Surviving

By Lilly M.

I want to see a positive change in the horrific rape culture on national college campuses today.  Consent has to be taught, since teaching rape prevention does notwork.  Parents and teachers must teach kids what consent is; how to read one’s body language; and how to stop whatever it is they are doing when the other person is clearly uncomfortable.  Young people must be educated on what constitutes as rape and how damaging it is to a person.

surviving 02One can easily argue that being sexually assaulted is worse than getting murdered, because the aftermath is just so horrific.  If a student tells the counseling center or the health center that they were assaulted, it should be noted in the public crime statistics, even without an investigation.  One of the main reasons why rapes and sexual assaults are underreported is, because people do not want to be blamed for something that they had no control over.  Universities must recognize that rape and assaults will happen.  Rape does not happen as a result of drinking or doing drugs by their students.  It happens as the direct result of a rapist deciding to rape.  Universities, just like the general public, must learn to hold the rapist accountable for his or her actions, and not the actions of the survivor.

I am one of these survivors.  Unlike the high statistic of knowing one’s rapist, I barely knew any of mine.  Three out of my four rapists were just strangers to me.

My first rape occurred on Friday, November 12, 2010, during my first year at Susquehanna University.  Despite being sick for a week, I went to a party and danced and drank as I had done at any other party.  Except this time, I unknowingly danced with my first rapist.  I told this guy countless times that night that I was a virgin and was not ready to have sex, which he appeared to understand.  So, when he suggested that we go upstairs to the part of the house that his family was renting, I figured it would be ok to go.  Especially because there would be more young people upstairs; or so I thought.  Behind the closed doors of his room, we fooled around for a little bit, but when he suddenly “entered” me, my entire body went into shock.  I didn’t physically see it happen or coming.  I was in a lot of pain, not moving, and unable to speak.  My eyes were fixated on the ceiling.  He might as well have been raping a corpse.  When it was over, I just pulled my pants back on and ran back to the dorms.  I immediately started texting my closest friends what had happened.  But, I couldn’t use the word “rape.”  Not yet.  So I was saying that I had sex, even though I did not want it and was drunk at the time, simply because it was too scary to even think about it as “rape.”  My rapist continued to text me for months after the incident.  The fact that he thought it was okay to still talk to me showed that he didn’t understand that what he did to me was rape.  He didn’t seem to know that when a girl says no multiple times throughout the night, and suddenly becomes a corpse with a pulse while he was raping her that it is, in fact, rape.

My second rapist managed to stick his fingers inside my vagina (and who knows who else’s) on the dance floor during a Greek life party, despite my trying to get his overly touchy hands away from me.  I did not even think of this as rape until years later; at the time, it was just a guy being gross at a party.  What he did constitutes as rape, because he entered me without my consent.  Yet, he somehow thought that was okay.

I met my third rapist in the last week of school during my freshman year.  My “buddy” had ditched and left me with another male student, who I had only just met, on a walk back to the dorms.  There, we were planning to hang out before going to another college party.  So there I was, alone in this stranger’s room.  I did not know that my “buddy” would not be returning at all that night.  While we were waiting, this other male student raped me for two whole hours, even though I continually said that I was too drunk to be doing this, I was tired, that it hurt, that I felt sick.  He didn’t seem to care.  He was extremely rough with me.  When it was all over, I just put on my shoes, found my ID case, and ran back to my dorm, leaving my underwear and cardigan behind.  I had to ice my vagina for three days after that.  And, I did not even know that it was rape until months later, when a friend on Pandys.org told me that it was rape.  It all made sense after that.  Up until that moment, I thought that it was just “bad sex” because I had never said the actual words “no” or “stop.”

surviving 01I met my fourth and last rapist, my “Valentine’s Day rapist,” at Pace University, which I had transferred to last year for a change of environment.  I was hanging out in the dorm rooms with my best friend and seven new acquaintances.  The guys just kept offering free drinks, so we all got very drunk.  At one point in the night, my friends left the room, leaving me alone inside.  My Valentine’s Day rapist, however, came back earlier.  While he was raping me, I was flashing back to a past rape and blacking out.  I felt numb and in shock the next day.  I did not leave my bed, and my best friend had to bring me food.  I had always told myself that if I were to get raped again, I’d just kill myself.  So, a few days after the rape, I did overdose.  I knew that I didn’t take a lethal dosage, but I didn’t care if something went wrong.  In the end, I did wake up, as if nothing had happened.

Immediately after my last rape, I went to the health center to get tested for STIs.  I had a persistent sore throat since the assault, which I feared was some illness that the rapist had given me.  Instead, it turned out to be a common cold.  What I wasn’t prepared for was what followed at the health center.  When I told Susquehanna University’s health center about what had happened to me, I was lucky that Susquehanna kept it private and did not make me report the incident.  At Pace University, however, I was trapped in the exam room for two hours, with the health center practitioners forcing me to report the rape to security.  Before long, my initial report escalated to becoming an in-school investigation.  The madness lasted five weeks.  I cried hysterically and almost uncontrollably for those five weeks.  I had nightmares and panic attacks.  The Title IX investigators at the school rarely answered my emails and never met with me in person.  They never told me who they questioned from that night, how they were questioned, and lastly, how my rapist was found not-guilty.  What Pace did to me was illegal and traumatizing.  It felt like my whole world was flipped upside down and that I no longer had control of my life.  Pace tried to blame me for what happened, simply because I was drunk.  Now, I have successfully reported Pace University to the Department of Education, and the whole case is currently under investigation.  I consider this to be one of my finest accomplishments.

I am now at a new college, trying to rebuild my life.  Since my first rape, I have had frequent panic attacks and nightmares in my sleep and have been diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety, on top of my existing depression.  But, I have managed to survive, with the support of several outlets.  I created a blog on Tumblr called Survivor Support, in order to reach out to other survivors of abuse and rape.  Two and a half years later, I am still blogging.  I help people from all over the world.  I give them advice, talk them out of suicide, and talk to them about my experiences. Recently, I helped get a girl out of an abusive relationship. I realized that hearing other people’s stories was helpful.  I knew I was not alone in my suffering.  That’s what my blog does for others.  People can submit their stories, poems, or just pieces they’ve written about their traumas.

I have also been able to express myself through art.  My final photography project* at Pace involved all of the self-portraits I’ve taken through out the years dealing with my rapes.  The very first photograph was taken just days after my very first rape in 2010.  Art helps me process and express my thoughts and feelings in ways that speaking verbally with a therapist or a friend cannot do.

Lastly, I have adopted an emotional support dog.  Emotional support animals are just as important as seeing eye dogs, seizure sensing dogs and bomb sniffing dogs. Emotional support animals, whatever they might be, help save and improve peoples’ lives.  If I did not adopt my dog and have her live with me in the dorms at Pace, I honestly do not know how I would have survived.

*The photos shown with this article were taken by me.  The second photo says the following:

That night, my body became a crimescene
In fact, my body was no longer even mine
My body was a plaything for another human
To him, my thoughts, my life, did not matter
I was tampered with and damaged
Years go by, and the crime scene still has CAUTION tape up
I may age
My clothes may change
But I am still a living crime scene

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