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Warning: The following personal essay includes explicit descriptions of the author’s sexual assault. Some may find this to be particularly distressing. Resources for victims of sexual assault are provided at the bottom of the article.
Nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3 percent) and 1 in 71 men (1.4 percent) in the U.S. have been raped at some time during their lives, according to statistics shared by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC). Let that sink in. Of every five women you know, at least one has been raped during their life.
I don’t need statistics to convince me of how pervasive sexual assault is among girls and women. I was just eight years old when my grandfather molested me and 27 when I was sexually assaulted by a man I trusted and believed I had a future with. Both incidents left me with deep distrust in men and PTSD that I’ve worked hard to break through during therapy.
In the wake of #MeToo, it’s been encouraging to see people begin to believe women when they tell their stories of sexual harassment and assault. I say begin because there are still enormous hurdles for women (and men) who want to report sexual abuse. According to a survey conducted by NSVRC, only 25 percent of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to police in 2018.
When victims of assault do report to police, they face an uphill battle in proving the assault even happened. If rape kits are taken, they often sit months if not years on end untested. It’s this burden of proof that discourages many victims from reporting their assaults at all. I know it certainly stopped me.
Complicating the issue further is that most victims of sexual assault know their attackers. According to RAINN, 8 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. Of those, 39 percent are committed by an acquaintance and 33 percent are committed by a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend.
I had known the man who assaulted me for two years before his assault happened. We had dated noncommittally during those two years, seeing each other sporadically and in different locations.
The incident was consensual until it wasn’t. He had taken it upon himself to forgo a condom, something I never agreed to. I was soon in unbearable pain and I begged him to stop. Instead he looked at me like I was crazy and responded, “Are you f—king kidding me?” He must have thought I was, in fact, kidding or simply did not care because he continued to penetrate me until he was done. I, on the other hand, completely shut down.
One of the worst things about my assault was the ambiguity of the whole situation. I excused his actions, believing him to be completely wrapped in the moment, and wondered what I should have done differently. Consent can be such a tricky concept. It wasn’t until months later, after I began to experience increased anxiety, bouts of depression and a return of other symptoms of PTSD did I fully understand what had happened to me.
By the time I came to terms with what happened to me, I was convinced that it was too late to report it to police. I had no physical proof of what was done to me and knew that I did not want to subject myself to an endless battle of “he said, she said.” I wish this wasn’t the case and continue to hope that future generations will feel empowered and believed when they tell their stories.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and for the first time in three years, I am publicly speaking about what happened to me. It’s my hope that it will give other survivors of sexual assault the encouragement to open up about their experiences — in any way that makes them feel most empowered. That could mean that they report it to police or that they finally reach out for help to deal with their trauma. Regardless of what they choose to do, I hope to tell them that their sexual assault does not define them and that they will get through their pain.
What it is: Consent is an agreement between people to engage in sexual activity. According to RAINN, consent does not have to be verbal but “verbally agreeing to different sexual activities can help both you and your partner respect each other’s boundaries.” Consent is all about communication.
What it isn’t: Consent given one time does not translate to consent for continued or increased sexual contact.
Important to note: Consent can be withdrawn at ANY POINT. In some states, such as California, when a person tells their partner to stop (withdraws their consent to sexual activity) and the partner continues to have sex, that is rape.
RAINN has a national sexual assault hotline that allows victims to connect with trained staff members from a sexual assault service provider in their area. You can call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to be connected to a local RAINN affiliate organization. Those calling on a cell phone have the option of entering the ZIP code of their current location to accurately locate the nearest sexual assault service provider. For more information, visit here.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month is observed every April. This year, the theme of SAAM is “I Ask,” to raise awareness about asking for consent. For resources regarding consent, visit NSVRC’s website here.
In New York City, Safe Horizon provides trauma therapy, legal services, resources and hotlines. The non-profit aims to empower victims and survivors to find safety, support, connection and hope. Their 24-hour hotline can be reached at 1-800-621-HOPE (4673). You can also visit their website here.
Other Personal Stories by This Author
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.