A Love Letter To The Women Who Have Been Sexually Assaulted

women sexually assaulted
Photo by Daniel Schaffer

I am so sorry this happened to you.

If this happened recently, you’re probably still in shock right now. It might feel like you are outside of your own body. What happened to you should never happen to anyone, and your body and your mind will both struggle to process it.

Maybe you went straight to the emergency room, got a rape kit exam, and spoke to the police.

Or, maybe you’re wondering whether or not what happened to you “counts” as sexual assault. You might feel afraid to tell anyone. You might forget to reach out to a trained counselor who can help you. You may continue showing up to your job or your classes, as usual, hoping no one notices anything unusual about the way you’re acting.

Maybe you kept seeing the person who assaulted you. Maybe you loved them. Maybe you convinced yourself that what happened didn’t really happen or that they didn’t mean it. Maybe you hoped that in time, they would treat you better again. Maybe they said sorry and promised it would never happen again.

No matter what your story is—there is no one way a victim is “supposed” to react to sexual assault. Your story is your story. It is valid.

You don’t need to justify why you stayed in contact with the perpetrator, why you froze instead of fought, why you delayed going to the hospital or police, or why you chose not to report it at all.

You did nothing wrong. The person who violated your body is the only one responsible, the one who deserves all of the blame.

There is no “perfect victim,” so even if you wished in hindsight that you had taken different actions, I urge you to please be gentle with yourself. You did the best you could in the very worst moments of your life. You found your way home, and you survived.

It doesn’t matter where you were, what you were doing, or how much you had to drink or smoke — there is no action you could have taken that would have justified the harm done to you.

You might feel the weight of shame hanging over you, thinking you should have done more to prevent the assault. You might be incessantly remembering the past, wishing you could make your revisions.

If only I had fought back harder.

If only I had just gone home with my girlfriends instead.

If only I had stopped seeing them before it got to this point.

If only.

I hope you learn to let go of that shame and let in self-compassion instead. You didn’t know what this person was truly capable of until they showed you. For most of us, it’s unthinkable to imagine that someone has the desire (let alone the audacity) to sexually assault someone.

Your healing journey will likely contain waves of emotions — fear, sadness, and anger. I hope you can find ways to feel safe in your own body again. I hope you allow yourself to grieve whatever losses came with this assault, whether it’s your sense of safety, physical health, emotional wellbeing, or the loss of your old identity.

It’s true—you cannot “go back” to being your past self, the person you were before this happened to you. I remember grieving that for a long time. But I promise you, you are a powerful, courageous, and brave woman capable of healing and rising from this trauma. You didn’t deserve this, but how you move forward from here is up to you.

There is no timeline for healing. There is no point at which you should be over this. No date by which you should have moved on.

I personally don’t believe in the phrase “move on.” While it’s true that I now live my life in peace, no longer seeing my rapist in my nightmares, free from heavy sadness and anger, I still carry the weight of my assault with me to this day. The memory remains, and the assault changed who I am as a person. I had no choice.

Very rarely, I too can be clouded by memories I wish I didn’t have. But I can quickly assure myself that my perpetrator is far away, that I’m safe now, and that it wasn’t my fault.

Healing is messy. It is not linear. There is no one-size-fits-all cure. There isn’t a playbook to follow. The path is unique to each survivor.

You don’t owe your story to anyone. But if you’ve bottled it up inside of you, I beg you to seek help from a therapist who can help support you on your healing journey. It is too much for any one person to shoulder on their own.

I hope you acknowledge and validate your sadness and navigate through your justified feelings of anger. I hope you write out all of your feelings or use art therapy to express the difficult emotions within you. I hope you consider connecting with other survivors so that you know that you are not alone.

I hope you believe me when I tell you not to lose hope, that there are better days ahead for you. You will not be in this much pain forever. You are not permanently broken.

On the other side of this pain and trauma, you will emerge stronger and wiser than ever before. You will have a deeper sense of empathy and understanding for all others who have also survived this kind of violence.

Someday, you will no longer miss the “before” version of yourself. By tapping into your inner strength and resilience, you will become stronger than you have ever been. And the only person who gets the credit for that is you, my beautiful goddess.

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