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3 min read
After reporting my sexual assault to law enforcement, everyone in my community found out what had been done to me. This was, of course, the opposite of what I wanted, but I was hopeful that I would finally feel embraced and supported by my peers and community.
That is not what happened.
Instead, I began to feel isolated and ostracized in my small town. School was a nightmare, my family stopped attending church, and I dreaded going out to eat or grocery shopping. Everyone seemed to be against me. Everyone seemed to form opinions about me. They perceived me as either a slut or a liar, refusing to acknowledge my thirteen-year-old self as a crime victim.
I desperately wanted to stay at the school I had attended since kindergarten. I stayed for a little over a year after the news broke, until the bullying became too much. After completing my first semester of high school, I spent Christmas break crying to my parents, “I just can’t keep doing this.” I lost all but two of my once numerous close friends. There were boys who would walk behind me and mutter the word “rape.” When I confided in a friend about my self-harm, I discovered a group of kids drawing red lines across their wrists in magic marker, chanting “I’m [my name].”
Nonetheless, I went back to school for the new semester. Day one, I left and refused to ever go back. I did not have the support of my friends, my teachers, my school, my church, or my family friends who had known me since I was a baby. That, to me, was more painful, more traumatizing than the assault itself. It wasn’t a single, horrifying incident, it was my life, day in and out. It was the betrayal, isolation, and bullying that truly sent me over the edge.
Until I moved to a new state this year, everytime I left home I felt afraid. Afraid that someone would recognize me. Afraid that I would run into someone who backstabbed me. Afraid that everyone was talking about me behind my back. A familiar face would send me into a full-blown panic attack, bringing me back to the endless taunting and terror that plagued my childhood.
Unfortunately, my experience is not uncommon. Survivors often face secondary trauma at the hands of their peers and community, compounding the trauma and suffering they already face. They face victim-blaming, insensitivity, rumors, and isolation, causing them deep psychological and emotional harm, as well as long-term negative effects.
In telling this small part of my story, I hope that you are inspired to be better. I hope you recognize the necessity of supporting the survivors in your own community. I hope you understand the harm and trauma caused by ostracizing and targeting survivors of sexual assault. I hope you have the courage to stand up for them, to embrace them and show them unwavering support.