Sexual assault no longer someone else’s issue

?Rape has decreased by 60 percent since 1993,? but that doesn?t mean it?s not still happening all too often.

?One out of every six American women will become the victim of rape in her lifetime.?

?One in four college women have either been raped or suffered attempted rape.?

?Every two minutes of every day, someone is sexually assaulted in the U.S.?

Fewer than 5 percent of these attacks will be reported, according to a U.S. Justice Department estimate.

I find these statistics?which I gathered from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network and Rape Victim Advocates Web sites?inconceivable and immensely sobering.

Maybe you?re wondering why I am even writing about this.

April is National Sexual Assault Aware?ness month. I know April?s almost over, and I?m not usually one to jump on every bandwagon, but this one hits home.

On Feb. 5, I was sexually assaulted at a party. I felt confused, sad, disoriented, alone, guilty, trapped, scared, isolated, hopeless, violated, betrayed?. The list goes on forever and changes every 11 seconds.

First, I want to talk about the reasons I am NOT writing this. I am not writing this for attention or sympathy. I am not writing this to scare anyone. I am not writing this to brag about what I?ve overcome.

I am, however, writing to educate and bring hope. I am writing this because I feel that it is my responsibility, now that I?ve been through this, to tell of the healing I have found. I am writing this because it is good for my continued healing, and because I believe God has asked me to.

I am a rape survivor. It is now part of my story, whether I chose it or not. I have accepted it. I am not hiding, I am not ashamed, and this does not hold me captive. I want to give glory to God for how much he has had my back. It?s absolutely incredible the way I?ve been blessed as a result of the attack. I cannot even wrap my mind around his goodness right now.

It was like any other Friday night. I went to the movies with some friends and to an off-campus party with a few classmates afterward. I?m not proud to say that alcohol was involved, but before I knew it I was completely out of it.

I can remember everything with perfect clarity, up until the point he pulled me by the hand into his bedroom. What I remember I see in a blue-ish, spinning color. The doctors and police say they?re pretty sure I was drugged.

I told a few of my friends what happened, not realizing I was a victim of date rape. I waited until health services opened Monday morning, then went to get a waiver so I could go to a nearby hospital.

I was scared and reluctant to go, but thought I needed to get tested for diseases or pregnancy. I didn?t know that I should have gone to the emergency room immediately. The doctors were unable to produce any DNA evidence of the attack, nor did my drug test results show anything. If I had gone in immediately instead of waiting three days, I would know for sure what had happened.

I have started seeing two counselors, one through RVA (the hospital connected me with them) and the other through North Park. Right or wrong, I decided not to press charges. I don?t think he knew what he was doing, and I don?t want to ?mess up? his life for one mistake.

Thankfully, since I didn?t feel good about doing nothing at all, another opportunity presented itself?mediation. Mediation is when a third party will direct the conversation, where he and I will have a conversation about what happened. That?s what I?ve been working for through my counseling sessions.

I dropped the class I had with him; seeing him every day was too much to deal with. I moved floors so I could have a room to myself; I needed space to process alone. I cut back on my work hours. I quit my extra-curricular activities. I didn?t realize how emotionally draining this would be. I thought it would disappear in a few weeks.

At first, I was really scared that I?d never be able to put names to my feelings, that I?d never get a grip and ?feel like myself? again. I felt numb.

Through counseling, I?ve not only been able to title my feelings, pinpoint times of anger and sort through all of this garbage, but I?ve prepared a letter, and I?m ready to read it to him during mediation.

I want him to know that what he did affects my entire life. I want him to understand the gravity of the wrong that he did, and give him the opportunity to change his life before someone else has to change it for him. He could face judicial consequences, which could include him being deported or jailed.

I still see him as I walk around campus, and I?m not going to lie, it freaks me out. My counselors have helped me realize that I have to choose to calm my body down, or else I?m going to be a mess all the time. It?s hard, but I?m getting better.

One of the major hurdles I faced was telling my parents. I was scared of their reaction. I feared they would be mad or they wouldn?t believe me, but telling them is one of the best choices I have made. We?re going through this together, and I can?t image them not knowing about such a life-changing experience.

The theme for me during this semester has been this: What Satan intended for evil, God intends for good. This is found throughout the Bible, in the stories of Joseph (when his brothers betrayed him) and Job.

From the start, my parents told me that they had full confidence that God was going to redeem this. That God wants to give beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3, also a Crystal Lewis song).

My parents were right, in the past two months, sharing my story has helped at least three people. It?s not my doing; this is completely on God.

One of my very good friends experienced this last year and hasn?t told her parents. She?s now thinking about telling them. Just today, another friend told me that, at first, she dealt with her assault in really unhealthy ways and has never felt fully comfortable sharing her story. We now share a connection over this horrible thing that we have in common, and I think we understand and respect each other so much more because of it.

Also this week, I ran into a friend who mentioned she knew someone who was raped and never sought counseling or any help. I instantly felt compelled to write her a note with some helpful phone numbers. I have no idea if she?ll take the step and get help, but knowing that my situation placed me in a position to assist made me feel so empowered.

Each of these three experiences has helped me heal from my attack?knowing that God does want good to come out of it; all I have to do is let him use me.

From the others I?ve talked to, fear is a central reason victims don?t come forward with their stories of sexual assault. These are fears that I shared. Fear of being judged by the community, fear of being ostracized from friend groups, fear of how real the event will become once you verbally acknowledge its existence.

If I have one word of encouragement about fear, it is this: Fear is the language of the enemy, not of God. Fear will own you and eat you up if you submit to it. You cannot suppress it, and it will hold you captive until you conquer it.

Talking to my counselors and telling my friends and parents was unbelievably scary, but I know that if I had kept it to myself, it would have suffocated me.

It is normal to feel disoriented and lose your sense of self, but it doesn?t have to stay that way. Rape victims will often suffer in silence because of the fears listed above. According to the Hillsboro Police Department, there have been three reported rape cases in Hillsboro since January?and several more in 2009. Yes, even our small-town bubble. This is not a ?city crime,? it happens everywhere.

If women and men alike started to come forward with stories of sexual assault, would we listen? Would we talk about it behind their backs? Would we make snap judgments based on misinformation we?ve gathered from movies or television?

As a community, we can change our insensitive, disapproving and judgmental attitudes to provide a safe and supportive care system, just like the one I have encountered at North Park.

I speak openly about my experience if a person asks or if I feel led by the Spirit, because I know that my situation was meant to accomplish a purpose much larger than myself. Lifting the veil of secrecy and allowing our voices to shatter the silence is what healing is all about. None of us is strong enough to deal with this on our own. It?s OK to admit that you?re weak and need help.

This semester has been the hardest season of my life, but simultaneously the best. Never have I experienced such fulfilling and rich relationships. It sounds cliche, but this really has shown me who my friends are. Some people bailed, but some have been with me every step of the way, encouraging me and loving me in real, tangible ways.

?Take Back the Night? is a movement that started in the 1970s. The organization forms rallies and gatherings to promote women?s sense of safety, raise awareness about sexual assault and gather funds to help victims.

The Web site provides resources for those who have experienced sexual abuse and gives the victims an opportunity to speak out and enable others to do the same.

I want every person to know that it is never too late to speak up. Whether you were assaulted a week ago, a month ago, or 30 years ago, I want to encourage you to share your story with boldness.

Who knows who your story might empower?


Note: I would be happy to receive e-mails from anyone with questions or thoughts about this. I am eager to help in any way possible.

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