Editor’s note: The author’s name was omitted to protect their identity.

My story is probably different than many of the stories you’ll read here. I was sexually abused by my (now ex) boyfriend during my freshman year of college, repeatedly. The abuse started slowly and subtly at first; pushing me to go farther than I wanted, saying “please.” And gradually over time he became more demanding and even violent before descending into frank disregard for my consent or lack thereof. Once when I asked him to stop, he said he couldn’t because I was “too sexy” and therefore he couldn’t help himself. After that, I didn’t feel comfortable with my naked body and for a period of time would wear swimsuits to shower. It got to the point where I knew I couldn’t say “no” because if I did, he wouldn’t care and having him blatantly ignore my pleas to stop hurt more than going along with what he wanted. I used to think I was weak for not putting up more of a fight, but I’ve realized it was a form of self-preservation and may have saved me from something worse.

He was smart enough to not leave marks and to avoid triggering the usual “red flags” we’re warned about for abusers like being overly possessive or jealous. The truth is, I didn’t escape in the night to a domestic violence shelter or triumphantly break up with him; he broke up with me. I didn’t understand why until I learned through therapy that he is a sexual narcissist, someone who uses sexual abuse to control someone’s behavior.

This helped me to understand what had happened to me, why it was so difficult to get out even when the abuse kept getting worse and why he broke up with me. He was betting that he would be able to continue to control me without us being in an official relationship, but him breaking up with me also gave me an out. Even after the break up, he still tried to control me, but thankfully as school started up, I was in closer contact with friends and less in contact with him.

In some ways I feel guilty even sharing this, knowing that most others who experienced assault vehemently did not consent, but I sometimes had consented to intercourse with my boyfriend. But I also faced my perpetrator over and over again while loving and caring for him. Sometimes I feel like I should have left him earlier, that I should have known better. My friends and family’s disapproval for him and the subsequent isolation made me feel I couldn’t be honest about what was happening with anyone who cared about me and only made it more difficult to escape my abusive relationship.

In the aftermath, I dealt with symptoms that would likely qualify as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. I had recurrent nightmares about the assaults and would scan my surroundings for him on campus and plan escape routes. My relationship with him had lasted a little over a year and there were reminders of him all over campus. He even started working at two of the same jobs I did after we broke up. It felt like I couldn’t escape. I had panic attacks, trouble concentrating at school, became depressed and even suicidal. Seeing him on campus would make my heart pound in my chest and make me feel like I needed to vomit — my mind would race about how to get away. It took a lot to reclaim my life and sense of self. I went to therapy and started on antidepressants. I explored reporting him to the police, but was told off-the-record by an officer that a jury would find it difficult to convict him for assault when there were times it was consensual.

It’s been over seven years since I escaped that relationship. It has been a long road and it has not always been easy, but here’s what I will say: I am not destroyed. I am capable of and worthy of healthy relationships. I can love and be loved. Things do get better.

This is the second piece in the Survivors Speak series, which seeks to share the varied, first-person experiences of survivors of sexual assault. If you are a survivor and would like to submit to the series, please see our guidelines for submissions here.

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