boys and girls—should be learning.