The other night I had the privilege of speaking at Take Back the Night at the University of Arizona. It was a powerful evening organized by SPEAC – Students Promoting Empowerment & Consent. I am still trying to process all that transpired and the emotions it evoked. That was the first time I ever attended an event aimed at Sexual Assault Survivors.
To my fellow survivors who spoke out and shared their thoughts and experiences – you are WARRIORS! You have been forced to fight something no one should ever have to face. You have been forced to fight for your voice. For your dignity. For the strength to face each day. To not live in continual fear. To face many overwhelming emotions. To confidentially proclaim – “It is not my fault!” To consciously decide that while something very precious was stolen from you – you are not broken! You are not less! You are worthy! You are dignified! You are not defined by what has been done to you or what you have been forced or coerced to do.
I heard your voices. I heard your stories. I felt sick to my stomach as many of you recounted your assaults. Tears rolled down my cheeks. So many of the horrific details shared about your assaults mirrored my own experiences. Your stories and your faces are burned into my mind. Like so many who shared, I too had not been sexually active before my assault. I think that only added to the trauma and shock of it all. I saw you in your raw emotions and I saw myself. I experienced all of the emotions you shared – disbelief, shock, repression, anger, bitterness, shame, regret, and hatred toward my rapist just to name a few.
I didn’t share the traumatic details of my assault at Take Back the Night. Not because they don’t haunt me – they do. I chose not to focus on the trauma, but to bring my unique perspective. To bring what I have that so many others who shared did not – time and distance to reflect and heal. So many who shared were in the initial phases of processing their assault. Some were just months out and I am in awe at their courage not only to attend such an event, but to stand up and share! You are so STRONG! You are FIERCE! You are RELENTLESS!
Healing is a journey. It is different for every victim. Sometimes you take one step forward only to face a trigger and take two steps back – that’s ok! It’s ok to be angry! I am angry this happened to me. I am angry this has happened and continues to happen to others. I am angry we live in a culture that is quick to blame and shame victims. On my journey, I had my fair share of rotten responses. I had people imply I got what I deserved and “What did you expect?” Obviously, I did not expect to get raped! There are no “rape-able” offenses! Nothing anyone does or can do merits or deserves rape. Rapist aren’t attracted to women because they are asking for it, they see vulnerability and they exploit it.
My talk focused on the unexpected journey my life took because of my rape. My journey of healing and hope. A journey that deepened my faith, transformed my previously limited view of God, and completely transformed how I see the world and those around me. That journey has made me a more compassionate person. I mentioned at Take Back the Night that I feel compassion for my rapist, but the truth is I feel compassion for everyone. My experiences introduced suffering, pain and fear like I had never experienced. Living through that has made me compassionate toward others. I don’t judge other people for their actions. I intentionally extend kindness to those in my life. I strive to create a safe place where people can share anything, free from judgement, and know they are valued, loved and accepted.
Moving toward healing doesn’t absolve what happened. Forgiving my rapist doesn’t absolve what happened, but it helped me move beyond devastation. Forgiveness gave me the freedom to say: “No more.” To finally let my voice be heard. To intentionally decide he may have “gotten away” with raping me, but I would not allow him to continue to torment me. I was done. I was done letting his actions dictate my reality. Dictate my emotional well-being.
To the lone protestor at Take Back the Night who felt compelled to stand with a sign that read: “Regret is not Rape,” argued that he had a constitutional right to free speech, argued the event promoted the idea of a “rape culture,” and cited infamous false rape claim cases – none of that disqualifies the facts. I am a statistic. I am a survivor of college date rape. I am proof that rape does happen on college campuses. All the survivors who had the courage to speak out prove that this is a reality.
I heard several courageous survivors recount their assaults and not one of them fell into the category of what your sign described and implied. Many regrets were mentioned though. Regret for what was stolen from them. Regret for allowing sexual assault to make them feel like “less.” Regret for keeping it a secret. Regret for their shame. Regret for blaming ourselves. Regret that amidst the trauma they couldn’t adequately identify their attacker and thus no legal actions were taken when they reported their incident. Your sign was meant to further shame the women who share, including myself, and discredit us – that is deplorable!