My name is Jennifer. When I was asked to speak here today, I wasn’t sure that I could muster up the courage to do it, but here I stand before you, ready to break the silence. Every 2-1/2 minutes, someone in America is sexually assaulted. Think of how many lives that affects? Not just the victims, but their families and friends as well. Patricia Weaver Francisco states, “If the occurrence of rape were audible, its decibel level equal to its frequency, it would overpower our days and nights, interrupt our meals, our bedtime stories, howl behind our love-making, an insistent jackhammer of distress. We would demand an end to it. And, if we failed to locate its source, we would condemn the whole structure. We would refuse to live under such conditions.”
I never thought that this would happen to me. I never thought I would be standing up speaking out against Sexual Violence. But here I stand before you today, telling my story. It was the first month of my freshman year of college. I was 18 years old, and he was 21. He was interested in me, and he was cute. What wasn’t to like? He was my boyfriend and I trusted him. We had been dating about a month when suddenly things turned sour. I never thought my life could come crashing down around me in just one night. But it did. He had been drinking heavily and he wanted to have sex, but I said “no”. I was a virgin at the time. I just wasn’t ready yet. He wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. He used force and violence to get what I wouldn’t willingly give. He held a knife to my throat and raped me repeatedly throughout the night. (He even went as far as putting the knife inside me, and throwing me into a wall.) You don’t do that to someone you love. You don’t do that to anyone! In my head, I clung to thoughts of the people in my life who I loved and anything I could think of to keep me sane. I thought he was going to kill me. There were times when I wanted him to kill me. Questions flowed through my head: “What did I do to deserve this?”, “Why me?”, “How can I get away?”, “What is he going to do next?” The next morning he drove me back to school as if nothing had happened.
I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do. I vowed to never tell anyone about what had happened. I hid the pain and the bruises hoping no one would ask, but part of me wishing that someone would notice something was desperately wrong. I buried my feelings and the pain for a year. The first anniversary of the rape came and went with sudden feelings of depression. The memories came flooding back. I felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath me. My world as I knew it shattered like a piece of glass. A month later I finally confided in a friend and cried for three hours. My secret was out. Now what? Help. I needed help in dealing with all the emotions. I put on the mask, pretending to be the “normal” Jen. I would be exhausted by the time night came and I was able to take the mask off. Eventually it became too much to handle. I needed outside help. I told two teachers who I felt could help me cope. I started therapy at school in January. I tried desperately to heal, but things just continued to get worse. I didn’t know how to control my feelings. I was upset, angry, hurt, anxious and sad. I had nightmares, couldn’t focus on my classes, and the things I enjoyed most were a now a burden. There was no end to the pain. I eventually told my mother about what had happened. It felt good to not be hiding it anymore. I wanted nothing but to be normal and happy again.
Summer came, and I was so afraid to be away from my newfound support system that I had gained through the struggle of the year. That’s when I found Vera House. I began counseling and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. The flashbacks lessened, the nightmares decreased, and now I am becoming a happier person again. I feel more like “me” than I have in a long time. I returned to school refreshed and ready to continue my battle. It’s like a nightmare that you can’t wake up from. I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and I am easily triggered by sights, smells and sounds. I want nothing but to get rid of the horrible images that float through my head daily. I can still feel the pain that he inflicted on me at times, which becomes a terrifying reminder of everything I went through. The physical wounds were just the beginning of my struggle. He left me with emotional scars that I am not sure will ever go away. I try to heal the inner wounds, but new ones are always opened in the process. Questions that can never be answered hang over my head. I still writhe with guilt that this was somehow my fault. I still question things that I did in order to be put in that situation.
I am so grateful for all the people who have helped me in my healing along the way. I wish there was a way to repay them for all they have done for me. I can’t change what happened to me, but I can help to educate others. Speaking to other survivors is empowering. Think of what we could do if we all spoke out. That is why I am here today. Today is the one-year anniversary of the day that I broke my silence. I have become a volunteer of the Sexual Assault and Victimization Prevention Task Force on my campus to help educate the other students about sexual violence. I want to make a difference in the world. My healing is far from over. I hold both strength and fear inside me and teeter between the two. The only thing I can hope for now is to continue on the path of healing. As Alice Sebold said, “I live in a world where the two truths coexist; where both hell and hope lie in the palm of my hand.” My name is Jennifer, and I am a survivor of rape. Thank you.