Steubenville and Life After Sexual Trauma: An Experiment in Dating | By Anonymous

One big piece is missing from the masses of commentary that have accompanied the Steubenville trials: the acknowledgment of the lasting hurt caused to the survivor, and the long road of recovery that she faces. This is one experience of life after sexual assault.

It took me a long time to get to the point where I could date at all – two years of therapy, a small mountain of medication, and a lot of long sleepless nights. When you’re living A.A. (After Assault) a lot of the ‘normal’ things for twenty-somethings become very hard.

At 18, I was diagnosed with PTSD, stemming from three unfortunate situations, that, luckily, did not end in me being raped. When I started therapy, no one was allowed to touch me. Nobody knew, so we would joke about it, and everyone thought it was hilarious the lengths to which I would go to avoid a hug. At work it was the worst, because I dealt with children. They would latch onto my knees or waist when I wasn’t ready, and, after one too many panic attacks on the clock, I left the job.

After the first year, my psychologist and I devised strategies for weaning me back into touching people. I started hugging again. And, unfortunately, could only manage touching people if I could sneak off and hand sanitize after. I was a regular Howard Huges: red, raw skinned. I would hug people and then sneak off to wash my hands. In talking to other people who have been sexually traumatized, one feeling emerges as common: the dirty feeling. I can’t explain the dirty feeling except to say that it is like you will never be a good, clean, whole person ever again. I can’t explain what it feels like to feel less than a whole person.

When I found a totally-non-threatening guy who I was friends with, I tried cuddling. It sounds dumb to write casual on-the-couch cuddling as though it’s a big step, but for me, it was. It is, I should say. I explained with minimum details the PTSD diagnosis and went over ground rules (there are certain things you can’t say to me, and certain places you can’t touch me). Luckily, he was a very nice boy who was very understanding when I started bawling. Flashbacks are another remnant of trauma. One minute you’re all good being held by someone who likes and respects you; the next minute your body is still there but your brain isn’t, and you’re begging him to stop touching you even though he already has, and he feels terrible but you feel even more terrible for making him feel bad when he did nothing wrong.

I just passed my three-year anniversary for asking for help, telling someone about what happened to me, and beginning therapy. I am out of therapy for the moment, am still medicated, and am doing well. Romantic relationships are a very hard thought, and, for me, will probably always be very hard. On what date do you tell a guy things like this? When do you bring up the fact that you need him to ask for permission before touching you, or that you need him to talk constantly to you when he’s close so that you stay present? At what point do you mention that movies, plays, or television shows (especially commercials for CSI: Special Victims Unit) with assault in them have a habit of ruining otherwise lovely evenings? How do you broach the sex issue (or, more accurately, the lack-of-sex issue)?

There are harder questions that go beyond problems of dating. What do you do when you see the guy who pushed you down on the ground and crawled on top of you while his friend watched eating a burrito in HUB? (Run away.) What do you do when someone suggests that in order to ‘get over’ inhibitions about sex you should roofie yourself on Ativan and sleep with them to ‘get it over with’? (Say no. Then, run away.)

Luckily for me, and for other victims/survivors of sexual assault, regardless of the severity, a lot of people are very understanding. One professor who knows me quite well gives me a heads-up if materials that might upset me are going to be brought up in class, and my friends rigorously research parental warnings on movies before suggesting that we see them.

I hope that the young woman at the centre of the Steubenville case has such people to look after her in the days, months, and years ahead.

If you have experienced sexual assault there are a number of resources on campus and in Edmonton to help you. Please tell someone, and find what you need to recover.

CC photograph courtesy of Michael Mistretta on Flickr.

Related posts:

  • Fellow Survivior

    I am eating lunch at work right now and had to battle hard to choke back tears or spew my food out. I can totally relate, I have been there, and I can say for the most part I have recovered. I have no problem with physical contact with people or romantic intimacy. The main thing that I still feel sometimes, even for unrelated, very minor day-to-day things that go wrong – is the feeling of blame, that it was my fault and should be the one taken away, isolated or punished. When it was discovered that a ‘family member’ is sexually assaulting me, it was hard for the whole extended family because they think ‘it’s not like he pinned her down violently and raped her’. They underestimated the emotional manipulation involved – he has shown, through actions, that he will kill himself if I stopped being intimate with him. When he was hospitalized for cutting after I stayed away from him, it was decided by the collective extended family that I have to be the one to be isolated, that I have to SNEAK AT THE BACK DOOR of the family house when visiting family. He is the one who got therapy and that I should not be seen because I am his trigger. He probably needs the therapy, but I got nothing but some hugs during the heat of the issue. No discussions on how it affected me. It probably came with being literally the orphan I guess. It was never talked about in the family, and I don’t know if it ever will.

    I confided to my current boyfriend the situation. I was so scared that he will break up with me, that he will find me disgusting, weak, trash or at fault. Luckily he accepted me and vowed to kick his ass when he does something again. In a short time, I will see my perpetrator again after all those years from the night at the hospital. I guess all I want to say that the path to recovery is varied and can be long, but we will all get there. Every single improvement is a celebration and it all adds up to making us better, more insightful individuals. Good luck.

  • beenthere

    What a nice piece. People underestimate the damage these experience do – while at the same time they underestimate how strong they can make you. I went through many years of horror. It took me many more years to speak up and even longer to deal with it. Now, two years later, I can honestly say I’m stronger than ever and I believe the experience has equiped me to deal with a hell of a lot while keeping a clear head. I’ve been with the same guy for three years now, and my past is never an issue anymore. We have become your typical couple. Not saying it will go this quickly for everyone, but have patience with yourself.
    Just remember you will feel normal again and you will find control over your mind and body again.