My goals for this post is NOT to rehash my story and continue to live as a victim. Rather, this post will be divided into 3 parts:
1. My experience of the legal system: this will ONLY include the legal process I went through THIS YEAR and speak to a "normal" process (NOT what happened in 2013, as that was anything but normal). Nor will it detail my actual sexual assault or what happened. This is to just shed light on the process itself.
2. What you need to know: This will speak to how I survived this hellish year and what helped me get through, and to give insight to anyone who is considering this process. And answering the biggest question -- is it worth it?
3. How YOU can help someone who's going through this process: my suggestions for someone who is supporting someone else -- whether it's a daughter, significant other, mentor or friend.
I've divided into these three sections so if one section speaks to you more than the other -- i.e., you don't want to hear me ramble about my own experiences :) -- you can skip around. I hope it speaks to you in some way.
So … where to begin?
My experience with the reporting Process
Like I said previously, most of the people who have found my blog know what happened in 2013 -- my assault, my horrific reporting process, and the inexcusable actions of the police, and the SVU fandom. My case had officially closed in 2013, and although that entire year was one probably the hardest and most horrific year of my entire life, I had accepted the closing of the case and had begun to move on.
When I started at NYU last fall, a part from an ongoing IAB investigation, I believed that this chapter in my life was officially closed, and there was no reason for me NOT to think that.
Through a series of (unfortunate) events, in January 2015 my life was completely turned upside when my NYPD experience was aired/written about/published across a multitude of NY news outlets. During that time, the wound that was healing was ripped completely open, with no control on my end, and my sense of calmness and composure -- an a lot of my healing -- was completely undone. I saw some of the worst of humanity that week -- if you're curious, google "NYPD rape victim" in the news section, pick a few articles, and read the comments.
I went back to NYU for spring semester, trying to hold myself together, but in reality was in a million tiny pieces. I completely crumbled.
Through a series of FORTUNATE events, I was led to an incredible social worker in February who helped me in the midst of media chaos and trying to keep my head afloat in school (hey, nursing school is HARD - really hard! Even without all this trauma!). I was dealing with such a flare up of triggers and trauma, my life was really turned upside for a period of a few weeks. she helped me sort through everything and make a list of priorities of things we were going to tackle in the time that I saw her.
One of those pressing matters was finding out what happened in 2013 when my case was closed, and why I never got any answers as to why they closed it, just so I could get that sense of closure I never had.
Again, through a series of synchronicities and "coincidences," I got a chance at something not many survivors get -- a second chance at justice.
The NYPD decided to reopen my case and pursue it from scratch.
The process itself
To sum it up, one of the commissioners hand picked a detective out of all 5 boroughs to re-examine my case (NOT related to Manhattan SVU -- yes all 5 boroughs have their own SVU teams!).
A few people close to me were almost angry when I decided to pursue this. "Why are you doing this to yourself again?"
My answer was simple: "Because I'm getting another chance at justice, which is something few survivors get."
The day was June 8th: D-day. Okay, maybe not D Day. But that was the day that the new detective and her Sgt. were going to meet me -- at NYU -- and go through the interview process. Again.
I knew this time around was going to be different. My social worker/advocate (call her CJ) changed her day around so that she could be with me the entire time. I was going to have her sitting on one side of me, and one of the public safety officers on the other side of me. A safety-net sandwich.
The thing is, there is never a right time to do this stuff. Any of it. The day I chose for the interview worked for my advocate's schedule, but I had an exam in school the next day. In my head, I knew that it could be no worse than the first time around in 2013, in terms of both the normal process and then the crappy stuff that happened.
Our meeting time was set for 2pm. I told CJ that the original interview had taken 3 hours; she was convinced that this one would take only about 2, so she had another appointment set for 4pm. I said ok.
Now, after a few years of meditating and practicing mind/body things, I was able to control my anxiety and nerves up until that Monday. I gave myself that Monday to feel the stress and anxiety, a normal part of the process.
I arrived at NYU public safety with CJ and we met in the public safety office. If you had taken my blood pressure, it probably would;ve been sky high -- the stress was FOR REAL. But, to be expected.
I had never met these detectives before, and, although they assured me they were in no way, shape or form connected to the Manhattan SVU, I did not trust the NYPD. One bit.
When they arrived, I was taken aback at the fact that the Sgt. -- an intimidating MAN -- was the one who did all the talking (not the female detective who had called me). As we walked into the interview room together, he said that my advocate and the public safety officer were not allowed in there.
Oh hell no.
CJ, who's shorter than me, packs a lot of feistiness in her tiny frame. There was no way in hell she was going to let me go through this interview alone. And, because it was NYU property, they had to have public safety there. The detectives were not happy, but they eventually gave in.
We went in and sat down, my "safety net sandwich" on either side of me.
Although my trauma history constantly reared its ugly head whenever I had to be in the presence of the NYPD, I had gained some confidence in myself. CJ had told me to be brutally honest with the detectives -- and that's exactly what I said as soon as I sat down:
"I do NOT trust you guys or anyone on the NYPD after what happened to me."
Exactly what I said, brutally honest. Because I absolutely didn't.
After I got that off my chest, we started.
Honestly, I have blocked the majority of the rest of the day out. Even sitting here, almost 6 months later, my stomach is churning when I think about that day.
I went into it thinking it couldn't be any worse than the interview in 2013.
I was dead. Freaking. Wrong.
The next 6 hours -- read: six hours -- were some of the hardest, most excruciatingly painful hours I have ever had to sit through.
The interview started out with the Sgt explaining they had everything from the first time around, but they wanted to approach everything from scratch. Not only that, but the first interview had taken 3 hours -- still a long time -- but Det. S had condensed into a single page. A single page. Which nowhere NEAR captured anything accurately (so I later found out).
They again wanted to go through the entire story -- from when I first met the guy through the night that it happened (which was a 2.5 year process).
OK, I thought, I'll just tell my story and that's it.
Every word that came out of my mouth was picked a part.
Every. Single. Word.
One sentence out of my mouth, and it was "wait, stop explain that in more detail." All from the male detective.
And the worst was that every time I said something, it was refuted "as if it were the defense attorney."
Every single word out of my mouth was met with a victim-blaming, "well maybe this is your fault" sentence. Every. Single. Thing.
I had a friendship with him? Oh, ok, so maybe he was confused and he thought I wanted it.
Maybe you didn't really say no.
Maybe you sent mixed signals to him.
Maybe another person in the same situation would've thought you wanted it.
You probably did want it.
"What do you mean your body responded? Explain that to me." -- that was probably the worst most humiliating part. (And it doesn't matter how many professionals tell me that the body is made to have a sexual response, and that happens in trauma -- it didn't matter to them, and they tore that to shreds."
And, one of my favorites: "If he had turned around and said that he loved you, would we even be here right now?" => insinuating I was just a jealous lover who got rejected. What the actual f*ck. I remember completely shutting down after that, dissociating, my strength and confidence shrinking.
Every part of my story was met with an attitude of how and why it could've been my fault, how I could've done things differently, how it was a weak case, how maybe another person in his position would've been confused as well …
I had not examined my story in a long time, and I had never felt ok with what happened and still found some way to blame myself. But after the first 2 hours of this interview, that self-blame, shame, and humiliation was brought to an entirely new level.
I could not once -- not once -- make eye contact with the detectives, but hung my head the entire time, wanting to just disappear.
At 4pm, we had to stop for a break because CJ had her appointment. We weren't even halfway through what happened to me.
I had a few tears in the room with CJ and the public safety officer before she had to go. CJ had to go, and there was no way in HELL i was going to hang out with the SVU guys.
So i left and took a walk for about an hour.
At 5, it was time to reconvene. And there was no way to prepare myself this time.
I walked in, feeling like I was about 2 inches tall. I couldn't tell you where we began, what I said, or what they said to me. I just remember being torn apart.
And then something I never ever prepared myself for -- they made me re-listen to the controlled phone call I did in October 2013.
That, by itself, was the most painful thing I did in this entire process.
The controlled call brought me right back to that moment in 2013, the moment that HE got back into my head, that I questioned the validity of my own experience, and the moment where the original investigation fell apart, as I knew that he had not given them anything. Not a single word to illustrate his guilt.
The current SVU detectives wanted me to re-listen to it and explain things that were said in the call. I sat through it as best as I could, answering their questions, but my soul shattered all over again, as I heard HIS voice, his slick, smooth way of manipulation and I was literally transported back to that day in October 2013, in the dark, cold room at the SVU precinct in Manhattan. It was 60min of mental torture and anguish, something I never thought I'd have to re-live again.
When it ended, the strength and togetherness I had been putting out crumbled. I said I needed a minute.
I ran outside straight into the bathroom, and crumbled.
CJ ran after me and I just slumped against the wall, crying that strong, ugly cry, as all those feelings i hadn't felt in almost 2 years boiled back up to the surface.
I have no idea what was exchanged or said when I was in there, but I knew I felt like I had been shattered. CJ must've said something to help piece me back together, because we eventually made our way back into the interview room.
If I felt like I was 2 inches tall last time, I felt about the size of a centimeter. I sat there and hung my head, unable to glance up, as the humiliation and shame permeated every fiber of my being. I just wanted to disappear, more than ever.
Finally -- 6 hours later, 8PM -- we were done.
Between the controlled call and the moment we left, and even getting home is a complete blur. i don't remember a single thing. I know CJ must've stayed with me for a few minutes. I know she stayed long past her 5pm work day and I know she wanted me to email her when I got home. But i remember nothing, completely dissociated from myself and the trauma they had made me re-live.
and, even better, I had my exam the next day.
I had no room to relax, recover, or process anything that went on. I was in school Monday through Thursday, working Friday and Saturday, and doing schoolwork all day on Sunday. There was literally no leeway. I took my test, and got a low score for me (an 88%), on hardly any sleep, crying half the time, but I refused to be treated differently because of what was going on.
The interview brought to the surface my trauma in a way I hadn't thought about it in a very long time.
I was somehow to keep pushing on with school, maintaing my grades, holding my head above water and shelving the pain of re-living that experience. Granted, it was the only way I could survive. I never talked about the interview again, except for a brief few minutes with CJ, because there was literally no time to deal with anything.
A few weeks later, I had something happen in one of my clinicals that brought all the trauma to the surface. This is the reality in going through this process -- that trauma sits right below your skin, no matter how hard you try to push it away. Granted, I am a happy person, I love my life and I loved my job at this time! But i was very easily triggered, because underneath the surface of my life that trauma was waiting at the surface, because I knew I had to drag it up at any moment the NYPD called me.
So with what happened at clinical, I was affected for about a day. Of course, when this incident happened, I had another exam the next day. I won't go into what happened, but the way my professor handled the situation was one of the worst victim-blaming mentalities I had ever experienced. Sitting in her office as I had to tell her what happened, I was transported right back to the NYPD interview, and all of those feelings came rushing back. Again, I held myself together. But as soon as I left the room, I shattered, again -- right in the middle of the hallway. Humiliation, yes. Luckily for me, on that particular day, another professor of mine saw me (I could not hide, literally -- so embarrassing). I guess it was a situation of "right place, right time" because at that moment I probably would've talked to a dog if they had expressed interest in listening to me. But this professor did, opened their office to me as a place to vent, and, from that day forward, has been, throughout this entire process, my "safe place" while dealing with this stressful process. and I am forever grateful for that.
Now, for the past few months, I've been dealing with aspects of the trauma that have popped up in some way, shape or form (there is more going on behind the scenes than written here, but more on that another time).
The last week of October, I was about to head back to Seattle for a workshop with Dr. Joe Dispenza -- a weekend filled with meditation and healing. I couldn't wait, as the year that I had warranted a weekend, perhaps more than any other time this year.
A few days before I was scheduled to leave, I got a phone call from the NYPD saying they wanted to talk to me.
Now, any time I even here mention of the NYPD, my anxiety skyrockets. It's the one aspect of the old PTSD that I still have to work on. I avoided calling her until I was in a safe space to do so (NOTE: will discuss this more later, but having any semblance of control in this process is mandatory for surviving it and I refused to cater to their needs).
I was gearing up for them saying they were ready to close my case. But instead, when I called, surrounded by love and support, I was shocked when she said that they were ready to move to the next step and they wanted me to speak with the DA. They were going to talk to the perp, but they wanted me to meet with the DA first.
I thought that this meant something positive and that it would perhaps continue past my meeting with the DA.
I couldn't meet with her before I left for my trip, so I was scheduled to meet the week after I got back.
The trip was one of the most healing experiences I've had the pleasure of participating in, and I came back so centered and level-headed, prepared for anything.
My professor and CJ were both unavailable the day I had to go to the DA, and I was terrified. But I knew they were there in spirit, and I knew that i had their love and support even if they couldn't be there with me in person. And thankfully, one of my kickass coworkers came with me, never leaving my side.
And this is where I seriously messed up.
Going into this meeting, I thought that I was untouchable. I was so zen, for lack of a better word, I thought that I could have anything thrown at me and it wouldn't shake my foundation I had built over the weekend. I was on such a life high from my workshop, I felt like nothing could drag me back down to the earth, even this trauma. Hell, I had even not done all my homework thinking that this meeting with the DA would be such a breeze that I could finish everything afterwards.
I could NOT have been more wrong.
I had not seen the detectives since our meeting in June. Similar to the initial meeting, I would not let myself feel anxious until a few hours before the meeting. Then I let it go -- or it came up without me having control over it, I can't decide which.
My coworker met me at Starbucks, and the detectives picked us up. I told them at that moment she was coming -- one thing I wasn't going to take was them telling me no, so I didn't even give them the option to tell me she couldn't come.
I got into the car and was immediately sent into full blown panic. Im not sure if it was being in a car with NYPD officers (the last time was 2013 and we all know how that went) or if it was the meeting coming up, or a combination of both, but my body took over. It was the worst anxiety I'd felt in a very, very long time, probably more so than the actual meeting with the NYPD. or, it felt worse, because of how zen I had been for the past week and a half.
As we pulled up to the courthouse, I thought i was going to throw up. My heart rate was probably around 180, no joke. It was enormously intimidating, getting out of the car, going through metal detectors and walking up to the Special Victims Bureau. Like, is this really happening? It felt like I was observing someone else's life. A bad, bad SVU episode. UGh.
There was no hope in centering myself at that point, my PTSD was so bad. I knew that no matter what happened I was going to be ok, but in that moment I had to accept the fact that I felt absolutely horrible. And that I was completely terrified of what was going to happen.
I still could not look the detectives in the eyes, as I remembered back to our June interview. The female detective tried to give me encouragement and said that she could tell I was stronger now than I was before. Whether she was being nice or noticed the change in me since my workshop, I'm not sure, but I tried to remind myself of everything that i had learned at this workshop this last weekend and how much healing I had done.
I tried to hold that as I was called back into the DA's office, but it probably lasted about 2 minutes before it completely disintegrated, yet again.
The DA started by saying that she had "known" me since 2013, when my case had originally been presented to her by the other detectives. OK, I thought, this won't be too bad because she already knows everything.
Well, yet again, I was wayyyyy wrong.
Instead, she wanted me to go over every detail of that night. Again. Every. Single. Detail.
Although the meeting with the NYPD in June had been longer and worst over all, what she picked apart of my story left me feeling as bad as i did in June. And she was held up on ONE detail of my story -- "my body responded."
As if having a sexual response during an assault is bad enough, she wanted me to explain in every detail what that meant. Like, play by play. And, it was as if that that meant my experience was less valid, and that it was less likely to be a crime.
And for the record, sexual arousal rape is a common finding. Read this article for a better understanding (and I'll probably have to go re-read that after finishing this).
But according to being able to prosecute sexual assault, the fact my body had a response in this situation made it less valid and less prosecutable.
She read the definition of what rape is under the law. She blatantly said I wasn't 2 out of the 3 definitions and that it would have to be rape 3 -- that I had said a verbal no and that a person in a reasonable mental state would understand my "no" as meaning no.
But, because I had this "response," apparently my no and my wanting him to stop made it less valid, and more "confusing" - -as in, maybe another person in his situation would have been confused about what I wanted. And that I had sent mixed signals (no, I'm not crying as I write this).
So, apparently me pushing his hands away and saying no and saying "I have to leave my clothes on" and "I can't have sex with you" are confusing terms. Okay.
After that, I completely shut down. Again.
But it got worse.
At that point, 1 hour in, she called the detectives in.
At the time she originally got my case presented to her in 2013, all they had was the controlled call. But, I had another piece of audio that was recorded that they had not known about. The detectives had that audio. She gave me the option to listen to it right there and have her ask me questions, or she'd listen to it on her own and she'd call me with questions. I chose to the former, to get all of it done in one setting. I couldn't handle another night of something like this.
It was another hour of pure hell, similar to the controlled call. 2 years later, he re-entered my head. 2 years later, I started questioning myself. Again. I did, however, notice the strength in my voice at the time of this recording and I tried my best to hold on to that. I was angry, and you could hear it. I knew my truth, and you could hear it. I held on to that as best I could.
But i completely checked out. It seemed like the Sgt was getting pissed at me, because all I could do was text my friend and my professor because I couldn't deal with what I was feeling. I had never, ever felt so completely dissociated before.
I stared straight down; I couldn't bear to look at anyone in the eye. I had actually texted a friend of mine, "I feel like I'm 2 in tall right now."
"No, you ARE NOT. You are a WARRIOR," she responded. But i sure didn't feel like it in that moment.
At the end, I had 3 people staring at me. The DA sat opposite me at the round table, and the detectives sat on either side of her, looking at me. She said what I feared:
"Looking at all of this, and the fact you said (insert comment about sexual arousal during assault) I think it's best we close the case."
Inside, I crumbled. On the outside, I maintained my poker face, refusing to show any emotion, although I didn't know how much longer I could hold it in. I was completely humiliated, her words about the arousal part -- the one aspect I could never fully come to terms with -- echoing in my head.
I stared straight down, glassy eyed as the DA muttered words to me about "not prosecutable" the defense would "tear you apart, even a bad defense attorney." Stop. Just stop.
The detectives spoke and said they wanted me to know they tried really hard. They gave me some details and insight into how the investigation had gone.
I just remained silent, looking at my hands.
"Do you have anything you want to say?" the detective asked me.
"Nope," I said immediately.
"How do you feel about everything?" she probed again.
"I'm not feeling anything," I said automatically. Lies.
"Are you sure?"
I refused to break down in front of them.
Somewhere in there, the female detective and the DA both said, "Just because a case isn't prosecutable, doesn't mean it didn't happen." Sorry, but those words did not help at that point. At all. You were sexually aroused...
Somehow in the mix, it was decided that we were done there, and the DA handed me her card. I was on autopilot. I don't remember what I said. I just stared, pushing everything down. And I fantastically had clinical the next day, so somehow had to deal with all of this and be able to function for 8 hours tomorrow.
Reminiscent of June 8, I walked out into the waiting room where my friend was waiting for me. I said to the detective, "I need to go to the bathroom." At this point, she knew what that meant so as I walked out she told my friend to go after me.
I walked in and completely lost it. Again, that hugely ugly cry, with all the feelings coming up again. Yet somehow, these feelings felt worse. Perhaps it was because i had been completely unprepared for the emotional toll this was going to take. Or perhaps it was because the DA had focused on the ONE part of my sexual assault I had never been able to forgive myself for. Whatever the reason, it came up. and it came up harder than I had ever thought it would, considering how Zen I had been the week leading up to this.
I have no idea how long we were in there. I pulled myself together the best I could, but mentally I was checked out. For anyone who has dissociated before, you will know what i mean when I say I "wasn't there." But I wasn't. I was completely somewhere else.
We walked back out into the waiting room. Thank god for my friend, or else I probably wouldn't have gotten back home, or I would've left all my stuff in the DA's office.
But that was it.
After I left, the detectives were going to talk to their chief, to see if they could still speak to HIM. Later I would find out that they wanted to do what the DA said -- do not speak to him.
almost exactly 2 years to the DAY -- off by a DAY -- my case had closed. Again. No justice at all.
Needless to say, that night completely threw me off my mojo for 2 weeks straight. I'm still recovering, today. And thank God for the incredible people in my life who helped get me through the day after this interview. Somehow, the day after the DA was worse than the day after the NYPD interview. I am eternally grateful for the people who helped me get through and sort through these messy feelings.
About a week later, the female detective called me again just to fill me in on more details, after I had composed myself. For the first time, I tried to listen to her and not let my distrust of the NYPD get the best of me. I heard her when she said, "We really tried." I told her I knew they did and thanked them for trying.
She ended with "If you ever need anything or anyone to talk to, you can call me. Don't lose my number."
And that was it.
That night after the DA, after we all walked out, at some point, still in a daze, I asked the female detective, "What's the point?"
She started to answer something, but I continued, "No. I mean what's the point of reporting? If this case was doomed from the start, what's even the point of going through this process?"
"Because you stood up for what was right. And you will know that you did everything you possibly could."
What you need to know about reporting:
The one thing that I kept being reminded by the people who understood this journey was this: At least you know the process was done right this time. This is true; compared to the first time around, this was done by the books, and there wasn't much else they could do.
After the meeting with the DA, I couldn't deal with my emotions for about a week straight. I kept thinking to myself, "what was the point in going through this?" The pain, the suffering, the anguish of what they had all put me through -- which amounted to NOTHING -- was pointless. At least, that's what I thought at that moment. And part of me still does.
As I have a little more distance, despite this being so difficult to write about, if you -- or anyone else -- is considering reporting your sexual assault to the police, here are some things I learned:
- It is very unlikely you will get justice. At least, justice in the legal sense, which is usually what we think about. This is the brutally honest truth. Unless you were raped and they beat you, you had a rape kit done immediately, you were attacked by the prototypical "rape" scenario (i.e. stranger in a dark alley), or you were abused as a child -- you will most likely not ever see a courtroom. And this sucks. The way our justice system is built is innocent until proven guilty. These crimes, a lot of the time, leave no physical marks -- only emotional ones. And sadly, the emotional ones are not enough to prosecute this crime. When a robbery occurs, something physical is taken from you -- that is easy to prove. With sexual assault, the most important aspect of yourself is stolen from you -- your dignity. But that is not something that is physical, and sadly the majority of people get away with it. Going into this process I did not have much hope - when we met with the DA my hope was regained, and I thought maybe something WOULD come of it. But I was let down. If you report, just know that this is a very, very likely scenario.
- It will be the hardest thing you ever do in your life. BUT: you survived the sexual assault, so you WILL survive this process. Nursing school is hard. Working at an animal shelter seeing kittens die is hard. Losing someone to suicide is hard. But nothing I have ever been through in my life has ever compared to what this process did to me (except for maybe my battle with chronic pain). I hate to use this as a reference, but a quote in SVU was once said: "You survived the abuse. You're going to survive the recovery." Honestly, this is true. If you survived your sexual assault an the aftermath -- you can survive anything. Anything. This process, the reporting process, will shred every bit of dignity, self-confidence, and faith in yourself than you ever had. It did for me, more than the assault itself. I felt almost as bad during this process as I did during the sexual assault itself and the immediate aftermath. Be prepared for that. But no matter what the police throw at you, no matter what anyone says you will get through it. Because you survived a crime already that destroys you, beats you into the ground, and tears your soul into a thousand tiny pieces, tearing away your dignity and throwing you into a bit of humiliation. But you survived that. So even though the feelings of the reporting process will bring up all of the same feelings during the assault -- and it may feel worse -- you will survive it.
- This process will affect every aspect of your life. In 2013, I let this process consume me. I couldn't function, I almost lost my job, and my health was a mess. I refused to let that happen this time around, and I did a good job. However, it did come up in some way, shape and form in my day to day life. And that was hard. I couldn't walk by NYPD without my heart jumping into my throat. When we talked about legal issues, malpractice suits and assault in one of my nursing classes, I had to leave the room for a few minutes. The emotions were always near the surface. But the key is finding the balance between feeling those emotions and triggers and not letting them consume you. That was my job this time around -- find that balance, which was absolutely necessary in school. I had no leeway to let my emotions get the best of me. I took a couple of exams on no sleep, from being up all night with nightmares. But i had to push on. It affected my personal relationships, as some of the people close to me didn't understand why i was going through this process again. But no matter how you feel through this process, know that, as U2 so eloquently puts it, "It's just a moment, this time will pass." It will affect every aspect of your life, but just tell yourself that it will not be forever. This process, instead of letting a wound heal, it continuously rips the scab off. That's just what happens during this process -- it's impossible to completely move on while you have sand being scraped into your wound. But just know that it will heal slowly, as even sandy wounds begin to heal with time.
- Have at least one person professional you can turn to. The most important people who helped me through this process all came into my life at different times. CJ came right at the beginning of this process and has stayed until the end. It is vital to have a therapist or an advocate with you throughout this process. I cannot even fathom what this would've been like if I had done this without the support of CJ throughout this past year; I don't think I could've done it, and her role was much more involved than the first time around. Not only that, she worked with NYU to help me in any way she could. This
- Have at least one person who "gets" it. Friendships with survivors can be tricky. In 2013, one of the most painful parts of the year was actually the betrayal of the group of survivor friends I loved and trusted. It closed me off to this community and I didn't trust other survivors for a very long time. This year, I was blessed with a few people who entered my life who shared that they were also survivors. And they were much farther ahead in the healing process. These two women, incredibly strong, inspiring women -- I could just give them a glance or a stare, and they would get it. They knew exactly what to say, when to say it, how to say it and it was always what I needed to hear (even if it wasn't always what I wanted to hear). I've met other women who are at the same point as me in the healing process, which is also vital because you can talk through things together. But having a few people in your life who are over that hump and that trauma is so so so important because they can give you that light at the end of the tunnel. The times that I walked in to their presence and just burst into tears and they held my hand, gave me a hug, or told me i was going to get through this meant the world to me during the times of crisis -- they just "get it."
- Find comfort and support in few, but confide in the ones you know you can trust. I have made this mistake far too many times -- confiding in people I thought were trustworthy, but ended up not being trustworthy. Or only being supportive for a very short amount of time when it was convenient, and not out of true caring. While in nursing school, I ran into this problem extensively. As one person put it: "The people who come into this program are very weird." Ha! But really -- everyone is so self-centered and focused on their studies -- which they should be -- there is not much leeway for anything else, especially being a friend to someone going through something so traumatic. I found friends I thought I could trust -- but it turns out they weren't the right people. At all. And that was extremely painful, especially because I was in an environment were I felt very alone (away from my boyfriend and my few friends at home that knew what was going on). But when someone is genuine -- and that can be hard to tell when that is -- and they want to listen to you, if they are "safe" in your eyes, trust them. You need someone to talk to, especially someone who can be separated from the trauma. For me, this came in the support of two very wonderful, kind, caring people who entered my life at two very different, but pivotal moments. One, who entered almost 6 months ago, had literally nothing in common with me, and honestly was the last person I ever thought I would ever feel comfortable confiding in. But it was a time where I was at one of my lowest points in this process. Shortly after, I found myself telling my entire story -- THREE hours -- to this person. It was the first time anyone not-professional just sat and listened. To everything. And throughout my conversations, I have grown tremendously, in ways I didn't think I would. I am truly, truly moved and beyond grateful, and have felt supported in a way I never thought I would in this environment, and that has been absolutely vital to my healing. These people are few and far between -- but when they come into your life, and you feel like you can trust them, do so. It takes a leap of faith -- after I verbalized my story, for about a week, I was completely terrified that I had said too much and that I scared this person off (my story is long and it's a lot to process). This was due to old trauma from trusting the wrong people. But when these people do stay around and they show you they are reliable and that they truly do care -- this allows you to heal even more and to begin to trust people again. And that is such a beautiful thing, and has been the greatest gift in this process for me.
- Have healthy coping mechanisms. Most of us who have gone through trauma develop unhealthy coping mechanisms at some point. This is part of the process. For me, I had outgrown most of those -- but at my worst times, I resorted to some unhealthy ones, again. Do not beat yourself up. I did, so much, and it made me feel horrible about myself. But what CJ and others have said -- they were used to help me survive. And it's not great. But it's ok. Because I'm still here. You're still here. But on that note -- it is necessary to have a bag of healthy coping mechanisms to draw from. For me, my meditation practice, yoga, my kittens, and being in nature are the things that have saved me the most. Talking with people who will listen, too. Listening to music, coloring, anything that gets you out of your head for a few minutes. But without my meditation practice, I would NOT be where I am today. One of my mentors once told me, "A lot of people, if they went through what you've gone through, probably wouldn't be here today." I've held that for a long time, and try to remind myself that. But it is because of my grounding work in meditation I have been able to stay in school while dealing with this trauma, and get good grades.
- Don't push your emotions down. I definitely learned this the hard way. Granted, I HAD to do that for the majority of my time at NYU because i literally had no time to process anything. There is a fine line between pushing your emotions down and living in victimhood -- but you must feel those emotions in order for them to move through your system and out of your body. If not, they get trapped in your body and manifest in other ways -- physical pain, illness, anxiety, PTSD. It is all emotion trapped in the body. Learning to feel the emotions in the present and deal with the feelings as soon as possible will ultimately help you heal in the long run. But having the necessary support around you is important too -- for me, I needed to make sure I was in a safe space to deal with a lot the things that came up. I didn't want to deal with any of this in my room at home, because that was just that -- my room to sleep, and do homework. I couldn't have any memories of trauma there. So for me, dealing with them in the appropriate place -- in CJ's office, my professor's office, at work with my kittens -- was what i needed. So finding what's right for you is important in dealing and working through the emotions that come up. If you don't work through them, they will come up -- and it will usually be when you don't expect it (which has happened to me too many times, usually in the form of a meltdown in the middle of class -- super embarrassing, yes).
- Be honest with your work, school etc, but not overly honest. One of my biggest challenges was deciding what to tell people during this process. Because it was affecting every aspect of my life, I had to admit myself that I needed to let someone at school know. This was in the form of CJ. I had to come to terms with the fact that that did not make me weak (still trying to tell myself that). But I also had to make the decision on whether or not I needed my professors to know, because I had know idea whether it was going to affect my schoolwork or not. and the last thing on this planet I wanted was to get bad grades because of this -- I refused. Second semester, when the height of the media fiasco was going on, I needed to be honest with some of my professors, especially because my PTSD was so bad and so unpredictable. How much you want to say is up to you, but I gave a very brief overview of the scenario. My third semester, when the case opened up again, I once again had to evaluate what to say. This is difficult and proved to be a bad choice for me this semester; I said too much to the wrong person and it was used against me. However, the majority of my experiences being honest has proved to be beneficial. At school this is again a fine line to walk -- for me, I wanted to be honest because I am a straight A student, and no matter what happened I was determined to keep that. So having some of them know a little bit of the background -- if something should happen and I have to miss an exam or something -- was necessary for me to feel comfortable with starting the semester. So walking that fine line of honesty and judging who you can tell something to was difficult to discern, but also important.
- Love yourself. By far the hardest part of this entire process, one that I am still completely 100% bad at, but working on every day. Love yourself through this process. Forgive yourself. You are not at fault for what happened to you. I don't even believe this for myself yet, but it's something I have to work on, constantly. My chiropractor has always said, "Love yourself enough to do this." This process is so horrible and heart wrenching; but remember that you're doing this for YOU. To give yourself a chance to get justice, even if it doesn't happen. For standing up for what's right and for not letting the perp win. And even though I'm not there yet, finishing the process can be worth it in itself. because, like the detective said, you stood up for what was right and did everything possible in your power to demonstrate that.
- Forgive. Forgiveness = letting go. Forgiveness isn't being ok with what happened -- but it's letting go of what happened so you can move on. The hatred and anger -- at the perp or yourself -- holds you back from living to your full potential. This is something I struggle with, constantly. But those negative emotions suck the energy from you and keep you stuck. Forgive yourself, even if it's just baby things, each and every day. Love yourself through this process, because you're amazing for even just deciding to go through it.
How to Support Someone Going through this Process
For anyone who has a survivor in their life that they want to support, or for someone who has a survivor come to them.
For anyone who has a survivor in their life that they want to support, or for someone who has a survivor come to them.
- Everyone copes differently. Trauma can bring out some of the strangest behaviors in people. Trauma also induces a multitude of coping mechanisms -- eating disorders, cutting, etc. Some people cope that way. They are not weak. It's just what they need to do to survive. Some cope by being public. There's a lovely lady on instagram named "AmberTheActivist" who has not only coped 100% publicly, but has created an activism and awareness campaign through the process. Some people don't want to talk about it at all. and that's okay too. Everyone deals differently. For me, writing and talking to a few select few has gotten me through. Writing like this is incredibly therapeutic; it's easier to be honest with an anonymous audience than one-on-one, for some reason. And those that I do talk to know it all. So for me, having those few people, writing, and speaking out (not hiding it) are what have helped me process this.
- Offer support. There is a good chance that this person -- like me -- is struggling silently. Fighting a silent battle that they think no one understands, in an unforgiving, unwelcoming environment (my life the past year). If you feel capable and able -- offer your support. Even if they don't take it, just knowing someone cares can make all the difference.
- Listen. Chances are, when you offer your support, genuine, unbiased support, it will be one of the first times the survivor has encountered that in this process (this was my experience). The first time in this process this year that that type of person offered their ear, a nonjudgmental, unbiased ear, i was terrified, but so grateful. Since then, this person has been there for me, without hesitation, listening to any and all aspects of my story throughout this process. Just out of kindness and caring. "The greatest gift you can give someone is your attention" -- my favorite quote from Dr. Joe Dispenza. Chances are, that if this survivor opens up to you, it took an enormous amount of courage, strength, and a leap of faith to do so. And they are probably terrified. So listen. Encourage them that you're not going there. Remind them that you don't judge them. Remind them that they're strong. And, if you do care -- always remind them that you care. Because that is the greatest gift of all in this process -- having some there, just because they care about you and your survival through this process.
- Do your best to now withdraw your support. These issues can be tough to handle. Know your limits when talking with survivors. I have had friends in the past that I've opened up to -- best friends -- who were not healthy themselves. Their mental instability -- from past trauma -- caused a crumbling and disintegration of friendship; these were women I considered my best friends. Know your own limits when talking with someone in this situation, but also do your best to truly be there for that person, if you said you would -- chances are, they are counting on you now, in some way shape or form. And it's a difficult journey, to share a story that is so humiliating, so shameful -- you leave a piece of yourself with that person. Something so personal, so difficult -- to share that with another person is an incredible journey in itself. So do your best to be there for that person, even if it is only in specific ways.
- Therapeutic touch. I sound like such a nurse writing this! But seriously -- touch can be so healing. But it depends on the survivor. Touch, especially hugs, increase oxytocin, which a natural stress-reducer. In fact, a 20s hug can release enough oxytocin to reduce the harmful effects of stress, and can even lower your blood pressure and heart rate. Boom! Give more hugs. It's always important to ask permission from the survivor if you can give a hug, or let the survivor ask for one, because some people do not like to be touched. I'm the opposite -- I love hugs! So if someone, like me, loves hugs -- use them. Comfort the survivor. A hug can be an enormously powerful comforting tool, releasing that oxytocin and calming that stress response. Give that 20-second hug if you feel ok, and if the survivor feels ok as well. Read them, ask them, but most importantly, comfort them -- and if physical touch is ok, use that, because it can be amazingly healing.
This process for me has been one that I will never ever forget. I have seen the worst of humanity in many parts of this process, the worst of the way society handles sexual assault cases -- but I have also seen some of the best of humanity. I've met some of the most incredible, kindest, most selfless people I have ever met. Some of the most inspiring sexual assault advocates, survivors, and non-survivor allies I have EVER come across. People who, just out of the kindness of their hearts, were there for me. Support came from the most unexpected places. And I'm going to hold on to that, because that's what matters most in these situations: finding the love and the positive throughout this process. Because there was a lot of horrible that went on. But there was a lot of beauty that came out of this situation -- mostly in the people that i met, came across, and who have forever changed my life for the better.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but facing your fears head on.
Thank you to everyone who's been with me through this journey. And to anyone who is on this journey, starting this journey, or was sexually assaulted and considering what you want to do: you will be OK. I promise. Even if it doesn't feel like it right now, even if you have some days were you feel ok and you can pull yourself together contrasted with days where you just want to curl up and die -- you will be ok. If I can survive it, you can too.
And together we can change society.