What Happens Next?

Woman on the beach watching the horizon
Woman on the beach watching the horizon

When I was raped in June, I realized I couldn't be silent, and my personal blog made that possible for me. Most people on my Facebook timeline are probably sick and tired of seeing my blog posts, the articles I share, and the references to my rape. It's understandable. I'm sick and tired of the fallout of this summer being my daily life. I wish I could just turn it off. But that's just not possible, so my next best option is to bring attention to what it means to be a survivor. When I get messages from other survivors -- friends of mine from high school, mutual friends, complete strangers -- and they tell me the pain of their experience, and the fall out, and that they've only told one or two people, or haven't told anyone, it opens the floodgates. My heart aches for them because it knows the pain too well. This fire inside of me burns stronger to keep bringing attention to rape and sexual assault into the light of day, so that this awful rape culture, and ultimately power struggle that exists, will be acknowledged and demolished.

Change doesn't happen over night. The best way I've had described to me is the idea of "x + 1 conversations", you may not hit a home run and have someone you're talking to suddenly agree to everything you're saying, but each conversation might shift their mindset. All of the clichés, "baby steps", "Rome wasn't built in a day", etc. are true. Each facet of an issue needs to be handled individually. A facet that has interested me: what happens after rape?

I read an article in the Washington Post that included a figure that might be astonishing to most, "Each rape... carries a social cost of $267,000."

I could believe it. My flight home from Italy, my mom's flight to come get me, the ER visit and subsequent MRI and physical therapy, the medication, the countless hours of therapy, it definitely adds up to an astronomical sum that I had not worked into my budget for this year. There's the monetary sum, but there's also the toll that the incident has taken on me. The days I couldn't get out of bed, so I missed important lessons in class. The days I had to step out of class because something triggered me. The money I've spent on food and clothes to try and comfort me, money that would normally be put to a better, more productive use. The two classes I had to drop to attempt to not fail this semester. The hours I've spent analyzing relationships that have gone wrong because of what happened to me. The work-study job in which I've had to limit my hours because I couldn't handle long days. The responsibilities I've been unable to uphold, because I can't handle it, or I honestly just forget because my mind is in ten different places.

All of this created a very difficult semester. There are resources set up, certainly, and I took advantage of quite of few, but not all of it was cut and dry. For me personally, my rape happened in a park in Milan, Italy while I was serving as a Student Ambassador at the United States Pavilion for Expo Milano 2015. This meant that when I decided I needed to come home, I was in limbo. I had my pro-bono lawyer, but was still unsure of how I'm going to afford to travel back to Italy if perchance the man that raped me was ever brought to trial (so far an issue I haven't had to address). Going to the police, had I been by myself and not with the program I was in, would've been impossible. My Italian is pretty good, but would not have been enough to do the nine-hour interview that my supervisor very graciously helped with. What do people do when that resource isn't there? When I got back to the states, I wasn't sure how to approach my university because it wasn't a campus issue, or a study abroad issue, and I certainly didn't want to make things more difficult for myself this semester. All of it was, and still is, difficult to navigate. There's no guide to dealing with your specific trauma, or whether your situation is appropriate for one resource or another. It can add more stress onto an already incredibly stressful situation.

I guess my point here is that this is a facet that needs to be addressed. Rape and sexual assault isn't just the experience for however long it lasted. It's so much more than that. It's the PTSD and the eating disorders and the depression and the alcohol and the complete numbness that follows. It's the way your life crashes down around you. I would even say, for me personally, that the fallout has almost been worse than the four hours I spent with my rapist. That was awful and makes me sick to even think about, but it didn't end that night. June 6th, 2015 has turned into a six-month long ordeal, an ordeal that isn't necessarily covered in the media. Most articles about sexual assault and rape include the story as the main point, but don't necessarily emphasize what has happened since. While stories are a facet that is important to make people realize how often and how awful these incidents of trauma can be, the story unfortunately doesn't end when you get away from your attacker. Unless it has happened to you, you might not realize what the daily life of a survivor looks like. But it's there, and there are so many survivors around you, who can't talk about their incident, much less the fall out after that fact, because of the shame and stigma that surrounds sexual violence. The constant disbelief and blaming by friends or family or the culture, whether it be subtle or obvious, puts duct tape over many victim's mouths, so that whatever happened to them can't escape, and can't be overcome. It's time to change that.

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If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

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If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.