How My Rape Shaped Me into the Person I Am Today
Right after my 18th birthday, a man raped me. I was abroad in my gap year after high school and suddenly my whole life changed. It was a regular night out, and I remember texting one of my girlfriends at home that I met a nice guy. That was a few hours before he turned into my biggest nightmare. I had to quit my job and book an early flight home. It’s taken me to this day to recover.
It’s been a hard battle with myself, and it feels like I’ve had more downs than ups. I never reported the rape, and I know that a lot of people judge me for that. In that moment I just felt incredibly ashamed. My worst fear (even bigger than the fear of seeing him again), was the fear that anyone could find out what happened. I felt like my worth was inevitably lost.
When I finally reached out for help, a lot of people challenged me in unhealthy ways. Doctors (and even therapists) were insensitive and too straightforward. People told me I was at fault for all kinds of reasons: because I have a weak character and he recognized that; because I am not doing anything to stop rapes from happening since I didn’t report; or, because I should have recognized his macho behavior earlier. I always stayed quiet. I wasn’t strong enough to fight these allegations because they attacked me to my core. And somehow, I believed them myself.
I did excessive research on rape. I had a desperate need to regain control of the situation by finding out why it happened to me. And even though I didn’t find what I was looking for (there simply is no fault in what I did), I learned that my coping mechanisms were normal. I would not be going insane and I am not alone.When counselling and medication got me back to a normal life, I started to focus my time and energy on making people aware of rape, gender issues and the misinformation out there. I’ve written papers on it in university and I volunteered as a trial monitor in sexual assault cases. But even though I told everyone about how much we need feminism, I didn’t share my own experience.
Even after I knew all about how the stigma of being raped silences women from speaking up, I still felt the need to hide it. But I don’t want to be silent anymore. And this is why I am sharing my story now. It has been a little over two years; if I look back, I realize how far I have come. I still have flashbacks and nightmares, and a guy taking me to his bedroom can give me intense anxiety. But I learned to be patient with myself. I am stronger now. I listen to my body and my needs instead of forcing myself into triggering situations. I don’t desperately want to be “normal” again.
I feel like I am regaining the power over my body little by little. The poet Rupi Kaur puts it well by saying, “The rape will tear you in half, but it will not end you.” I worked hard to overcome this trauma, and I achieved all of this myself. I’ve started to speak up against injustice and I don’t let anyone tell me that gender inequality is no longer an issue.
Feminism has become my passion, and I want to dedicate my life to helping women and girls empower themselves from the injustice they face–if by rape or any other means of oppression. Recognizing the good things I got out of this helps me to accept who I am today and allows me to heal. It gives me hope to find light, even in my darkest experience. I am finally proud to tell you: I am a survivor of rape.
By Esmeralda, 20