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Here’s the thing: in high school we are educated about sex, STI’s, drugs, alcohol and pregnancy. But something that is only briefly touched on (in my experience, anyway) is rape. It’s almost like teachers are afraid to talk about it; afraid that they might scare their students. This silence carries through to higher learning. Although publications like Cosmo feature articles about rape at post-secondary institutions, I have never heard it discussed on campus. But rape is something that needs to be talked about – it happens more than one might think.
A lot of people have an ambivalent attitude toward rape. They reason that:
1. My campus/neighbourhood is safe.
2. I don’t drink – therefore a date rape drug cannot be slipped to me.
3. I never go anywhere alone.
4. I always lock my doors.
5. It will never happen to me.
I thought all of these thoughts; I took all of these precautions. But I was still attacked. I was on a typical night out at a bar with two of my friends. At about 1:45am we decided to leave, but after I had gathered my things my friends had already gone. Since my college campus was just across the street, I decided to walk home by myself. As I left the bar, I suddenly had a feeling that I was being followed. Turning around, I noticed a man behind me. I thought nothing of it, as there were a lot of houses around the campus. As I started walking faster, I heard his pace quicken. My heart started pumping, and the next thing I knew I had a hand over my mouth, an arm around my waist, and was being pulled to the ground.
I never thought I would say these words: I was raped in a field in front of my college. A woman in one of the nearby houses heard me screaming and came running over to the scene. As soon as my attacker saw her, he took off. She helped me to my feet and walked me to my dorm. I immediately ran to the room of one of my friends from the bar (who had only drank one beer) and asked her to drive me to the hospital. I will never forget her reaction: she shook her head and said, “I’m too tired. And stop being so selfish, it happens to girls all the time.” It took all my strength not to lunge across and strangle her. You find out who your true friends are in desperate times.
I woke up my Resident Advisor, and as soon as he saw me he drove me to the hospital along with my roommate. I called my Dad, who immediately started crying and offered to make the two hour drive to see me. But when my Mum got on the phone, the first thing she asked was “What are you wearing?”. I was shocked. Why should that matter? If my experience has affirmed anything in my mind, it’s that no girl is ever asking for it. A woman should be safe, regardless of how she is dressed.
During my rape kit, the nurses found my attacker’s semen inside me. This helped the police match him to two previous attacks in the area. He had raped three women in five months, but was only sentenced to 11 months in prison because he admitted guilt and all three of us were over the age of 18. This still makes no sense to me, or to the other women. He was released on April 1, 2013, and while the ordeal is all over for him, it affects me – I refuse to go anywhere alone.
I still keep in touch with the other two women he attacked, and we are slowly becoming more comfortable with sharing our stories. The dealing process has been a rollercoaster, but I have learned some valuable lessons that others coping with rape may need to hear:
1. You might lose friends. The 2 girls who were at the bar with me that night no longer speak to me, and I no longer speak to them. They weren’t there for me when I needed them most.
2. You might gain “friends”. After word of the incident made its way around residence, people who I had never spoken to before wanted to be my best friend. They all wanted to help the “rape girl”.
3. Sleeping will be tough. I slept with my roommate after it happened until the end of the school year. We kept a night-light on, and I would only be able to sleep for an hour or 2 at a time.
4. You won’t be as trusting. I used to be trusting of everyone, and could see the good in all. But this has changed – I’m more wary now.
5. Music heals. This might sound a little cheesy, but it’s true. Artists like Tom McRae, The Paper Kites, The Honey Trees, The Art of Sleeping and Sarah McLachlan helped me through the healing process.
6. Therapy. Therapy. Therapy. Personally, I never wanted anything to do with therapy and psychiatrists before the attack – I could never see myself opening up to a total stranger. However, therapy was totally different from what I expected: I felt like people were actually listening and wanted to help. Group therapy is another great idea – being surrounded by those who have similar experiences makes you feel less alone.
7. Some people don’t know what to say. A simple “I’m sorry” is sometimes all people can manage. Although this may feel trivial, remember that it’s better than nothing. I have a friend who had no idea how to react and couldn’t think of anything to say, but she knew she wanted to help, and so did I.
8. Writing helps. Keep a journal, write down your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and images you see. Writing is another great form of cathartic release.
9. Don’t be afraid to tell someone. Never keep rape or any form of sexual assault a secret. You are only harming yourself.
10. Don’t blame yourself. You did nothing wrong. I went through a self-loathing period when I thought that I was responsible for what happened. But my rape was not my fault. You should never take the blame.
I hope that by sharing my personal experience I might be able to open the eyes of some, and to help others. Always remember that we are not victims: we are survivors.