If you're still breathing, you're still fighting, and you will survive.
Seven weeks before I was assaulted, I was living in the comfort of my home, under my parents’ roof. I would have never assumed that I would be assaulted during my first semester of college, attending my dream school. Assault doesn’t happen to someone like me.
It was a first date; The first date that I would go on during my college career. He asked me to watch a movie in his apartment, followed by dinner. It felt safe. The date was in the afternoon, not in the middle of the night. He had an LDS mission call and would be leaving at the end of the semester to preach of God, good works, and charity for two years. He talked to me about how he had been preparing his entire life for the next two years. He told me about his family and how they all looked up to him. Any red flags were dismissed. Then he took me back to his room.
We get on his bed to watch a movie. He kisses me. I get the butterflies you get during a first kiss. But then he kisses me harder, faster and I begin to feel like I am suffocating. He begins to try and take off my clothes. When I tell him no, he becomes angry and more aggressive. He tickles me to get me to stop fighting and get me into vulnerable positions to make his attack easier. He tells me my bra is coming off, either I take it off or he will break it off. I’m terrified. I can still feel that fear in my bones. The attack continues as he ignores my verbal and nonverbal “no's”, one after the other. The lines I so carefully stayed within all of my life were crossed, without my permission.
Once he was satisfied and finished, he held me and asked if I enjoyed it. I had no words. That is when I knew something was not right. We never ate any food, so I knew the feeling in my stomach wasn’t hunger. I felt sick. I knew I had been violated.
At Brigham Young University, girls are not allowed into boy's bedrooms, and vice versa. He became worried about what his roommates would think if they saw me exiting his private bedroom. I was ashamed and afraid of getting in trouble with my university. He held me captive for hours, trying to figure out how to secretly get me out of his room. Finally, he had to leave for a night class, so he left me locked in his room to find my own way out. I was rescued and assisted out of his bedroom window by one of my friends.
Once out of the window, I ran with my friend to her apartment. I sat down on her kitchen floor and tore off my shirt. I didn’t want to smell him anymore. I examined my body. I saw the nonconsensual, dark hickeys and bruises he had left all over my body, his words echoed in my head: "I need to leave my mark". I started to think about what just happened to me. I became so worried about his life and how he would be affected if I told anyone about the attack. I thought about how his LDS mission would be in jeopardy, as well as his enrollment at BYU. What I didn’t think about was that he has just caused me PTSD. That he has permanently affected my life and my story. That his actions will affect me past the next few years at college. That I will now shudder every time someone tries to tickle me. That I will flashback to that night every time I go on a first date. That he has taken away a part of me that I was saving for someone who isn’t him. I blamed myself, and I didn’t know why.
The next morning, after much persuasion, I told my parents. And then I told the police. I understand why most don’t. It was intimidating to be alone with a male police officer less than 24 hours after I had been assaulted. The police took pictures of my body. Telling my parents was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Between sobs, I told them of how a boy violated me. I felt them become angry, but not at me. I felt their hearts break. My parents were angels to me. I do not know if I could have gotten through it all without them. My mom drove the 12-hour drive to my university through the night in order to reach me as soon as she could. She rented an apartment and I lived with her for two weeks. My dad reminded me that men can be gentle and caring. He would answer my calls at all hours to talk with me during a panic attack and help me feel safe. They were both so heavily involved in the entire process, I never felt alone. I was beyond thankful that I had other people to stand by my side as I made my decisions ever so carefully regarding the situation.
I felt like a stranger in my own body. I remember the first shower I took after the assault. I looked down at my bruised and banged up body and began to cry. For weeks I had to take photos of my body to track how the bruises aged to determine how hard he bit and hit me, how hard he forced my arms and legs down to keep me from fighting back. I felt like a walking, living, breathing piece evidence. The night terrors caused me fear I had never experienced before. The panic attacks would keep me up all night. My body was reacting to the assault, and I once again felt out of control. I became afraid of sleeping. Laying in the same bed as my mother like a little child was the only way I could coax myself to sleep.
School became harder than ever, as my thoughts were consumed with the assault. Shutting myself in my room and forcing myself to do schoolwork was my only form of escape from the hell I was living in. Assignments took double the amount of time because images of the assault continued to haunt my memory. I became fearful of walking around alone, even in broad daylight. Afraid to bump into him. Afraid of being attacked once again. The once confident, independent person I was had disappeared. I felt so incredibly weak.
I didn’t fully understand what had happened to me until I went through the Title IX process. The case took the full 60 days, and then some. It felt like I was living on pins and needles. I knew he was still living his life unfazed, while I had to force myself to leave my dorm room, fearful of the outside world. It wasn’t until I finally received the notification that he would be permanently expelled from the university that it all felt worth it. It proved to me how serious my assault was and how serious my university took sexual violence. I felt proud knowing no other female on this campus would be victimized by him. Going through the Title IX case was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, but I wish more people would do it to help protect others.
Going to therapy helped me realize that I could get back to the person I once was, only a stronger, more refined version. One day, I would be able to walk across my campus alone without scanning the crowd for his face. I would be able to go to social events without having a panic attack over the possibility of bumping into him. I would be able to get in bed and fall asleep without the fear of a night terror. I would be able to undress without flashbacks and feelings of disgust. I would be able to go on first dates and not be violated. I would be able to have a man touch me lovingly without fear striking me frozen. I would be okay. Just not today.
It has been almost a year and a half since the assault, and I am so proud of the person I have become. One of my favorite quotes is by Brené Brown, which says "Own the story, heal from the story." I feel like I have done that. I finally am enjoying college. Sometimes when I'm out with my friends, I tear up. I appreciate the memories we make so much more because I can fully enjoy them. I am no longer consumed in the assault. I am surrounded by the most amazing people who love and support me. I love my life and the path I am on. I would never wish this situation upon anyone, but I have found many silver linings. Continue to do what you need to heal. Take the time for yourself. Go to therapy. Tell your loved ones, whether they are friends or family. Continue to fight. Be strong for yourself and others.
If you’re still breathing, you’re still fighting, and you will survive.