Written: June, 2010
It was 4:30 in the morning when I arrived at the hospital and met the 23-year-old woman who had been drugged and raped at a local bar. This young woman’s trauma doesn’t begin here. She was also molested as a child by an uncle, abused by her ex-husband, and now in a hospital room asking me the hardest question I’ve been asked.
She asked, “Does it ever go away? The sadness, shame, embarrassment, and disgust- will it ever go away?”
This is just one of my experiences as an on-call sexual assault advocate who visits victims at area hospitals, day and night. This is the toughest job I’ve ever had, but one that keeps me grounded and connected to the reasons why I do this work.
Her question left me momentarily speechless. She asked the question I imagine every survivor asks in silence, but no one ever asks out loud. This woman represents the one in six women who will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. In the moment, she became the face and voice of every single survivor I ever visited.
“Will this feeling ever go away?”
My knee-jerk response was to hold her and tell her it would be okay. The pain in her eyes spoke louder than words and the true impact of sexual assault couldn’t be more real.
Instead, I responded as a trained advocate should respond. I calmly explained, “It’s a process – a process that we, the Houston Area Women’s Center, can help you with. I cannot tell you if this feeling will ever go away, but we can help you cope.”
As advocates, we have to find ways to somehow make sense of all the emotions survivors may be feeling after being assaulted. Sadness, shame, guilt, embarrassment, and disgust are all feelings a victim may experience following an assault.
Each sexual assault hospital accompaniment call I take is different, but each survivor faces similar obstacles. The emotion the young woman expressed that night may be the same as the male who was abducted from a bus stop and raped by three males. He did not want to speak, but he did listen to what I had to say. He is 1 of 33 males who will be assaulted in their lifetime. He is also one of the few males who will come forward and report the assault.
I also remember the teenager who sneaked out to a neighbor’s party where she was drugged and raped. When I arrived, her mom commented, “if she hadn’t sneaked out without permission, this wouldn’t have happened.” While these words may be full of emotion and valid anger, they are not helpful or acceptable in this situation. The young woman’s decision to break curfew to attend a party did not mean her rape was an acceptable consequence. Rape victims are often blamed and held responsible for the perpetrator’s behaviors, choices and actions. It is important to never blame the victim, listen without judgment and always hold the perpetrator accountable.
There is also the date-rape story of a 50 year-old woman who had not been on date in 10 years. She believed it was her fault the assault happened. Many victims feel guilty and think their actions caused the rape. The victim may think she/he somehow provoked the action. Again, the only person at fault is the perpetrator.
These are real stories of real people — women, men, adolescents and children. Sexual assault does not discriminate, and it can happen to anyone. I’m not exempt, this can also happen to me.
The 23 year-old woman who spoke up and challenged me with this unsettling question may never know how much she touched my life. I can only hope the sadness, shame and guilt that she feels will one day be replaced by the smiles and happy moments I know she deserves. And I do know that counseling services from the Houston Area Women’s Center can help her along that journey