On reclaiming sexuality after assault
I had my first boyfriend when I was ten years old. I didn’t know what sex was and I hadn’t seen a healthy relationship except on television. We would kiss, we would touch, but we were kids and were just having fun.
Because of this first boyfriend, I knew it was possible to have fun with someone, even if it was my fourth grade pseudo-relationship that was never going anywhere to begin with.
I knew something was wrong in society when one of my best friends sent me a naked picture of himself and asked me to send one back in return. I was in the eighth grade and completely oblivious to the world of sex beyond the semantics we had learned in health class. I didn’t know about horny fourteen year old boys or that sex is kind of a big deal. When this friend showed up behind me in the girl’s bathroom, I knew he wasn’t supposed to be in there, but I had no idea what he was going to do. When he pushed me against the door, I didn’t know that at that moment, I was losing all agency I had ever had. I didn’t know that I was among the 73 percent of survivors who know their assailant.
Following this assault, I felt alone and alienated, and in a way I was. I tried to speak up about it, only to have it backfire. I remember being called into the principal’s office and questioned about what happened. He, my friends, and even my mom looked at me as if I were to blame. At the time I thought I might be. Maybe if I wasn’t, maybe if I didn’t, maybe I somehow… All the “maybe”s swam through my head, making it hard for me to see a bigger picture and making it impossible for me to even think about boys.
I spent the next few years in a sea of avoidance. If I didn’t interact with people, I wouldn’t have to grow close to them. And this worked for a while. It wasn’t until I got to college that I admitted I might have been the victim in this situation.
I’ve always reserved the word victim for those who have been killed in a murder (usually seen on television). Considering that I could possibly be one too made me feel unclean, like there was something wrong with me. And there was. I had this deep rooted fear that something bad was going to happen, and my therapist believes it is rooted in my assault. My fear panned out in the awkwardness I felt and expressed, which only seemed to get worse when I admitted I might actually feel something other than blame. People around me can see that I’m awkward. It’s in the way I talk about things and in the way I stumble around. I’ve come to accept that it is a part of myself. Was I awkward before this happened to me? I’m sure I was.
I’ve read that it can take years for a victim to recover from assault and that roadblocks happen along the way. One of these roadblocks is flashbacks. I know I got them during the first few months afterwards. After I got to college, I experienced them again. Everyone deals with assault differently, and there is no timeline for recovery. I’m sure I will experience these flashbacks again in the future as well.
Change and recovery is a gradual process. One of the biggest steps I have taken was telling a guy I liked him.
I have had a few crushes in the past few years, but this guy made me feel giddy. And when he started talking to me, flirting with me, I didn’t back down. I didn’t feel like I needed to. I felt comfortable flirting back.
Although this flirtation didn’t go anywhere serious, it showed me that I have started to move on, at least to some extent. I’m not sure if I’m ready to go all the way with someone yet, but I know that I feel confident in myself.
I have found that my confidence has come back over time. There are still some days that I look in the mirror and think, nobody is ever going to like me. But on an increasing number of days, I think something like I am beautiful, I am worth it. I know that although I was the victim of something terrible that happens to far too many people, I am also a survivor.
The mentality of being a victim instead of being a survivor is something those who have experienced a traumatic event often experience. In an article for GoodTherapy.org, psychologist Susanne Dillmann points out that when someone feels as if they have been victimized, they are self-destructive and often avoid acknowledging the truth of what happened to them. When one sees his or herself as a survivor, they have accepted what has happened to them and know that it is possible to move past it.
“This understanding allows the person to begin integrating the trauma into his or her life story, to take control of life and to recognize potential for change and growth,” Dillmann writes.
This change can be monumental to someone in how sees his or herself. This change in mindset takes time, but it leaves one feeling empowered to take back their life.
There are so many reasons to not report sexual assault or harassment. 71 percent of women don’t report it, and with good reason. Speaking up against the assailant can cause unnecessary stress. There is the chance that people will accuse you of lying. There is the fear that an assailant will retaliate. Reporting the problem isn’t the best idea in every situation, but working through your emotions is. Admitting you were assaulted, even if to yourself or a loved one, can help you start to move forward.
There is no timeline for recovery. Some might find that they can move forward and live a relatively normal life within a few months, others like me can take years and years to come to terms with what happened to them. The important thing, no matter what, is to keep moving forward. Small steps are crucial. Even if you can’t admit it outloud yet, admitting to yourself in your head what happened to you can help move you forward.
I know that if I can make it through this bullshit, anyone can. It took me a long time to realize I was not alone. Neither is anyone else.
Christine McKinnie is a third year Emerging Media student who is trying this new thing called writing about feelings. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact the Title IX office, call 607-274-7761. To contact the Counseling and Psychological Services, call 607-274-3136.