Throughout my life, whenever something upset me, I was told that I was being overly sensitive and that my feelings didn’t matter. My voice was always silenced. Before AVFTI was a part of my life, I wasn’t acutely aware of how harmful this was, but I struggled with trusting people.
When I was assaulted six years ago, the first response I got was blame. People yelled words such as “how could you?” and “how will you get married now?” After that, they ignored me for weeks. In the years afterward, they actively discouraged me from sharing my story. I was in a situation in which I had to see my assailant regularly, and I was told – multiple times – to get over it and move on. Those perpetual, unsupportive responses, as well as the trauma from seeing my assailant, deeply hurt me. I blamed myself for what happened. Even though I was discouraged from telling my story, I told the people I trusted. However, I had self-doubt about whether it was ‘right’ to share my story.
I was looking for additional support, and I found the AVFTI website. I read numerous stories and wondered if I could ever post mine. After deliberating for a few months, I knew I wanted to share. I wanted people to know that they weren’t alone, and I didn’t want my story to be controlled by anyone else. The first time I shared, the volunteers were so supportive. They listened, told me it wasn’t my fault, and let me know I wasn’t alone.
A few weeks later, I started volunteering for AVFTI. Responding to stories helped me understand 1) how sexual assault affects each person differently, 2) that healing is not a linear journey, and 3) how showing compassion positively affects people. I told each storyteller that what happened to them wasn’t their fault and that they didn’t deserve it. After a lot of time and practice, I was able to say those things to myself, and the weight of self-blame began to off my shoulders.
I felt more empowered to make decisions that would benefit me, such as going to on-campus counseling, sharing updates with AVFTI, writing about my feelings, and continuously trusting my friends. Those decisions helped me get through some tough and exhausting moments. Then the pandemic hit, and I didn’t see my assailant for over six months. I reflected on how that felt and what I wanted to do next on my healing journey. I thought those answers would stay the same…until I received a text that changed life as I knew it.
The text was from my assailant. I was in shock, so I took a few days to think about my next steps. I realized I could get closure, so I responded and he apologized. I sent him a lengthy response about what he did and the effects of seeing him, and I stood up for myself. After that, I let him know that talking in the present does not excuse what happened back then. We kept talking, and I made sure that his actions matched his words. Now we are in a healthy, supportive, and consistent relationship. Even so, I keep my eyes wide open, and I speak up more than I did in the past.*
In summary, sharing and volunteering for AVFTI helps me use my voice and take my power back. I understand that my feelings are valid and that I’m not alone. I’m in a good place when it comes to healing from the assault, and I never thought I would say that.
I believe that sharing your story with supportive people can be helpful in various ways. If you would like to share your story in an anonymous and supportive environment, you are welcome to share on avfti.org. We’re all here to support you on your healing journey.
*This is a decision the author of this post felt comfortable and empowered to make in their situation, however this is not always the best or most healthy goal for someone who has been impacted by sexual violence. This particular instance is a retelling of one person’s truth, but it should not be viewed or taken as advice. Please know that the choices you make in your situation should only be a reflection of what you believe is best for you.