What it feels like to be sexually assaulted


What it feels like to be sexually assaulted, as told by an anonymous sexual assault survivor. 

This summer, my life changed. I don’t mean an existential, “Eat Pray Love,” “Walden” kind of change. My life wasn’t propelled forward. I didn’t experience some kind of emotional breakthrough. My life changed because I was raped, and I will never be the same.

Explaining how it feels to be a rape victim is impossible without explaining my new perception of touch.

Holding hands with my boyfriend, hugging my best friend or the exchange of a professional handshake used to be sources of joy for me. The warmth and closeness of another person are supposed to make you feel safe, but now, my skin starts to crawl.

I’m not afraid of people. Even after what happened, I still believe people are naturally good, but when I feel someone’s skin without warning or anticipation, my rapist’s body seems to crash back over me like a tidal wave, and I can never tread water long enough to breathe. My brain closes in, and all I can remember is the bruises and bite marks, the disgusting things he said and how I couldn’t protect myself.

There’s nothing more intimate than sharing personal space, and my right to that intimacy was stolen. Sexual assault is so much more than a nonconsensual physical act. Like my reaction to being touched, sexual assault is the nonconsensual loss of the ability to function; the nonconsensual deep-rooted fear that I can’t help feeling I deserve.

Forgoing the right to your own body is hell. In the weeks following my rape, I came to objectify myself more blatantly than even the most grotesque misogynist. In many ways, I still do this. In my mind, my body isn’t my own; it belongs to whoever is stronger than me. Any agency I had was lost in being raped, and it’s a fight every day to reclaim my identity.

Do you know what it feels like to be raped? It feels like my entire soul has been gutted, like I’ve been scalped, skinned and completely degloved. I can see my body, but I know it’s not mine. I didn’t want to tell anyone, but now that I have, I am exposed. I walk down the street, and I feel crucified, as if everyone knows what was inside me.

I will never be the same. I know this, and I’m trying to accept it. Every move I’ve made since my rape has been a step in my healing process. Sometimes the steps are large, but most are infuriatingly small or even a step backward. But I am going to keep taking them because if I don’t, he wins. If I don’t, every rapist, everyone who has ever been a sexual assailant, wins.

I know this isn’t your problem. I know my rape isn’t going to change your life, and that’s OK. But the understanding we need to come to is this: Sexual assault cannot be pushed under the rug. As the new generation, the next generation, we need to do better than our predecessors. We need to rebel against complacency in a culture that normalizes sexual harassment. We need to help each other, and ourselves, by making this a continuous conversation. We need to make a difference, and we need to start here.