At some point during childhood most of us find ourselves afraid of monsters. We fear the horned creatures snarling in our closets, the rows of teeth hiding under our beds, but the scariest thing of all is that, in reality, monsters don’t look like “monsters”. They don’t have fangs and claws or wear scary masks. They don’t come with warning signs. They don’t really look any different at all. The monster could be your friendly next-door neighbor or the nice guy at the bar who offers to make sure you get home safely. The monster could be someone you thought you knew. Someone you thought you could trust. Someone you thought you loved.
I was sexually assaulted when I was sixteen. It was hard to separate what was being done from who was doing it. It was hard to know that it was not okay. There was a lot of confusion, a lot of manipulation. It became a part of who I was and shaped the next several years of my life, but I thought I was okay. I thought I had moved on, never fully understanding the depth of what had happened. That is, until six years later when he was arrested because he tried to do it to someone else; this time the object of his desire was only thirteen. I guess it was naïve to think that I would be the only one. Naïve to think that it wasn’t a heinous compulsive need buried deep down inside of him. I should have known better.
I was thrown into the middle of a trial, with so many different people wanting so many different things from me. I was never asked what I wanted. My life was on display for a courtroom full of strangers. I was labeled a victim. I felt stripped of my dignity. My feelings, my opinions, none of it mattered. The only thing that mattered was the conviction. It’s funny how he was the one on trial but I was left feeling so judged.
After it was all said and done I waited for my life to get back to normal. It took me several years to finally understand that my life would never get back to “normal”. Not the normal I had known anyway. Whether I liked it or not, my experiences had changed me. A survivor once told me that while her assault was horrible, she didn’t necessarily regret it because it shaped her, just like any life event. At the time, I didn’t understand. In fact, it kind of made me angry to hear. But now I think I get it. I eventually would find a new normal. It took a lot of hard work, but I am proud of the life I have since built. My experiences pushed me to pursue a career in social work so I can help others. They pushed me to go on living and achieving and loving – in spite of him.
At some point in your journey someone will recommend you journal. Journaling really isn’t my thing, but I did it on occasion at the urging of my counselor. The other day I found an old journal from a period that was especially difficult. The pages were raw, vulnerable. I wanted to reach back through time and hug the sad broken girl on the other side of those pages. One entry stood out in particular – a single sentence on an otherwise blank page. It read, “I like to think I won’t feel so guilty one day.” And, I can honestly say that today I feel no guilt. Today, I know it was not my fault. And, I want every survivor to know that it wasn’t yours either.
— Survivor, age 28