April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and I am using this as an opportunity to share my story with you all as a survivor of sexual assault. 

Like many survivors, I knew my rapist. According to the National Institute of Justice, 85 to 90 percent of college-aged women know their attacker. This is shocking to many, but a large reason that 3 out of 4 sexual assaults go unreported. On the outside, it is often hard to comprehend why any crime would go unreported.

A question many survivors hear repeatedly is: “why didn’t you report your assault?” Often followed a statement like, “If it happens to someone else, it’s your fault. You’re the one who didn’t report it.” This comes from friends, family members, and even strangers, but these people have one thing in common: they haven’t experienced the harsh reality of life after assault. It’s hard to comprehend something as tragic as rape before you experience it. This is why I’ve decided to share my story with you all, and provide a public answer to a private question.

My rapist was someone that I loved. He was one of my best friends. We even ended up dating for a brief period of time, and the beginning felt like a fairy-tale. Our relationship was beautiful on social media and in public. We were a seemingly “perfect couple,” but he became unrecognizable behind closed doors. 

The man I had grown to love would hold a gun against my head and threaten to pull the trigger if I said the word, “no.” Escaping his presence was nearly impossible, and he refused to take no for an answer. This is how my assault happened. I spoke up and told him “no,” and he refused to listen. He decided that he would take advantage of me instead of acknowledging my voice. I questioned him afterwards. How was a man who claimed to love me able to take advantage of me without feeling one ounce of remorse? In response, he made me feel as though rape was something I deserved because sex was something he “needed”. The thing about assaulters is that they are manipulative. They won’t take the blame for their own mistakes, and when I brought the incident up later, he accused me of lying. This is the first reason I didn’t report. I knew he would spin my story, and accuse me of lying in private or public. In court, assault cases are usually he said-she said, so I knew I would have to fight for my truth if I chose to report. I also knew explicit evidence was important, and given our past and lack of evidence, rape would be nearly impossible to prove. 

A reason why I, like most victims, didn’t report was for my own protection. You see, if you know your assaulter and report, and they don’t end up in jail, horrendous things could happen. My assaulter knew my address, class schedule, personal schedule, church, friends, et cetera. This made it easy for him to find me if he wanted to get revenge. Knowing that he had the ability to rape without feeling remorseful leads to the conclusion that he could commit more heinous acts, such as murder, and get away with them as well. Out of every 1000 rapes, only 4.6 rapists get incarcerated. These statistics don’t fall in the victim’s favor. 

The final reason I didn’t report was for my own mental health. I knew that if I were to file a report, it could take months or even years before I would be able to stand in court. I would have to relive that moment over and over. This would damage my mental health more than the assault itself, in my opinion. It would also be more likely that my story would be open to the general public, and I was not prepared to discuss such a horrific moment with family, friends, and strangers. 

I’m thankful for the opportunity to share my story outside of a spotlight with you all. If nothing else, I hope this inspires you to believe survivors. Before questioning their decision not to report, put yourself in their shoes and go for a run. You’ll come back with a new understanding of the trauma survivors experience and how harmful statements like “it’s your fault” hurt. Assault cases aren’t treated like speeding tickets. It’s not a simple process, and spending years fighting for yourself can be harmful and draining. 

Life after assault is difficult. Going through this left me questioning my worth, feeling alone, pushing people away, hiding in crowds, and losing my confidence that I had spent years trying to build. I often describe myself as a “shell of a human being left behind” after my assault. Survivors, you are strong, worthy of love, and your past does not define you. This took me a while to realize, but that’s the truth. Use your story and your voice for good. You are going to overcome this and you will achieve so much regardless of what you’ve been through.

Thankfully, I was able to get out of the relationship with my assaulter. I found shelter within my family and friends. Since then, I have been able to talk with women who have gone through the same things and show them that they are not alone in this. I have a few tips for you all if you experience someone sharing their assault with you. 

If someone you care about trusts you enough to talk to you about their assault, please listen. Let them know that they are not alone, and that their feelings are valid. The decision whether or not to report is their own. Stand by them regardless of what they decide. Show them that they are worthy of love and that even if they feel like they have lost all control, they can regain control of their life. Check up on them. Make sure they’re okay even months after the incident. Do not force them to talk about it, but let them know that you’re available to listen if and when they want to share.

Advocate for victims this Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and remember: explicit consent is necessary. Yes means yes. Consent can be revoked at any time. Maybe is not synonymous with yes. Your relationship status does not give you ownership of someone else’s body, and just because they said yes before doesn’t mean they will always say yes. 

If you or someone you know is in need of crisis intervention services, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-656-4673 for confidential, free assistance or visit their website here.