I’m coming to label myself as a survivor of sexual assault. Many times I would find myself hiding in a ditch on the side of the road, running away, or missing activities to go to a place that I deemed safer. I did not think anything about the flashback dreams or the vivid memories that came with certain clothing. One day, I got an email and I started balling and that was it. I put it together.

Since then, I’ve made a conscious effort to analyze my own behaviors and reactions, so that I can continue to integrate my experiences into my story. It is exhausting. But that is how I came to do advocacy and prevention work.

One life-giving thing that I do is support other survivors. At the end of last semester, I helped initiate and organize a survivor support network with other survivors and our supportive friends. Being a survivor looks very different for different people. The process is unique for every individual, and their stories are infinitely varied. I have the advantage of being the media’s picture of a survivor; I am a white, cis, young woman. My story is more likely to be believed than people who hold different or marginalized identities. Because survivors’ stories and experiences are so vastly different, there is not one single reality for survivors.  My reality is not the reality of all people who are affected. But some stories are more likely to get coverage.

If you have been sexually assaulted, your story deserves to be recognized. Regardless of your race, age, gender identity, social class, sexual experiences, you are worth taking care of. Everyone deserves to feel safe and heard. If you want more information about the Survivor Support Network or resources, email me or ssn@goshen.edu. If you want to talk about your experience with a counselor who specializes in sexual violence response, contact the YWCA.  There are counselors on staff who are equipped to help survivors of all genders work through the trauma often experienced as a result of sexual and dating violence. Call to make an appointment at 574.830.5073.

If you are not a survivor, you know someone who is. This is everyone’s issue. Sexual assault affects everyone through relationships, through culture and through the societal norms that permit sexualized violence to go unchecked. No one gets to live without suffering the relational or cultural ramifications of rape culture, which is why it’s so important to help out in the following ways.

You can believe people who tell you their stories. Listen, believe and focus on survivors’ stories when they speak about their experiences. If you hold social privilege, you can do your own research on the intersections of sexual assault and different types of oppression (hint: they are everywhere!). You can go to a PIN training; bystander intervention can prevent sexual assault from ever occurring. Already been to one? Apply what you learned, tell a friend.

What else? If you do not identify as a survivor, be vocal about challenging rape myths. Having to do this as a survivor can be especially vulnerable, so if you feel you can step in, do it! Show empathy and support your friends.