It’s not your fault. Ever.

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Content note:  discussion of violent sexual assault and victim-blaming.

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A student was violently sexually assaulted by an acquaintance this weekend at NIU (LINK to article).  The student was working on a final project for school when the attacker stopped by, physically attacked and sexually assaulted her, finally dropping her off at the local hospital.

To their credit, the university police connected the victim immediately with services from Safe Passage and took immediate steps to ban the attacker both from campus and online courses.  We are so grateful for their thoughtful, victim-centered statement and actions following the attack.

The survivor was back at school on Monday, finishing her art project.  Some online took this as an opportunity to question her credibility, wondering how someone could go through a traumatic and violent experience and return immediately to work.

If there is one lesson we should learn from survivors and from the outpouring of survivor stories in the #MeToo movement, it is that each person’s experience is different.  One survivor may need weeks, months, even years to be able to return to “normal life”.  Some may experience triggers and trauma for the rest of their lives.  Some may be ready to pick up where they left off the next day.  One survivor may break down in tears, one may experience anxiety.  Another may laugh, brush off the attack, or be in a hurry to return to life as usual.  No one response is the “right” response.  No response makes a survivor’s story any less credible.

If you’ve been assaulted, know that you are allowed to respond however feels right to you.  You are the expert on yourself.  You are the architect of your healing journey.  No one response is more or less valid and no response means you are more or less a survivor.  You are equally entitled to belief, support, and help no matter how you respond to trauma.

Survivors should not have to prove that they “deserve” our support.  If you’ve never been a victim of sexual violence, we would invite you into journey of learning how important it is to support survivors.  Victim-blaming is a second form of trauma that survivors often have to face but when you start by believing, you tell survivors that they are not alone.

At Safe Passage, we have a commitment to Start By Believing.  This means if you tell us you’ve been a victim of violence, we will always believe you, support you, and help you in whatever ways you need.  We are available 24/7 at 815.756.5228.  You are not alone.

 

Survivor 1

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4 years ago today, I was roofied by a bartender [at a bar]. I don’t think I’ve spoken publicly about it since regaining full consciousness a few days later, when I posted a Facebook status alerting my friends to be cautious in our relatively safe town.

I think a reason that I’ve been mum about it for years is because of the way I was treated and perceived in the aftermath: when I finally made it to the hospital the next morning, the doctor asked me 3 different times if I was SURE I didn’t just have “too much to drink”, told me he didn’t need to inspect the wound on my head because it “wasn’t anything serious”(it was), finally tested my blood and urine multiple hours later, and told me that he was “surprised” when my results came back positive. While talking with an old co-worker and friend from a Bible camp, he told me I should remove my Facebook status because it would give me a “bad image” to the campers I’d worked with. When I was finally talked into filing a police report, the officer asked if I really wanted to “waste my time”, and that he would try to “make time to look into it” and “get back to me” (I never heard from him again)

I can remember verbatim what was said to me, because each interaction left me feeling ashamed, burdensome, and like what happened was my fault. At the age of 23, I went out with my friends on the weekend and had one drink that I kept with me the entire time, but somehow this reflected poorly on me. A friend literally saved my life that night. A day later, I began slurring my speech and not being able to focus my eyesight. I learned that I had bruised my occipital lobes, damaged parts of my brain that control speech and memory, had gravel imbedded into my skull, and suffered a severe concussion. I was in speech therapy for over 6 months, went to OT everyday to correct my vision, and didn’t gain back my short term memory for over a year.

But the time to keep mum is not now. Our world is so broken that even “safe” places aren’t immune: a church, a school, a marathon, walking down the street in broad daylight, a movie theater, a friend’s apartment, a regular weekend at a regular gathering place to enjoy a gin and tonic with friends. Importantly, be SAFE. Be aware of your surroundings, where your drink is, drink responsibly, and ALWAYS have at least one friend with you who can pinpoint if something is not right, and get you help. But maybe even more importantly: DO NOT FEEL SHAME. Don’t feel guilt. Advocate; for yourself, and for others. Take action when needed, and don’t be afraid to seek help. And do not believe anyone who looks at you negatively because of the disgusting actions of someone else. You have had your privacy invaded, and you have been assaulted. Your trust has been broken and it’ll take a long time for you to not live in fear and be cautious of everyone. But you are not at fault, and you deserve access to the best, quickest treatment without any form of judgement. If you’d like to talk about this specific topic or assault in general, or need a safe space to process, please don’t be afraid to reach out, and I am always here. No woman or man should have to journey through that alone. Take care of yourselves, and take care of each other.

A message from Safe Passage:  We are so grateful to each survivor who shares their stories and reminds us all that we are not alone, that we don’t need to be ashamed, and that we have the power to build a better and safer world each day.  If you have been the victim of domestic and sexual violence, help is available 24/7 at 815.756.5228.