I am writing this almost a year later, wondering how it can still be taking over my life. It tears at my soul like a nasty disease; it pauses briefly, giving me a moment to gasp for air, before it sinks its claws back into me and pulls me under.
It was around this time last year that I was sexually assaulted by a person whom I once considered a friend, a teammate. It feels strange to put into writing an experience that I never felt comfortable enough to share with the world. For months I was terrified to speak of it, fearing the damage to my reputation and contemplating the irrevocable consequences. I lived in consternation of the possible responses: my friends would take sides, believing instead of me this older man who had completely taken advantage of my trust and fooled us all with his charm, his talent, his goofy personality.
He had been toying with my emotions for months beforehand, attempting to get me to confess my deepest and darkest demons to him. He acted like he was a hero saving me from my mental destruction. He’d say things like, “You never look like you’re having fun. Something is always bothering you, tell me what’s wrong.” What was wrong with me? Why did he assume that I’m plagued by some incurable illness? Did I wear my insecurities like a pair of glasses? I felt these questions percolate in my mind and found myself consumed with guilt and self-pity. But in retrospect, what was really wrong? It was his constant prodding for information that I was reluctant to share with him. Him thinking he could exploit our mutual respect and open me up to vulnerability I never really wanted. What was wrong was, months after this began, he continued to harass me, and even begged me one night: “Come on, you’re embarrassing yourself. Everyone is watching you. Let me take you home.”
I never forgave myself for what happened that night. I had nightmares, some of which became realities. I watched people I called my closest friends distance themselves, subtly at first but more blatantly as time progressed. I doubted every part of my integrity – as my story became murky in my mind, the truth buried itself deeper and deeper, finding quiet anchorage under all the invasive questions. I was accused of incorrectly associating my memories, of making up stories to garner attention. I was told not to tell my friends, who were “too young and impressionable to understand the situation.” I watched the people I trusted the most with my story cover it up in the most disappointing way. Ultimately, I was alienated from a group of people I once considered my family and from an organization that allowed me to practice the single brightest passion in my life: dance.
It took me a year to understand that what happened wasn’t my fault. It was completely beyond my control and unfairly stigmatized in my South Asian community. I accept that people have mistreated and disrespected me and I am writing this to tell other survivors of sexual assault that they don’t need to be embarrassed or scared of the consequences. If you decide to speak up do so courageously and know that there is an army of people willing to fight for you. After this traumatic experience, I began a healing process that is painful to bear, but beautifully hopeful. The process is like riding a roller coaster — there are anticipatory highs and careening lows, but the ride will eventually come to an end, and you will realize that you may be safe in your own skin once again.
The Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC) has a 24/7 crisis hotline and can be reached at 734-936-3333.