I have a secret: I once despised Lady Gaga. When she burst onto the scene with songs that seemed formulaic and fashion that was too much imitation Madonna, I feared she would single-handedly doom music to a forever continuum of worthless drivel and shame. Then, like all beautiful creatures, the talent and genius emerged from the cocoon, and a leader was born.
Yet my newfound adoration for Gaga stems not from her magnificent performance as The Countess, or even her classy 2015 Oscar performance, an ode to the old days of Hollywood glamour. My unfaltering devotion to Lady Gaga stems from her majestic performance of “Til it Happens to You” during this year’s Oscars. Because, like Gaga and the valiant survivors on stage that night, I too am a sexual assault survivor.
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) defines rape as ‘the forced sexual intercourse including both psychological coercion as well as physical force.’ Approximately 293,000 sexual assaults occur every year, equating to one sexual assault occurring every 107 seconds. Perhaps most alarming is that 80% of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.
My experience falls into that statistic. There is no profile of a rapist, no way to detect a ‘clue’ that the assault is to occur. I never could have imagined that inviting an intimate friend of ten years to dinner at my apartment would end in excruciating pain and psychological torment. I never could have imagined being forced into positions that are only meant for mutual sexual intimacy and connection. I never could have imagined myself in a state of acute shock where I would be unable to move, to think, to act as a rational being.
What has made my experience so significant is that my assault experience has not been confined to a single incident during one evening; rather, it was the origin of a horrifying downward personal and professional spiral that only after a year has begun to end.
My experience loomed large on my mind, especially when, five weeks post-assault, I found myself in another dire position: My assault had resulted in pregnancy. Financially strained, unemployed and fearful for my future, I began weighing options. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your outlook, the need to ponder appropriate decisions was taken from me in yet another cruel twist of fate: I miscarried. What made my experience even more depressing is that I felt unable to communicate what happened to me, unable to process what transpired. I had to go on, soldering the burden of my thoughts as I survived.
Recently I was asked if I felt my experience made me a victim or survivor. The answer for me is: Both. During an assault, the victim’s control is vanquished, leaving them at the mercy of their attacker’s whims. It is this aspect for me that made the experience so scarring. I cannot comprehend how a friend, a ‘good’ friend, could inflict pain in such a deliberate manner and possess the stamina to complete the ordeal he enforced upon me.
As I write this, I wish I could tell you that everything is okay, that I have completely moved on to a wonderful life full of success and prosperity. But still, those who mean the most to me remain unable to understand when I react to triggers that take me back to that evening. My demeanor has an air of defeat and pain, resulting in a smile that no longer reaches my eyes. Any dates I’ve been on in the past year have all ended poorly.
Most frightening to me is that happiness and joy has been replaced by sadness and fear. I fear that I will never be truly successful again. I fear men and their intentions. But most of all, I fear that life will never truly be joyous again, that love can never happen when I eagerly hope to give it.
I hold on to hope, however, because I am a survivor. I am alive, and remain so because there is a purpose not only for me, but for all of us as long as we here. I do not know what mine is yet, but I look forward to embracing it when we meet.
If you’re struggling to cope with an experience of sexual assault, reach out to the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a RAINN affiliate organization in your area (US only). Get live help online from anywhere in the world 24/7 here.