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After Sexual Assault: Taking My Life Back

By , 18, Contributor Originally Published: February 7, 2024 Revised: February 9, 2024

Content Warning: In this story, traumatic experiences will be shared that may elicit strong emotions. As you read, be aware and conscious of your feelings, and take a break at any time.

My former partner and I met when I was a freshman in high school and they were a sophomore. We both loved to obsess over video games, art and our futures. We even shared similar feelings regarding our bodies (we both identify as something other than our sexes assigned at birth). It was a beautiful start, but things didn’t stay like that for long.

My partner consistently felt the need to be in control in some capacity, whether it be of me or what we were doing. They’d isolate me from friends, pressure me into canceling plans with others so we could be together and even judge me for things like how I styled my hair. They would force me to spend hours with them, away from my friends or public spaces.

Then, on one of those days when we had spent hours isolated together, they raped me.

Intimate Partner Sexual Violence

Sexual assault is all too common. Plus, fifty-four percent of transgender and nonbinary people surveyed have experienced a form of intimate partner violence (including “acts involving coercive control and physical harm”), according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey.

At first, my partner acknowledged what they did and apologized. But when I attempted to discuss it again, they would say either that it hadn’t happened or that we had already discussed it and it was time to “move on.” This is an example of gaslighting, in which a person psychologically manipulates someone else with the goal of making them question their experiences, perceptions or thoughts. I became confused, my memory fuzzy.

The relationship lasted two years. In that time, a pattern formed: they would spoil me with compliments and gifts (love bombing), just for the manipulation to begin again (gaslighting), and repeat.

I hoped the abuse would stop. I told myself that they were just having a rough patch. But it never ended.

Eventually, I reached a point where I knew that I had to make a change and leave, although I had tried before. No matter how hard it was, I had to get out. I felt that if I held my partner accountable, I could find a sense of closure while also preventing them from doing this again, to me or others. When I did, things started to fall back into place.

Taking My Life Back

Acknowledging the sexual assault and abuse was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, and it didn’t happen overnight. Every message I had gotten growing up or from “society” said it was my fault—that I had done something wrong. I felt shame, like somehow, I’d let this happen.

The sexual assault was not my fault.

However, I now know that I did nothing wrong. Reading survivors’ stories and watching videos of people’s experiences solidified that I wasn’t the one to blame.  The sexual assault was not my fault. It was nobody’s fault but the perpetrator’s.

Being able to understand this finally gave me the strength to end the relationship and free myself from the person who had caused me pain. That didn’t make telling others what had happened feel easier. But I reached out for help, even when it was hard.

Sharing My Story

I decided to proceed with the reporting process in order to protect myself, even though it wasn’t easy. I spoke with my school to get protective measures put in place. I had to talk to police officers; it’s standard procedure for my school to call them in when an assault is brought to their attention. Then, due to my being a minor at the time (my ex was a minor as well, but still two years older), I had to speak with child advocacy services so they could ensure I was being heard and represented fairly. Check consent laws in your state here.

As grueling as it was and despite any shame I felt, I persevered. Meeting with a therapist recommended by my school, asking for help from my friends and beginning to educate myself on what had happened saved me. By using these tools, I was able to feel less alone. I found resources—online, at school, in my community—and realized there’s always someone out there. Taking that leap of faith to get support can genuinely be life-changing.

My identity as a brave young person had been stripped away. But at my core, I still knew who I was. That could never change.

The Healing Process

I still go to therapy and receive support from those close to me. I continue to educate people about sexual violence and advocate for sexual violence prevention. I received my certification in advocacy from an organization called SafeBAE, which is a youth and survivor-run nonprofit that fights for sexual violence prevention. I also attended their summer activist institute. I used this certificate to help change the reporting system in the high school I attended, to make it more survivor-friendly.

Four years later, I still feel the impact of the sexual assault. Trusting someone in a romantic relationship is difficult. I still have to navigate certain triggers, like dealing with a partner in a bad mood. I immediately start to worry that I did something wrong, even when I haven’t. Going through something traumatic and violating leaves an impact.

However, trauma doesn’t have to define you as a person. You are still you. Remembering this is critical throughout the healing process. Understanding that you are a priority and loved by the people in your life can make such a difference.

To whoever is reading this right now, I believe you, and I believe in you. You got this, and you’re never alone.

Visit LoveIsRespect for help dealing with dating abuse. Visit RAINN or call (800) 656- HOPE (4673) if you are a survivor of sexual assault in need of support.

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