This is not something I talk about with people, but with all the media this subject has been getting, I feel more comfortable telling my story as well. When I was about 12, I was raped by a boy I liked. His house was by my bus stop, and every day after school I would stay there to talk and listen to music. Harmless. My family trusted him and his family.
Even now, I hate to even say it. For years I felt as though it was my fault. I thought that if I hadn’t put myself in the predicament that led to the assault, it wouldn’t have happened to me. I had to learn that sexual assault is never your fault. I felt shame, so much so that I hadn’t told my mother until this year. My husband was one of the only people outside of my attacker who knew what had happened. I was more comfortable telling him than I was my own mother—that’s how afraid I was of how she might react.
It likewise took a long time before I told my therapist, but when I did, it was like a dam broke. I sobbed inconsolably for the remainder of my session. I had never forgiven myself for someone else’s mistake. I walked around for over a decade with this guilt weighing on me. I sat and listened to people in my life and in society shame victims and use the old, harmful rhetoric that “boys will be boys.” These toxic and misogynistic views seeped into me and made me feel even worse. It was like pouring salt in my wounds.
I’m not the only person who has felt this way after being sexually assaulted. Hearing other people’s stories has given me the courage to share mine. I’m hoping that my story may, in turn, help another person—someone who feels the way I did—to drop that guilty baggage and be free for the first time in their own minds. After forgiving myself and allowing open dialogue on the subject, I started to realize that, despite all my internal suffering, no one in my life had properly noticed a change in me, or if they had, they hadn’t known what to attribute it to.
Prevention is ideal. It would be wonderful if we could make it so sexual assault never happens. Everyone must learn ways to protect themselves and others, but it’s also important to be aware of signs that sexual assault has already happened to someone, so that that person might be given the chance to heal. For me, it felt like everyone was too uncomfortable with the idea that something like sexual assault may have happened to even broach the topic. Talking about it, though, is necessary to promote healing, and could also help in preventing future cases. Fortunately, there is a place to learn the warning signs that someone you love has been hurt, and how to go about talking about it. It’s called RAINN— the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. On their website, they list warning signs by age groups, including college age, teens and children. I really wish I’d had access to this kind of information when I was younger. It would’ve made everything so much easier. The healing would’ve started way sooner, for not just me, but for my family as well.
Here are some of the warning signs that my family would have noticed in me if they had known what to look for. First, my hygiene practices changed. I was literally the reason our water bill doubled. I spent so much time in the bathroom trying to scrub away the dirty feeling that lingered on my skin weeks after I was assaulted. My eating habits also changed. I stopped eating as much that year. My mother did notice this, but she felt like it was because I was sick. I was taken to the doctor, and they said that I was malnourished. From then on, I had to eat meal replacement bars and consume drinks in between my regular meals. No one asked me why I wasn’t eating. Along with these changes, I even stopped going outside to play with my friends. My mother just thought I was becoming lazy , and instead of asking what was going on, she pushed me to go out more, unaware of how uncomfortable I was. If only she would’ve just asked a few probing questions.
On the website, they explain that having open communication with your loved one is the first step to being there for them. I know teens can be hard to talk to—at that age, they feel as though their parents won’t understand them. Establishing trust with them at a young age can help. You can let also them know they won’t be punished for things that weren’t their fault, and that you, as their parent, are there to love and support them no matter what. Healing starts with communicating. If you are a parent, don’t be nervous or scared of what your child will say if you ask them these types of questions—you can still start the conversation. And, as RAINN says, “Remember, you are not alone.” If you suspect sexual abuse, and feel like you need help addressing it, you can talk to someone who is trained to help. Mindpath Health has many providers who are trained in dealing with sexual abuse. Likewise, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.