"The best way to explain the last three years is that I have been in a daze, or survival mode as my therapist called it."

I remember being told to never leave your drink unattended, for the worry someone may slip something into your drink. I remember hearing the statistics that 1 out of 5 women would be sexually assaulted in their lifetime (It is 1 out of 4 at the University I attended). However, I never thought I would be one of them, and I don't think anyone ever thinks they would be.

In June of 2013, my senior year in college, I went out on a Friday night for a few drinks with friends. I set my drink down to take a quick picture with my friend, when my drink was drugged by a classmate and acquaintance. My intentions that night were to grab a drink or two, go to bed early to catch an early bus home the next day to celebrate my birthday with my family. I had a drink and a half that night, the half the beer I drank is the drink that was drugged, allowing me to remember bits and pieces of the night, and most importantly, remembering I said no.

Although the parts I remember from that night are awful, it's the aftermath that has been the biggest challenge for me. It took me three years to finally share exactly what happened that night with close friends and family, mostly because of fear. Fear of being judged, of being viewed as dirty, damaged, or broken. Mainly because that is how I felt. I felt gross, I felt broken, I had changed, and my perception of the world changed. The world became a much scarier place.

The best way to explain the last three years is that I have been in a daze, or survival mode as my therapist called it. I'd have random flashbacks of that night and of the doctor visit three days after the assault. I'd have flashbacks on my drive to work, in meetings, when hanging out with friends, when alone, in my dreams, etc. I couldn't escape it. I'd try to tell my brain to think of something else, but it couldn't. The hardest thing for me to cope with was that it didn't happen once, it happened repeatedly five times. Knowing I was powerless from being drugged and couldn't fight back, knowing I couldn't have prevented it, really tore me apart. It made me feel small, weak, and worthless.

It wasn't until I went to see a therapist that it all made sense, and she explained I have PTSD and basically my brain couldn't process all that happened, so it was "stuck". I went through EMDR therapy to let my brain process what happened and to learn ways to cope. I'll admit I was very skeptical anything could make what happened better, it didn't seem possible, so if you are reading this and feel this way, I urge you to see a therapist and just give it a try. Afterall, nothing can make what happened worse. Although I still deal with anxiety and flashbacks from time to time, I've learned ways to move past these thoughts, so I can live in the present again. I let myself grieve if I need to grieve, I am slowly getting energy back to do the things that once brought me joy, and I'm not pretending I'm okay anymore if I'm not. I lost a lot these past three years while I was in survival mode. I avoided social situations, and when I was in social situations I wouldn't feel truly present. I'd often get asked when I did go out with friends or coworkers, why aren't you drinking? Whenever I'd get asked this question, I'd immediately think about my assault and go into my daze again. I'd feel like I had to be on guard, that I couldn't trust anyone, and I'd have flashbacks and fear it would happen again. I also had stomach problems off and on, and I still do occasionally, causing me to lose weight. I initially thought it was from being lactose intolerant, but learned a symptom of PTSD is stomach issues from the central nervous system being out of whack.

My flashbacks, anxiety and stomach issues impacted me so much, that it became easier to avoid social situations all together, then to face how I was feeling. While it may have been easier in some ways, it also became extremely lonely.

When I finally shared what happened with close family and friends, some made comments that they were taught to never set their drink down, or that they didn't have to worry about that because they didn't drink much if at all. While they probably didn't intend to offend me, some comments did. I too was taught never to set my drink down, I too did not drink much. The reality is I could have ordered a soda that night, and it still would have happened. The reality is I set my drink down not around strangers, but by people I knew, and thought I could trust. Rape can happen to anyone, to someone you are friends with, to a family member, to a significant other, etc. Most rapes and sexual assaults occur by someone the victim knows, so they let their guard down, they wouldn't ever suspect someone they knew could be capable of such a thing. I never thought anyone I knew would be capable of such a thing, I have good judgement, but even someone with the best of judgement, can still be deceived.

I want to share my story because hearing other survivor stories helped me as I was grieving. It helped knowing I wasn't alone in what I was feeling. I hope my story might give someone hope that it will get better. I just want other survivors to know they can still have joy in their lives, their story isn't over. I may have felt small, weak, and worthless right after my assault, but I have found some peace, and now feel strong and look forward to what the future has in store for me.

Some resources that helped me along the way were two documentaries on Netflix, The Hunting Ground, and Audrey & Daisy. Also, looking up information about PTSD, EMDR, rape, sexual assault, and the statistics. Most importantly though, was seeing a therapist and leaning on my faith by putting my trust in God.

-Anonymous

Reclaim Project: Saraya

 The Reclaim Project is an initiative to help sexual violence survivors to feel comfortable in their skin again. We're partnering up with photographers to provide these photo sessions in the hopes that we can help to portray female bodies as belonging to actual human beings, instead of objects. We'll be sharing lots of these sessions over time, each one paired with a statement from the survivor about how their experiences have shaped their body image, mental health, and view of their sexuality. Click here if you're a survivor interested in setting up a session, or here if you're a photographer who'd like to participate!

 

content warning:  rape, sexual assault

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"2/14/12 , a man on match.com asked me if I had plans for Valentine's Day. I did not. This is when one of the worst events of my life happens. 

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He had no idea I was getting a divorce. He knew nothing about me, other than what my profile revealed. He said we would go out. Lie. He said we could watch the movie I brought. Lie. After I didn't want to kiss him, he held a bucket of compliments over my head and started pouring.

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 'You're so beautiful.' Kiss.

'Your body is so sexy.' Grab.

Yes, my body is sexy. But it was not his to have. There are so many interesting things about me he could have taken the time to learn. He will never know them now. My body is the least sexy part of me.

As soon as he grabbed my head and forced me upon him, I felt my ears come in to save me. Do you know the feeling of being underwater, where you are unable to hear the things that are going on above it? This is what happens to me when I start to panic. I closed my eyes and it felt like I was sinking. He didn't know that I would be drowning for what seemed like forever. 

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Drowning in thoughts.

 

Drowning in secrets.

 

Drowning in medications from my doctor, sometimes hoping I could just take all of them at once and end everything.

 

Drowning in other men, just to get the goddamn smell of him from my nose and the taste of him from my mouth.

 

Drowning in showers and baths, because no matter how many I took, I still would feel dirty.

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He's lucky there was someone nearby with a life preserver.

 

I spent a few years as a bottom dweller, and then I started swimming. At first, I think I was more lost than before, using my hands to feel around in the darkness. It only takes one peek of the light to know which way is up, though. After so much swimming, I was able to find my way to the surface. That boy will never know how sweet the air tastes after being underwater for so long."

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Reclaim Project: Raina

The Reclaim Project is an initiative to help sexual violence survivors to feel comfortable in their skin again. We're partnering up with photographers to provide these photo sessions in the hopes that we can help to portray female bodies as belonging to actual human beings, instead of objects. We'll be sharing lots of these sessions over time, each one paired with a statement from the survivor about how their experiences have shaped their body image, mental health, and view of their sexuality. Click here if you're a survivor interested in setting up a session, or here if you're a photographer who'd like to participate!

Content warning: rape, sexual assault

You don’t need to hear the story of all the guys who have hurt me. Yet you do need to know how it changed me.

One day I woke up and the reality of the past year hit me. When combing through the memories of the last year I found a propensity to push away anything lasting. The line between my sadness and me, and truth and fiction blurred. What did I do to deserve this? Did I deserve it? Have I always had bad luck and not noticed it, or had my spring semester of sophomore year started a chain reaction, like falling dominos?

I lied. Rather, I did not realize until now that in order to understand the change in me, you must see the dominos falling. From there to here.

CATALYST

Often the start to a problem doesn’t have an exact moment in which it began. High pressure converges on low, forming a storm, in which lighting strikes, splitting a tree in two. This analogy works perfectly to explain the month in which it all began.

Fresh out of a difficult breakup, somehow, I had the false impression I was ready for a fresh start. A freshman in college, with exciting ideas bouncing around in both my head and heart, I didn’t stop to ask myself how I really felt. Yet this excitement and enthusiasm to meet new people and explore new academic avenues is not any excuse for what happened.

To the First,

I will be brief because the encounter was exactly that. Brief yet devastating. An innocent get together. Did my smile tell you I wanted something more? My hospitality? Or was it a glint in my eye that only you could see? I may never know the thoughts that led you to your actions, but no excuse will ever validate that evening. Kissing suddenly got to a place I was not expecting, or prepared for. I pushed your hands away, too scared to say no. It was as if my vocal cords froze. Afterwards you immediately left.

For a long time, I did not consider it rape. I didn't actually vocalize "No," so I blamed myself. My body felt dirty. Used. Seeing you in class was a reminder of my "mistake" everyday.

To the One Who Left,

“What if…” scenarios ran through my head daily. If I hadn’t pushed you away, forcing you to leave, would I have gone down this path? I constantly blamed myself for leaving the safety of your embrace. Was this karma telling me I shouldn’t have left someone who loved me so deeply?

SLOW MOTION

From that moment on my life seemed to move in a way that cannot be described by words. It was almost as if I was downing. Failing to catch on to anything, or anyone, for support.

During the descent, I did not realize I was falling. I had lied to myself enough that I did not consider it rape. Telling myself that I was happy, and did not feel pain made it bearable but was not a lasting solution.

I met new people, fell too hard, and hurt myself even more. My body felt used, no longer sacred. I was in search of someone to hold me and fix my problems but no relationships lasted. I either felt something lasting and pushed them away or they left because they weren’t in it for a relationship.

To the Many,

Was it your fault it didn’t work out? Was it mine? Although it is human nature to assign blame, it was neither your fault or mine. I was not ready to share the pain that I held inside me. I wanted someone to hold me in such a way that one day I would wake up and the pain would be gone without any words uttered about my past. Although I should have shared, pity shouldn’t be necessary to treat someone correctly. I did not want pity. I wanted someone to love me for all of me, inside and out, before they saw my broken side.

THE CRASH

To the One,

Only months after I came to terms that I was raped, I hit the ground hard. And you are to blame. I considered you a friend but you crossed many personal boundaries in just a matter of 10 minutes. Sexual assault is not any less devastating than rape. The way your hands grabbed me, I felt defenseless. You kept asking, “Is this okay?” and “Do you want this?”. I was quite clear in my responses saying, “No” numerous times, yet you persisted. Although I pushed your hands away and no clothing came off, inappropriate places were still groped. The most unsettling aspect of the ordeal was that if you had been more persistent, I would not have been physically unable to defend myself. Just asking for consent is not enough. Consent is a verbal and willfully given yes. I only succeeded in getting you to leave my apartment by agreeing to send a nude snapchat, which I never sent.  Days later you apologized. Crying in public, I replied. I said that I will no longer be able to talk or hang out. Which prompted "I would appreciate an explanation". If you needed an explanation for your actions, I wonder how many other girls you have hurt.

Still in shock, I did not cancel my plans for later that same day with another male friend. We had plans to walk at the arboretum which I decided would calm my whirlwind of thoughts. During the walk, I cautiously mentioned the sexual assault earlier that day, simply stating a friend had touched me inappropriately. The words were absorbed by trees around me but not by the ears of my company. The arboretum was a wonderful choice but events afterwards were not.

To the Next,

I had study plans that evening across campus but needed to shower before I left. I planned on showering off the disgusting feeling of his hands touching me. You offered to wait while I showered and give me a ride to my evening plans. A free ride, why not? As I showered I heard you come into the bathroom and my heart dropped. “Why me?”, instantly flew through my mind. You asked if you could join and I replied with, “I would prefer if you stayed out there”. When does “I would prefer if you stayed out there” mean it’s okay to get naked, and join me in the shower, your eyes raking over my naked body. Especially after I had shared my encounter earlier and clearly seeing I wasn’t okay. That aside, when is it EVER okay to directly defy the wishes of a girl? How did my silence and tears slowly running down my face did not tip you off. How? I was broken and instead of leaving me alone you decided to remind me of how disgusting I felt. Seeing you naked reminded me of all the times I have had men treat me without respect. Now I see you at work and it flashes back to me every single day. Seeing your hands takes me back to when they touched me when I did not want them to. Hearing your voice makes me shake, become nauseous. You are an everyday reminder of memories I wish to forget.

MEN

To everyone in the past year, you have all played a role that has resulted in who I am today. From the One Who Left, to the First, to the Many, to the One, to the Next, and to the Best.

I do not need to explain to you what you did wrong and the role you played in my fall, but I do hope this post reaches people who are unaware how their actions can harm someone.

THE STAND

The first step in recovery for me was admitting I could not handle it all myself. The instant I decided to tell someone, I started my steps toward recovery. So, this is to the Best; the one who stands next to me while I find strength to stand on my own. Your companionship is more important to me than I you realize.

When I originally signed up for this project I wanted to share my experience but having signed up only days after my sexual assault, I did not feel confident enough to reveal my identity. I feared, and still do, how people will react. However, I have found that every fear I face, the stronger I become. I want to show both men and women who have gone through any type of sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, or anything that broke them into a million pieces that we can stand stronger when we stand together.

I still struggle. I have body image issues. I struggle to see my body as something that hasn’t been ruined by men who have used it for their gratification. I doubt myself, constantly asking “what if?” Meeting men still scares me. I say yes to a date, but then terrify myself and back out. Yet, I have discovered ways to cope. I have found peace in nature. The smell of plants, the fresh spring air, and rustle of leaves in the breeze calms my soul. Without nature, and close friends, I would not be where I am today.

Should have. Would have. Could have. None of those will change the past. Neither will they validate the actions of the inflictor of your pain.

Everyday, I remind myself: Judging myself on my actions will not change the past. Silence does not mean yes. Just because mine wasn't as "bad" as others does not invalidate my experience, my feelings, my body, me.

Do not worry about the number of times you fell, rather focus on the number of times you’ve stood up.

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"I can love who I am and hate what he did."

written by Katie

My life will always be separated into two time periods. Almost like I have two lives. Before Rape and After Rape.

Before Rape, I was hopeful, determined, naive. True, even at that point, I'd been through a lot of crap. I'd been abused by my father as a child, I'd spent time in a mental hospital. I struggled to decide on a major. But none of that robbed me of my hope. Throughout everything I'd ever overcome, the hope stayed. Shining through the darkness and helping me to continue moving forward. Sure, I'd had moments of darkness (which led me to the mental hospital chapter of my life), but the hope always came back on its own and was usually only gone for a matter of hours. I so easily trusted that the people around me were good. I believed whole heartedly that most people in this world are good. For the first time in years, I really loved who I was (although I often doubted if the boys around me liked who I was.). I was passionate and excited about life and full of energy and laughter.

Before Rape, I defined myself as a "Good Mormon Girl." I read my scriptures, went to church, attended a private religious university. I was going to teach Elementary School and, eventually, get married to a "Good Mormon Boy" and have children and become a "Good Mormon Mom." (Regardless of a university major) I knew who I was. And I was blissfully unaware that all the "Good Mormon Boys" around me weren't all that good. And even the good ones weren't really kind. I had no idea how quickly all my friends would fade away in the wake of something as difficult and dark as rape. All it took was one Really Nice Guy to pop the bubble I was living in.

After Rape, I felt dirty and broken and disgusting. I no longer had the energy to make friends and the ones I had didn't know how to handle what had happened or who I became. Slowly, they all drifted away. The few I did have the energy to reach out to after awhile were all personally offended that I would say we weren't really friends anymore. Of course, that had been the first conversation we'd had in months and the last conversation we'd ever have. I no longer assumed that guys were nice and trustworthy just because they went to church with me. In fact, I found that those who sat with me in church and espoused how great their faith was were the boys I trusted the least. I became afraid. Of everything. I couldn't go to the grocery store or out to my car on my own without having a full-blown panic attack. I moved in with my brother and then my mom to avoid explaining to roommates why I couldn't make it through the day without bursting into tears or why I couldn't go out with them without "freaking out" and going home early. I became a shell of the person I was Before. And all those Nice Boys surrounding me at my private religious university, saw me as a slut and someone who was unworthy of marriage because I had had sexual contact with someone. None of them wanted some other guy's "cast-offs." It didn't matter to them that I had fought and cried and begged him to not touch me. I was used.

A year after my rape, I was assaulted again by a coworker (and consequently fired for reporting it) and began to feel like I would never escape a world where men could hurt me and seemingly get away with it. I landed back in a hospital and it felt like my hope was never going to return. After a year without hope, it had just started to shine through the cracks but was extinguished again. For the first time in my life, I had to find and tap into my inner strength. I had to CHOOSE to hope. Because my life wasn't handing it to me anymore. In the end, I couldn't have done it on my own. I was blessed with a supportive family and law enforcement, lawyers and advocates who believed in me and fought for me. I even eventually found a man who cared enough to sit outside the walls I'd built around my heart and my brain until I felt comfortable enough to take them down myself. Eventually, I rediscovered a deeper, more substantial faith inside of me that wasn't based on the actions of those around me at church.

I have only begun to heal. And I'm not sure I'll be able to begin to move forward until after the trial is over. If at all. I've begun to feel joy again but I am still not the same person I was Before. I will never be that girl again. The nightmares of him bashing my head against a car door and laughing as I cried, although still vibrant, are beginning to happen less frequently. I have hope that he will actually face the consequences of his actions. I have supports in place so, even if he doesn't, it won't destroy me again.

I'm beginning to like the girl I have become...and I'm trying my best to remember that just because he broke me doesn't mean I have to stay broken. It doesn't mean I have to allow the darkness to consume me. I can love who I am and hate what he did.

 

The R Word

written by Haili G

The R Word

It's a trigger. Nobody can talk about the 'R' word, since it is SO taboo. Not me! I WILL voice my experience and how it has changed me!

I will never forget the fear, anger and self hatred that followed, as well as the feeling of disgust.
I was the victim, yet I had so much self hate. I told myself it was my fault for years.

IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT!

I was in the Air Force when the rape happened. Not once but twice. I reported the first rape but the Sergeant laughed in my face and still gave me the LOR (Letter of Reprimand). Later, I found out my roommate in the military had the same situation, with the same Sergeant, and the same consequences were given to her.
I didn't know she had been raped. I would have gotten the courage to speak out. The Sergeant was endangering the lives of so many people. If this happened twice, who could say it didn't happen more.

After being out of the military for five years, I had to accept "defeat" and go into therapy. "The hardest part is admitting you have a problem," NO! The hardest part is admitting YOU NEED HELP!
Therapy was the hardest decision of my life, but also the most rewarding. I have gotten to know my 'triggers' and what I can do to ease the side effects of the triggers.

If I could go back, I would have spoken louder so everyone could hear my voice.  My chance is now:

IF SOMEONE ABUSED YOU, DO NOT BE AFRAID, BUT TELL A PERSON YOU TRUST RIGHT AWAY!
Keep trying until someone listens to you and helps you. Call the police.

IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT!
IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT!
IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT!

 

"I am a sister, a daughter, a friend, a survivor."

My story begins when I was five years old. I was sexually abused by my half-brother until I was about nine years old, when he enlisted and moved out of the country. I was always taught, “if a stranger ever touches you, you tell mom and dad right away,” but what if that stranger was family? I spent many years pondering what had happened to me, confused because it couldn’t be that bad if it was your brother, right? Am I supposed to tell? Will mom be mad at me? Was it abuse?  

I let this secret sit inside of me while my half-brother was home and would reward me with coloring books and a box of crayons (with a sharpener on the back!), but also two years after he left for the army. Eventually, I became terrified that I would never find the courage inside of me to tell someone what happened.

One night in July, the summer before sixth grade, I was in the shower. It was a normal day and a normal night. I hadn’t seen my half-brother in about a year, yet for some reason that night I was dwelling on what had happened to me, and I was in denial that it was abuse. I turned the shower off without washing all the shampoo out of my hair, threw clothes on and went straight to my twin brother. He was climbing into bed as I blurted out, “C sexually abused me.” Keep in mind that we were innocent 10-year-olds, so he calmly yet nervously directed me to our mom, whom I repeated those four words to. The first words she said were, “Oh, honey,” and opened her arms, and immediately a weight was lifted from my shoulders. Mind you, it wasn’t necessarily the easiest night of my life although my mom and I had a “sleepover” in her room, I was up until about 4am crying and going into detail with my mom about what had happened. Although it was hard to accept what happened, it was a step on the road to recovery.
I began to see therapists on a weekly basis; it’s only plural because I went through a couple after a trial and error type of process (it’s weird, you wouldn’t think finding a therapist is like finding the right pair of shoes, but it is). Even so, therapy wasn’t really for me. I talked to my mom a lot, I taught myself how to play guitar, and I began to journal almost every day. I was growing and recovering without even realizing it. In finding healthy outlets for stress and anxiety, I learned to forgive and move forward. I had great friends and an amazing support system that was (and still is!) my family. I consider myself extremely lucky, despite the circumstances. I’ve learned that I am more than the pain and shame I held inside for so long. I am a sister, a daughter, a friend, a survivor.