Over the past few years I worked continually to combat sexual assault, particularly on my own college campus. I led sexual assault awareness workshops where I taught students the truth about sexual abuse, combated stigmas, and provided resources about how to help a friend who survived sexual assault. I knew statistics inside and knew that 1 out of 6 college women survived rape or survived attempted rape in the past year, meaning if I had a group of 6 friends, one of them could have been a survivor of sexual assault. For a long time I felt lucky because as far as I knew, none of my friends had such experiences.
Although I felt connected to the cause, it was not until a few weeks ago that I truly grasped a direct connection to everything. As I visited my friend over winter break, I noticed something was a bit off. She was not her sarcastic funny self, but rather quiet and detached. I calmly inquired to determine what was wrong. With a pale face, she turned to me and told me that one of her friends raped her a few months ago and that her life deteriorated ever since.
On paper I knew what I was supposed to say to a friend who survives sexual assault: “No matter what it’s not your fault”, “I believe you”, “Thank you for sharing your experience with me.” However, when the situation arose right in front of me, with my own best friend, it was hard to produce the right words.
After a few minutes of silence, I managed to comfort her and listen to her story. At one point as she recounted her experience, it occurred to me: Sexual assault really can happen to anyone. While I knew this was true, it became all too real for me as I discovered the emotional turmoil my friend experienced over the past few months. Moreover, the fact that her own friend sexually assaulted her makes it all too apparent that the majority of perpetrators know their victims.
I share this story with the hope that we all remember to support our loved ones who experience sexual assault. Remember, it is not always easy to know who is a survivor of sexual abuse just by looking at them. We need to provide comfort, love, and an open-mind to our survivors. We need to allow them to share their story and truly be heard.
Written by: MK