A Survivor's Timeline of Sexual Assault

by Sarah Welton 6 months ago in body

We need to make sure #metoo doesn't stop with Weinstein

A Survivor's Timeline of Sexual Assault
Photo by Kelly Sikkema (https://unsplash.com/@kellysikkema) on Unsplash

There are defining moments in our lives that forever create a definitive split in our personal timelines. Once these moments occur, there will always be a "before" and an "after," a harsh contrast that will always be a reference point for future reflection.

It's these moments that help shape who you are and define the timeline of your life story. They are the major moments that you can always point back to, as "this is the point where my life changed."

It may be a positive or negative change - but nonetheless, it is a change.

For some, it may be a loss that creates these breaks. Or, it may be a more positive moment.

One of the major plot points of my life story just happens to be when I was raped. Like so many others in the #metoo movement, things were never the same again after that moment.

My story starts where so many others do: in a college dorm, during a pre-class party. All moved in but with no real responsibilities yet, the only on everyone's mind was to party and enjoy it while it lasted. Those who were of-age were more than willing to supply the booze for the rest, as the official on-campus party for that night had been called off due to weather, leaving us to our own devices indoors.

Like many others at that time, I was drunk. Like many others who have been in my position, I became an easy target.

He entered the dorm common area with a group of friends, ready to join the party that had already been going strong for several hours at this point. We chatted, my drunken enthusiasm for everything spurring the conversation and earning me a serenade from the one friend who had thought to bring a guitar.

To the men who aren't sexual predators, this situation should have been setting off alarm bells: a girl with the smell of alcohol on her breath, barely able to stand up, should be sending you to find a friend, or, barring that, find her room and get her to bed after obviously way-too-many drinks.

In another situation, with different friends and people in the room, that may have happened.

Instead, I was literally carried away by a stranger, whisked off to his dorm room so he could do what he wanted to do without interruption or interference.

Too drunk to offer any resistance, my sense of innocence was shattered into a million pieces that night. The world had just shown me how cruel it could be, and there was no possible way back from obtaining that forbidden knowledge.

Omitting the gory details, it was the next day that the cops and medical professionals got involved. I woke up, reading the frantic text responses to the concerning messages I had sent before I passed out. I talked to some of the girls who I'd started to consider friends on my floor in the dorm, trying to formulate a plan. I talked to my RA, getting advice on which would be quicker - campus police, or straight to the hospital?

I talked to my parents. Armed with opinions and support, it was time for a whirlwind of questions, tests, and collecting information.

My poor RA was left to try and communicate to the triage nurse as to what I needed, while still trying to be discrete, for my sake. While it initially seemed like no one knew what was going on as far as getting me into the sexual assault treatment center, once I was there, there was no time wasted on diving right in.

Where did he touch me? Where might there be evidence of what he did? Did I think I might be pregnant? Did I know if he used a condom?

Photos, samples, questions, medications... Despite it actually being hours, it felt like everything flew by in minutes. In what honestly felt like an out-of-body experience, I numbly went through everything that was asked of me.

At the time, what felt like my only legitimate concern was on whether or not I'd be able to keep the shirt I had been wearing that night: a recent purchase from a music festival, not long before this ugly nightmare unfolded, I found myself not wanting to give it up.

Until the nurse gently told me, "Honestly, you're probably not going to want to wear this again, anyway."

The truth of that statement hit me hard.

The shirt stopped mattering so much, then.

Police questions were the next, pressing thing. When the footage from the statement I made that night appeared again in front of me in court later, I couldn't recognize myself - and it went far beyond an issue of physical appearance. Still in shock and starting the turbulent ride of HIV PEP as a precaution from the treatment nurses, I seemed to be little more than a shell of a person, mechanically responding and laying out what happened the night before.

But that was far from the end of it.

Looming over me as I fought to get my mental health back after such a devastating moment was the legal process that comes along with reporting a rape. As someone who followed all of it from start to finish, it's understandable why so many, men or women, choose not to report.

My one horrible night turned into countless horrible nights, especially as I had to retell the story again and again or deal with some other, new indignity through every bit of the court process.

The one thing that makes it so clear as to why so many men and women's stories go untold: the amount of time and effort it takes to tell that story.

When there isn't an entire country and its news media waiting anxiously to find out the results of the legal proceedings in your case (or even if there is) the process is long.

For my case, the entire thing only ended after almost 4 years.

4 years of trials, delay tactics, and appeals.

One night dragged into 4 years, for my rapist to be sentenced to 26 months in jail.

Sometimes, it feels like the math doesn't quite match up - especially knowing that he was continuing to pursue a degree at another school in the interim, with apparently no questions asked or information transferred between administrations about his expulsion.

Despite the court case still being active, it seemed to have only a marginal impact on his life - though, of course, I can only speculate based on what was presented to me, including the information provided in his bail conditions. No alcohol or going near places where it would be served. No contact with me, directly or indirectly. And later, regular check ins with an officer.

Considering we were both in entirely separate cities at that point, the restrictions didn't seem all that onerous.

His actions soured the entire experience of dorm and residence life for me, and I only stayed to finish out the rest of my first year before transferring to another school - this one, in driving distance from my house, meaning no residence.

When I think about the numbers involved in the case, I need to remind myself that 26 months was actually towards the higher end of what the judge could have given, and just long enough to ensure prison time - not just jail time.

I was also fortunate enough that despite many mistakes made on the part of the hospital, the case was deemed strong enough to go to a full trial, and that the result was a conviction. That feeling of gratitude also comes back with his failure to win an appeal on the judge's decision.

So many others do not end up so lucky as to see their rapist go behind bars. Some go through the entire process only to receive a "not guilty" for their efforts. Some choose not to pursue the process after their initial report, for any number of valid reasons. Others still don't get the chance to report at all.

For all of the survivors of sexual assault, the #metoo movement is so incredibly important, and it needs to be kept alive. A spotlight needs to be kept on the issue, so maybe one day, we can stop adding members to such an extensive community of sorrow.

While I am a survivor, my life is now forever changed: there will forever be a "before" the rape and an "after," a definitive break where everything changed. I can claim that I got "lucky," in an absurd way, with how my situation turned out.

But really, I'd just wish that there wasn't any other situation for me to compare it to at all - and that some day, for everyone, rape will become part of a definitive "before" in the collective human timeline.

I'd like to believe that we could get there, with movements and collective action like what we've seen with #metoo leading the way.

With many of the landmark, media-intense cases ending, we just need to make sure that the movement doesn't lose momentum.

We need to create the new "after" together.

Sarah Welton
Sarah Welton
Read next: The State
Sarah Welton

Freelance writer. Passionate about art, music, photography, and personal growth and development.

Website: https://slwelton.github.io/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SarahTalksFast

See all posts by Sarah Welton