Due to the sensitive subject matter, the author’s name will remain private.
I was thrilled when I could finally cross off the item that was highest on my John Carroll bucket list: “Become a JCU orientation leader.” It proved to be an incredibly exciting and rewarding experience overall, but the most meaningful part of my experience was acting in the “College 101” skit, a play about the highs and lows of college life. I played the role of a first-year student who was sexually assaulted after a house party. Every performance was nerve-wracking for me – the extent of my acting experience consisted of one high school performance as a shopkeeper in “A Christmas Carol” and I was worried that I wasn’t doing the part justice. My scene was meant to be a heart-wrenching journey through the post-traumatic thought process of a vulnerable young woman, and I knew that I couldn’t capture the emotions without experiencing such an incident myself; however, as a firm believer in respect for boundaries and helping students feel safe on campus, I was proud to play this role.
Every once in a while, a student would ask if this actually happened to me. I would laugh it off, telling him or her that it was a fictional story. Because that could never happen to me. I was invincible. I watched my drinks at parties and knew my limits. Sometimes I pondered the last line of the skit, “I never would have thought this could happen to me…I didn’t ask to be sexually assaulted,” but I always concluded that I had too much self-control to ever put myself in that type of situation.
The night after my 22nd birthday, after a party at an acquaintance’s house near campus, I found out I wasn’t invincible.
I wasn’t a naïve freshman seduced by a charming, older student. I wasn’t drugged or threatened or physically harmed. I didn’t wake up naked on the floor of a stranger’s house. Simply, I wasn’t given a choice about what I wanted to do with my body. And, that constitutes sexual assault.
“Having someone take away my choice brought up feelings I didn’t know existed. The feelings of powerlessness, guilt and shame are just ripples from the earthquake that continues to haunt me.”
There is no perfect way to heal from such an event and it’s impossible to understand until you’ve experienced it. If you’ve been through a similar incident, I’m writing to you, and I’m here for you.
I can’t tell you how to feel, how to heal or how your loved ones will react, because it is different for everyone.
What I can tell you is that I spent hours locked in my room, unable to form thoughts and unable to speak to my best friends because of my consuming mental battle between forgiveness and rage. I can tell you that, for the longest time, I believed he took a part of me that I would never get back. And that I should have prevented it.
I can tell you that, months later, I still feel anxious when I walk around campus. I’ve found myself avoiding bars and house parties, for fear that the sight of him will trigger the overwhelming emotions that I put in a box in the recesses of my mind.
I can tell you that John Carroll’s support services and my loved ones have helped me make the best decisions for me. Though it was one of the most difficult choices I’ve ever made, I found comfort in reporting the incident to the JCU Police Department in the hopes that it will make JCU a safer community. Stephanie Cerula in the Violence Prevention and Action Center has helped me along every step of my recovery process.
I can tell you that you aren’t alone; recent studies show that a quarter of college women have experienced sexual assault and the overwhelming majority of these cases are not reported. Often times, like in my case, their assailant has assaulted more than one person.
I’m a student just like you who eats too much ramen, hates the walk to Dolan and doesn’t have the slightest idea what to do after graduation. I never thought something like this could happen to me. But after months of reflection and conquering self-shame, I realize that what happened to me was wrong. It was not my fault. He didn’t take anything from me; instead, he gave me an opportunity to stand up for my rights and for other survivors of sexual assault. If this happened to you, know that your voice deserves to be heard. And whatever way you choose to heal, I’m proud of you.