Life after sexual assault

stop sexual assault

Fightback stands for liberation for women and gender minorities, including appropriate support for survivors of sexual assault.

This piece on one survivor’s experience of sexual violence, and recovery, was submitted to us by Hannah Beatie.

When FRIEND asked me why I was giving away all of my stuff, I replied that I

needed a change.

Actually, I had been planning for weeks to slit my wrists in a little field a few

blocks away from my house; not a significant place, nor a creative cause of

expiration, but it was somewhere where my flatmates would not find me.

A month earlier, I had been raped by a boy whom I had a crush on; a musician

with nice fingers and a charming, hesitant smile. He had asked me questions and

made me feel interesting⎯ Then he had forced my thighs apart, as I said “no”

and “stop” and every word that is suppose to protect you.

When I told my ex about the rape, our nine month relationship did not prevent

him from being too busy to discuss it; he was moving houses and doing an arts

degree, and he just couldn’t deal with it right now.

I began to cut myself.

In the days that followed there was a lot of drama, crying and attention; after

witnessing so many of my friends experience assault and quietly disappear, I was

determined to resist the role of invisible statistic.

I grieved loudly, without inhibition; indignant that someone would use my body;

consume me and discard me, like a doll or a tissue.

Some things I had expected; the deep sense of shame, the feeling that this was all

somehow my fault, the sense that my body was now ruined and I was unlovable.

What I had not expected was the rejection which followed; suddenly, I was a

walking crime scene and people whom I had previously been friendly with,

seemed to find my presence uncomfortable and regard me with a strange

combination of embarrassment and pity.

I had been raped by someone popular, someone whom everyone knew, and my

presence at gigs and parties represented an ugliness that was all too close to

home.

I stopped eating. I filled myself with emptiness and became as small and invisible

as I could. If this had been a punishment for my being too loud and too big and

too full, then I would occupy as little space as possible.

If I grew thin enough, perhaps I would be too ugly to rape.

I threw away every bit of colour in my room.

My memory of the next few weeks is foggy; I cried a lot. I would dream about

what had happened and have to wake up and remind myself that this was not

that night.

One day I told FRIEND about it.

I did not know him well; Beyond the fact that I had drunkenly attempted oral

copulation with him once, in a churchyard, but I sent him a message, saying that I

was terribly sorry to bother him, but I thought that maybe I had been raped and I

didn’t know what to do.

He was at work and responding on his bathroom breaks; He was sympathetic

and caring and told me not to apologize, that he was my friend and he would help

me.

What is more is, he did.

Long after my assault was salacious and interesting, when I was worn out and

exhausted and other friends became weary of my continued mood swings and

glum expression, FRIEND was there.

He would meet me outside of doctor’s appointments and bring me groceries

when I did not eat. He offered to lend me money and stay at his parent’s house

and when I panicked at parties, he was the one to walk me home.

We would spend nights watching goofy YouTube clips or serenading one another

with comical songs and gradually, as time went on, I began to feel more human.

It was FRIEND who saved my life.

One day, when he was giving me a ride home, he told me that I mattered and that

he loved me and I ought to live; not for him or for anyone else but because my

life was one worth living.

It was peculiar; I felt so unlovable, yet FRIEND cared about me.

I mumbled embarrassedly that I loved him too and thank you.

And somewhere in the back of my mind, I stopped wanting to die quite so badly.

Recovery from depression is slow and not a simple upwards trajectory. One

moment you can feel fine, and the next you are sinking and it feels as though all

of your hard work has been levelled.

FRIEND had gotten me to write a ‘manifesto for happiness’ that had numerical

steps to follow if I felt down. Simple things like ‘hydrate, eat chocolate, watch a

cat video on YouTube’. At FRIEND’s suggestion I had pepeppered the list with

breathing exercises and emergency numbers that I could contact too.

It took months of therapy and constant adjustments to my antidepressant

medication, but I was getting stronger.

I celebrated the small victories; one week free of self-harm, the first time I had

sex after being raped, eating high-calorie foods and wearing colour.

And through all of this, FRIEND was there for me; as weeks became months, after

I had sat on my bed ruddy faced and weeping, with stalactites of snot dripping

from my nostrils and as I learned to smile and laugh again, he was there.

I am lucky. I survived.

I have a good support network and a magnificent doctor.

Depression is and always will be, a part of the way in which I experience life but

it is not what defines me.

If I never heal from this completely, if I still have nightmares years from now

and see my body as somehow less, I am thankful for what I do have and how

strong I have become.

Mostly, always, I am grateful to the friend who saved my life.

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