When I was a sophomore in high school, an acquaintance of mine found me studying in the library. He took my pencil and ran away with it. I wasn’t just going to sit there . . . I needed my pencil! So I followed him into the back in between the tall bookshelves. “Give it back,” I said. He then proceeded to put the pencil in his pants. “Get it,” he ordered. After I looked at him like he was speaking Japanese, I started to walk away. He grabbed my hand and tried to make me get my pencil. I pulled away forcefully and this time, I ran.
That was when I promised myself I wouldn’t give him the time of day again. Even though I was the student manager of his tennis team.
Just a few days ago, my best friend Jasmin texted me a link to a newspaper article about a Tennis instructor in my town that was just charged with sexually assaulting an underage student and risk of injury to a minor. I read the entire article and I was disgusted. This abuse of his students went on for years, starting around 2011, the same year I was a sophomore . . .
Unlike his other victims, I was lucky enough to avoid an experience of sexual assault.
I am now a Junior in college. My sorority’s local philanthropy is the largest anti-sexual assault organization in America – R.A.I.N.N or Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. Every year, my sisters and I break out our porch swing and swing on it for 32 hours straight. We call it our annual Swing-a-thon! Students and faculty notice us and we start conversations about sexual assault awareness. We have a lot of fun all day and night while raising funds for R.A.I.N.N and educating our peers on a subject they should be familiar with, whether they are a victim or not.
While preparing for this year’s swing-a-thon, I came across Project Unbreakable. This project showcases thousands of survivors’ stories through powerfully simple photographs such as this one:
The founder, Grace Brown got the idea to start this movement at the young age of 19 when a friend of hers told her a personal story of sexual assault.
Here are some submissions to Project Unbreakable:
Sexual offenders can be male or female, young or old, black or white, a family member, “friend” or a stranger. Many say things like, “I don’t want to hurt you” to inflict the victim with feelings of guilt. It’s the offender’s way of saying, “You wouldn’t be in pain if would stop fighting.”
The sad truth is that only about 30% of cases of sexual abuse are reported.* Victims understand that when someone forces you to do something it is not right. However, most feel embarrassed by it or they may not know the facts, so they don’t understand what has actually happened to them. Therefore, they don’t report incidents as rape or molestation.
According to the United States Department of Justice,
“Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.”*
While many victims struggle with reporting their assaulters, some try to find an answer as to why this was done to them by communicating with friends and family. The reality is that not everyone is going to be supportive of the victim. However, some victims are lucky enough to find those special people who understand the facts and can provide support and a shoulder to lean on.
To any and all survivors: you possess the most human quality of them all – trust in others. You don’t see the need to question a person’s motives because you see the best in everyone you meet. Negativity? Your open mind has no room for it! You take pride in your sensitivity to emotions. You have nothing to hide and nothing to hold back. That is why you are a free bird. Bottled up emotions? They kill you. You must let things out. You need to cry and you don’t really care who sees. You’re human and you’re not one bit ashamed. Embracing one’s emotions in their most raw state shows exceptional strength. With that strength, you will not only survive, you will thrive in this world.
If you yourself are here today regardless of an experience with sexual assault, don’t label yourself as a victim. You are a survivor.
If you know someone who has suffered from any form of sexual assault, it is important to be aware of the facts to prevent yourself or someone you know from being in danger.
Please check out RAINN.org. It is like a gold mine of valuable information and advice. RAINN has a 24/7 confidential hotline (1-800-656-HOPE) as well as an online hotline: online.rainn.org, both are absolutely free.
- *Finkelhor, D., “The Prevention of Childhood Sexual Abuse,” Future of Children, 2009, 19(2):169–94.