by Abby Barefoot
Just because I wasn’t raped does not mean that my sexual assault experience is invalidated. If that phrase made you uncomfortable in any way, good. It should make you uncomfortable but further, it should make you inclined to read more and educate yourself. It’s taken me years to grasp this idea and will probably take me years further to accept this idea as truth, or even as a possibility. So bear with me.
From my freshman to junior year of high school. I was almost tirelessly harassed, manipulated, and also sexually assaulted on multiple occasions. The assaults were performed by a childhood friend from my church. They started as uncomfortable texts or comments that were uncalled for. This escalated to unwanted touching and sexual advances. For years I endured sexual assaults in different forms, each more confusing than the last. I preferred that time though because the main emotion was confusion as to what was happening to me rather than the pain I go through today after recognizing and acknowledging what happened to me.
Manipulation was his main advantage in continuing his abuse. He always was and is still very good at charm-talking people and manipulating them into agreeing with him or seeing his point of view. I didn’t recognize that then, but I do now years later. One way he would manipulate me would be to tell me that if I ever told anyone, the church would be ruined and that I would have broken up a house of God. Another point he would frequently bring up was that if it went south, he would never speak to me again. For a troubled girl who didn’t know what was happening to her, all she knew was that she didn’t want to lose her childhood friend, despite the bad things he was doing to her. Finally, the classic, ‘no one would believe you’ statement. These points may seem redundant or ridiculous now, but to a confused 14-year-old girl, they seemed valid and I’ve come to a point where I no longer blame that little girl who didn’t know any better.
I have always felt as though because I was not raped, I have no right to give credit to my emotions since, in my opinion, rape is the epitome of the most harmful experience a person can go through. It is a complete violation of the person, both physically and emotionally. And so, for years, I shamed myself for feeling emotions of hurt, sadness, and absolute fury in relation to the sexual assaults that happened to me. Sometimes I still struggle with the reality that I was assaulted and that doesn’t mean my feelings are invalidated. That they are, in fact, still legitimate and will not be pushed under the rug. If I had known about resources I could have gone to help, maybe my situation would have turned out differently.
My situation is not unique. It is painstakingly common. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center states that 81% of women and 43% of men reported experiencing some form of sexual assault in their lifetime in the United States (“Statistics.”). These are the reported cases and do not include the estimated thousands of cases that go unreported. Globally, 736 million women are estimated to have experienced some kind of sexual violence (“Support the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.”). In a sexual assault, depending on the severity, women can have very serious internal or external injuries. Sexual assault is most often coupled with beating the victim, so outside injuries on the body can be quite extensive (“Facts and Figures: Ending Violence against Women: What We Do.”). Thankfully, more individuals are speaking up and bringing awareness to these issues but the underlying problem is the lack of knowledge about the numerous programs and services that are available to all who have experienced sexual assault or violence. Further, victims of sexual assault are also not supported enough because their experience ‘isn’t bad enough to constitute help’ like those who have been raped. A sexual assault victim is no less deserving of help and support just because there are also people who have been raped. Victims have to know they have options for help, and right now, people are not doing a good enough job at letting those victims know there are options.
RAINN, or the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, is an organization that provides resources, support, and information to not only sexual assault victims but all sexual violence victims (“Need to talk? We’re here for you.”). One of their main focuses is on promoting change in an active way, rather than a passive way. They encourage change by volunteering, donating money towards victims and their needs, becoming involved in lawmaking and policies related to their cause, in addition to being vigilant in looking for signs of sexual misconduct (“Need to talk? We’re here for you.”). While the organization supports victims emotionally and physically, RAINN puts most of its efforts into both prevention and action against sexual assault in the community by lobbying and providing educational seminars for college kids especially; one of their most successful and wide know programs is an internship for students working for RAINN. They also provide a free, confidential hotline for both reporting sexual assaults as well as providing counseling services for victims affected. Many women after a sexual assault are beaten or harmed physically sometimes quite severely. The mental effects can be especially harmful following a sexual assault. RAINN takes the time to counsel victims following an assault and help them both mentally and physically (“Need to talk? We’re here for you.”).
Realistically, one cannot end all sexual violence overnight. But as a recovering sexual assault survivor, I know that every little bit helps end the fight against sexual assault. Tragically, sexual violence is normalized and engrained in many cultures and communities around the world. Any and all donations help victims of sexual assault tremendously. Please consider donating to RAINN, the organization mentioned beforehand, where donations made go straight to survivors and to legislation to support bills to prevent sexual assault and violence. Donations can be made at https://donate.rainn.org/donate?_ga=2.61477676.1011028369.1635967471-1762462142.1635967471
to help women suffering from sexual violence . It is imperative that victims are given the support and resources they need following a sexual assault, and furthermore that their experience is valid and worthy of attention. It only takes moments but can change the lives of these individuals who may not feel as though they are entitled to justice after a sexual assault.