“I once was a victim for sure, but now I’m a survivor”

** Trigger Warning: rape**


Last year, I finally admitted to myself what I’d known for several years previously, but hadn’t had the courage to articulate – that I’d been raped when I was 15 at a New Year’s Eve party. I was far too drunk, had said no several times, and yet my then-boyfriend ignored my protestations, and started to have sex with me against my will. This was a secret that I’d carried with me for almost seven years, until I finally told someone on the cusp of my 22nd birthday. It felt like the largest ever weight had been lifted off of me.

Until I told someone, I’d always written it off as a good night gone bad – after all, I didn’t scream or try to get away, I didn’t break up with that boyfriend, and how could someone who professed to love me have done something like that? But they did. Because as soon as I said no, that wish should have been abided by, and nothing further should have happened. And I shouldn’t have experienced that feeling as if I was dying inside, as if I had been robbed of my voice. Yet these things happened. And it wasn’t my fault. I can still remember what I wore that night – a black chiffon top and light blue jeans. When I was clearing out my wardrobe before I came to university, my mum came across the top and the jeans scrunched up at the back of my wardrobe. They were both only worn once. I still dread New Year’s Eve.

The rape impacted me in several ways. I’d always been a bit of a loner as a child, up until I was about 14, when I started to receive male attention. That changed everything for me – for the first time, I felt desirable. My self-esteem was directly correlated to the amount of male attention I received – and after the rape, my self-worth suffered a dive I still feel today. I’d already self-harmed, because of earlier bullying I’d experienced, but after the rape, it really began in earnest. I cut my arms and thighs, pulled out my hair, burned myself with aerosals and banged my head against walls. But because this all happened in secret, no-one suspected that anything was wrong. Any scars were easily explained away, and I deliberately isolated myself so that people wouldn’t question me.

This all started to change when I went to university. I stopped self-harming, mainly thanks to a wonderfully supportive partner who has always been there for me. I discovered to articulate those thoughts that always pissed me off when I realised what a raw deal society gives those who don’t fit into the status quo. I threw myself into my studies. Beginning in my semester abroad and culminating in my third year of university, I let down my boundaries and let people in, let them know the real me. But I still didn’t tell anyone about my rape.

The only reason that I ever admitted my rape, is that after returning from America, I sank into a terrible depression for my friends there, a place where I finally felt free from the past. After much persuading, I started to attend counselling at the university, a service which I believe saved me. I burst into tears at my first session, and eventually I managed to articulate that which I had so long denied.

Yes, I was raped. But unlike the years in which this event lay beneath the surface, I no longer feel defined by what happened. That’s why I get such a bee in my bonnet when people refer to rape victims instead of rape survivors. I refuse to let anyone else define my experience – I once was a victim for sure, but now I’m a survivor. I dislike that I once was a victim, and one for seven years at that. But having been a survivor for the past year, I can tell anyone reading this that it does get better. It gets easier. It might not ever go away entirely, but it stops being a defining aspect of your being.  This isn’t to say that I’m completely healed. I abhor the amount of television shows and films that use rape as a plot line, and have been known to walk out of films if I feel that they might trigger something. I doubt I’ll ever tell my parents about it – I think it would break them beyond repair. I have an immense fear of being vulnerable, of allowing people in, of letting people know me.  But in other ways, I’m free. The day after I told my partner what had happened to me, I cut all of my hair off. It had been long since that night – but I finally felt free enough to rid myself of that bit of the past.

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