At the start of 2009 I was sexually assaulted. I was drugged and date raped. I woke up the next morning with only a flash of a memory of what had occurred the night before.
I was lying in his bed, clothes spread everywhere, hung-over, confused and unsure what had occurred the night before. I looked down, squinting my eyes in the morning light and felt sore. My head was spinning. I didn’t know what to do but ask to be taken home.
It was only when I got home and got into the shower that the extent of his intent to hurt me hit home. I tried to cry, but couldn’t. No words came, just numbness.
I thought to myself “what’s the point of even trying to have rights and needs if they are just going to take them from me anyway?”
This event was most devastating for me because it was the first time in my life I had spoken up for my own wants and needs in a relationship rather than being mute, lifeless and doing whatever the hell the other person wanted me too.
I had said to this man I wanted to wait to have sex until after he got back from a trip he was planning with his mates in a few weeks time.
There were no warning signs, but then again, I hadn’t been good at spotting them. Entering into an abusive relationship with a man I had escaped from the year before.
I didn’t know I was IN an abusive relationship until the abuse started. From my experience you don’t know you are in it, until you are in it, especially if you KNOW the person abusing you.
Over the past 12 months I had been building up my self-esteem and self-confidence and remember it being the best I had felt about myself in years (if ever).
I felt more confident even than my days as an internationally competitive athlete representing Australia at 3 world championships just a few years earlier.
This boosted self-confidence was a result of a lot of inner work I had been doing over the past few years, healing myself of bulimia, depression and severe anxiety as well as getting myself out of a relationship that was not good for me.
I thought I was healed, I thought I was better, I thought finally I’m with someone who will honour my boundaries and respect me for who I really am.
How wrong I was.
Four months prior to the assault, I had been feeling so good about myself I decided to enter a fitness model competition to challenge myself. You see I wanted to get up on that stage, not care a damn about what a single other soul thought about me, be myself and have fun.
I won the competition; this thrust me into the spotlight. On the cover of a national magazine with an 8 page spread sharing my message of hope and inspiration with thousands of women around Australia. I wanted to inspire women to aim higher.
As my profile began to grow I started a business to empower other women to go for greatness in their own lives. It was here that I found myself, national cover model, published writer, budding business owner, and in the best shape emotionally, mentally and physically of my life.
Enter Jeff (name changed). He was charming, funny, insightful and playful. I felt a strong connection and felt like I could speak my truth with him, without fear of consequence.
That all changed that morning sitting huddled in the shower, feeling like a shell of the former self I had worked so hard to create. All the good work done, and after that my life began falling apart.
I put on weight, racked up debt and stopped taking good care of myself (or struggling to even take care of myself at all.) I was ashamed of the person I had become, wondering what the hell I had done wrong to deserve that treatment. I retired and hid from the public eye.
The worst part of sexual assault begins when the physical symptoms subside. It’s the emotional damage and soul splintering devastation that occurs from such a deeply personal violation that takes so long to recover from. I felt like nothing and life no longer felt worth living.
6.5 years on from the sexual assault, the residue still shows up in my life from time to time, interfering in my current relationships, and messing with my swimming performances (I’m on the comeback trial for the 2016 Olympic games.) It takes a lot of patience and a strong resolve to not stay furious at how little these perpetrators care or realise the devastating consequences of their actions. They destroy people’s lives and far too often see no consequences.
Something like less than 1 in 5 sexual assault cases result in a conviction.
It’s people like us, the sufferers, who end up footing the bill for the damages.
I believe the change we want to see starts by speaking up, raped or not, owning our stories and sharing our healing with others. It continues by setting new boundaries, becoming unwilling to tolerate disrespect and taking a stand for what we believe in.
While devastating in its effects, without going through sexual violence I would not be the strong woman I am today. I wouldn’t have the capacity to serve others in the way that I can. I wouldn’t be fierce, unapologetic and unabashed about standing up for what I believe in. Or maybe I would? I have no way of knowing for sure.
If you who know first hand, or from a loved one, the devastating effects of sexual assault you don’t need to suffer alone, in silence. You can and deserve to speak up, speak out and ask for what you want unapologetically… without fear or threat of sexual violence clouding your perception of yourself.
And in the meantime here are some steps to help you heal from violent assault.
5 Ways to Help You Heal from Sexual Assault
1. Feel What You Feel
It’s completely normal after going through an abusive event to feel shut down and feel numb inside. At first this is the body’s way of protecting the shock to your system. So, be gentle with yourself as the feelings surface. They may surface days, weeks, months or years later. It’s ok, everyone heals at their own pace and in their own time.
2. Find Supportive People to Talk to
When you feel psychologically and emotionally prepared to process the trauma, it is important to seek the help and support that you feel like you need. A trained trauma counselor is a great investment. Also, be careful who you talk to about the event. Begin with someone you trust to handle the gravity of what you are sharing.
Many people aren’t equipped emotionally to carry the weight of connecting with someone who has been sexually assaulted. It’s ok, someone can’t give what they haven’t got.
So, seek the support of trained professionals and people with the emotional capacity to understand your experience and hold the weight of the conversation with empathy and be there with you.
3. Know it’s not your fault
The tendency of assault victims is to blame themselves. You are not responsible for what happened. You did not cause the other person to assault you. Nothing you did caused it to happen, so please stop blaming yourself. It doesn’t help you or them in any way.
A person rapes or assaults someone because it is what they do. It’s a way that they can cope with their internal feelings that they don’t know how to deal with. It’s not something you did that caused it.
4. Speak Up and Share Your Story
When you have processed your feelings and trauma of the event sufficiently it’s time to start sharing your story with others.
It gives solace to others who have been through similar traumas because no one can really understand the trauma sexual assault causes unless they have been through it themselves.
Sexual assault carries with it a lot of shame and guilt and shame is enhanced with silence. So, speaking up about what happened and sharing your story with others is a way to heal the shame associated with sexual assault in our society.
5. Reclaim Your Personal Power
Assault and abuse often leaves victims feeling powerless. It feels like vital parts have been taken from you without your consent. This can leave your self-concept shaky at best. So, read up on your human rights, remember that you have a right to persecute if you feel physically, emotionally or verbally violated. No one has a right to take away your personal liberties without your consent. It’s the law. So, know your rights, and learn to set healthy boundaries in new relationships so that you minimize the chances of “repeating” the disempowering events.
Setting healthy boundaries means to make requests based on your own wants and needs and follow up with consequences if they are not met or directly violated.
It’s your power and you have a right to say how you want to be treated and what happens to your body. You do have a choice and the law will back you up on it. Now might be a good time to persecute the perpetrator if you feel up to it and will serve the highest truth by bringing the person to justice. You do this by filing a complaint with your local police office.
It’s your choice and the most important part is not punishing the perpetrators, but healing and empowering yourself to move on from what happened and reclaim your life and your future for yourself.