Editor’s note: Warning: The following article contains the account of a sexual assault survivor. It is graphic in nature and may be troubling for some to read. The Vision does not identify the victims of sexual assault. The victim’s name has been changed to protect her identity.
Emily, a Belmont student, attended an off-campus party with friends her sophomore year. After a few drinks, she met a young man and the two began to flirt. The man began to lead her away from the house and as they stood outside, he began to kiss her.
Emily didn’t mind – “kissing is innocent, it doesn’t mean you can touch me,” she said.
While they were outside, cops arrived at the party, separating Emily from the friends she had come with. Emily insisted on taking an Uber home alone, but the man demanded they leave together. She thought it would be safe if she told the driver to take each of them to their separate residences. But the man told the driver to ignore her – that the driver should just drop both of them off at his apartment.
“It felt like two against one in the car – the driver didn’t even ask where I wanted to go. He just agreed with the guy,” she said.
At some point during this exchange, Emily blacked out. She still doesn’t know exactly why – it may have been because she was drinking or she was slipped a drug, she worries. She says it still haunts her that she can’t put together exactly what happened in that car.
When she regained consciousness, she was in the man’s bed in his apartment with no memory of how she got there. “I woke up, and he was doing stuff to me. I was in so much shock to wake up and have someone touching me and not know what was happening that I didn’t say anything or do anything, which kills me to think about,” Emily said.
“He could plainly see that I was crying and didn’t care. He kept looking at me as I was bawling and then he pushed me off,” she said. “He whispered in my ear ‘you’re not going to tell anyone about this. You’re not going to say a word.’ I just sat there in silence and then he kicked me out of his apartment,” she said.
Emily was so traumatized that she didn’t know where she was.
“I was so in shock that I didn’t know how to get back to my room,” Emily said. “I called my friend who tried to find me, but I couldn’t think of where I was. She asked me if I could see the Bell Tower from where I was, which made sense to me. So I just kept walking towards the Bell Tower until I got to her.”
When her friend finally found her, Emily’s dress was still only half zipped. She went to her friend’s room and collapsed on the shower floor.
“I remember just wanting to stay in the shower forever. No matter how much I sat and scrubbed myself, I still felt disgusting,” said Emily. “When I finally got out, I just kept staring at myself in the mirror and didn’t even know who I was looking at, all I could process was that the girl had glitter all over herself.”
Emily was glad her friend didn’t pry at the time.
“I couldn’t have talked about it that night. My friend knew something was wrong, but she didn’t ask me. She just distracted me all night until I fell asleep.”
The next morning, Emily was afraid to walk back to her dorm by herself and had to have a friend go with her. Several years prior, Emily had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. As she grappled with what happened and fell into self-blame, her depression worsened.
“I honestly stopped looking both ways when I crossed the street,” she said. “I wanted to die.”
Emily said she felt alone.
“Lots of my friends don’t understand it, and I can’t blame them for that. The hard thing is that lot’s of people don’t want to even try to understand it because it’s a touchy subject.”
Emily said she had difficulties figuring out whom she could trust with her struggle.
“At the end of the day, some people can be there for you through things like this, and other people can’t. And that’s one of the hardest lessons of life.”
It wasn’t until Emily met another survivor that she felt she could really tell someone the whole story of what had happened to her.
“Meeting another survivor was so helpful. I needed to tell someone that understood, that had felt how I was feeling,” said Emily.
Emily was shocked at how many other women in her life had been assaulted. Hearing their stories helped her validate her own, she said.
Emily is truly not alone. One in four undergraduate women experience sexual assault or rape, according to a study by the Association of American Universities.
Other survivors also helped guide Emily to writing and therapy as ways of coping.
“I took me a while to realize this isn’t something you can get through alone,” said Emily.
Time in therapy has helped Emily realize what a long process healing can be.
“I don’t think the healing process ever stops, no one is ever fully healed and that is something I am going to have to accept,” said Emily.
However, part of Emily’s healing process has also been working to help others and change the culture that perpetrates assault.
She is quick to say her story is not unique and that acknowledging the scope of the problem is one of the first steps to combatting it.
“Many people want to hide from it and not talk about assault because it hasn’t happened to them,” said Emily. “But you don’t want this to happen to your daughter, best friend, son or anyone you know in your life. So take the time to fight for it and get to know how we can stop it.”
To learn how to report a sexual assault through Belmont Universityclick here.