Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
You can be the most thorough and thoughtful person, and still not be able to predict what you’re in for if you decide to report a sexual assault. You can make a thousands of pro and con lists, you can think about every single possible outcome imaginable, you can reach out to hundreds of people, you can compile a list of questions for every person along the way, you can talk to professionals, you can make up your mind — and you will never be prepared for what is to come. Inevitably, there will be ripples you didn’t consider. There will be bumps you hadn’t anticipated.
Sometimes, there will be so much support that carries you through. Other times, there will be words that hurt you and stick with you from people you hoped would stand with you, whether or not their intentions are good. You may spend time waiting and feeling in the dark, an out of control feeling that may remind you of this time when you were robbed of your agency. You will be surprised by the people who show up and are there for you, but you will surely be surprised, too, by the people who are incapable. You will have to make decisions, sometimes too fast, and you sometimes might cross bridges, you didn’t know you crossed until you crossed. You might get the outcome you want. You also might not get what you want. You might not know what you want. What you want might change. If nothing else, the best piece of advice I can give if you are thinking of reporting is you have to be prepared to give up control and go with the flow.
I am a creature of habit and over-analysis. I am not someone who does well with change. This experience was very trying on my neuroses. I cannot imagine having to endure any more of it. Now when I think about the amount of time there would be left if they said it would move forward, the amount of waiting, the amount of uncertainty, the fears of when it would end — it would be too much for me to handle. In that sense, there is an undeniable sense of relief for me that it has ended prematurely.
In some ways, I can’t imagine life if it had kept going, how many days I would spend jumping every time my phone buzzes, how much time I would have to take off work, how much guilt I might have felt despite punishment being so warranted, how much pain it could have brought to my friends, family and parties just slightly involved. I had heard that reporting can be re-traumatizing, but I attributed that to the rape kit and people who don’t often think or talk about what happened to them, two things that don’t apply to me. But it was traumatizing. Some days were unendurable, and I was so alone because people don’t know what I’m going through and they don’t know what to say. Despite my remarkable support system, it was a dreadful thing to go through, and not just for me. I know it wasn’t easy for the people who have stood by, watched me struggle, held me when I cried.
And yet, when I think of all of that, I wonder how I did go through it. Did I really make that trek three times, waking up and rushing out at 6 a.m.? Did I really miss work? Did I tell strangers that story so many times? Did I stand up for myself after so long of being minimized? I can’t believe I made it that far, but I was doing what I had felt I had to.
There weren’t moments where I thought, should I do this? Am I capable of doing this? I was floating through what I considered a painful and necessary process. And if that process weren’t over, I would still be doing that now, and by the grace of God, I would have made it through — and it would have been terrible and wonderful.
Ultimately, I believe in reporting. I believe the process is what it unfortunately needs to be. I believe it is empowering and helpful and impactful to take that step even if it goes nowhere. For all the trauma it may bring, I believe it is also liberating. I know I did everything in my power to get justice, and to me, that counts for something. I took ownership of my story and I did so knowing there was so much working against me. Some might consider it a failure that it was not prosecuted, but I feel successful. I have done my part, and now I have no choice but to rest. It is over. It is never going anywhere. This is where the story ends. Now I know. Of course I still have things to work on, I have more healing to do, and I’m left with some wounds from this process and the realizations I have had during it that I need to now care for. Of course there would have been more closure if it had gone all the way. But where I stand right now, despite the pain that has been brought on by this process, in my mind I’m saying, “I did it,” and I can breathe.
If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
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Unsplash photo via Sergey Zolkin