Taking my body back: One year later

A student reflects on the anniversary of publishing an essay on her past sexual assaults.

NICOLE HWANG / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Content warning: This story mentions violence against women and sexual assault that might be upsetting to some readers.

One year. 

That’s how long it’s been since I finally let go — since I released all the sadness, anger and confusion inside of me. I was finally free.

Last year, The Temple News published my essay about how I had been sexually assaulted multiple times within five years.

In that essay, I wrote about a moment where I was alone in a room at school with the guy I’d been seeing, a man who was emotionally abusive, loving me one day and ignoring me the next. I was upset with him that day, and he decided to make me feel better by putting his hand up my dress. I felt like my body wasn’t mine anymore. Just like many times before. But this hurt like nothing else. 

Every time I think of it, think of him, my heart sinks into my stomach. I feel sick, and I can’t breathe quite right.

The second experience I wrote about was in my freshman year of college. We ended up breaking up after a few months, but reconciled, and continued a relationship, just without the label. A few weeks before I ended things for certain, I wasn’t feeling the same type of love I felt for him before. I didn’t want to have sex with him but felt pressured to.

For so long it hurt so much to have sex with him. I told him this, and yet it kept going. 

It’s something I think about all the time.

And so on March 12, 2019, around 3 a.m., I hit publish, permanently changing my life. One click of a button and it was out on the internet for everyone to see. 

A chain reaction had begun.

I was constantly finding myself in situations where I ended up talking about it with friends or in classes. I would struggle to get out the words, with tears filling my eyes. I encouraged my peers to read my article. 

I wanted people to know that sexual assault comes in so many different shades of gray. I wanted people to know it still hurts, whether you are invaded physically or mentally. 

In one year, I’ve learned so much.

I’ve learned how few people believe women when something traumatic happens to them and what few laws are being enforced and protected for women whose lives are permanently changed. Most importantly, I’ve learned who my real friends are and how to stand up for myself.

Some of the most supportive people during this time were the ones at The Temple News. It is because of people like former editor in chief, Gillian McGoldrick; former digital managing editor, Julie Christie; former opinion editor, Jayna Schaffer and former investigations editor, Grace Shallow that I was even able to share my story with the world. 

And for that, I am eternally grateful to them.

April has been designated “Sexual Assault Awareness Month” in the United States since 2001. 

Sexual assault is not black or white: it is so much more than that. Sexual assault can be anything from rape, to forced oral sex, to groping, to being ejaculated on in public, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. It can happen whether it’s committed by a stranger or your spouse. 

Most states, including Pennsylvania, have shocking statutes of limitations when it comes to sexual assault. If you are an adult, you only have two years to report the incident to law enforcement, according to FindLaw. If those people experienced something like I had, an experience where I didn’t even recognize what happened for four years, they can’t attempt to report the crime. 

This is part of the reason why 99 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence walk free, Huffington Post reported.

There is so much more awareness toward the issue of sexual violence, especially since the beginning of the #MeToo Movement, with more stories emerging and more men standing up for the rights of women. It is one of the biggest reasons lawmakers are enacting more legislation addressing the issues of sexual assault head-on. 

But there are still ways to go.

I recently saw the man who first assaulted me in a mutual friend’s Snapchat story. My heart fell to my stomach. I felt sick, and yet I couldn’t help myself but keep watching it. I hadn’t seen him in years, and now, as I’m writing this essay, he shows up, with the memories flooding back.

I am not completely healed, and I don’t know if I ever will be, but I’m more comfortable talking about it now than I ever was before. And talking about it is what ultimately helps the process. 

I’ve found myself not crying over it anymore. I feel a heavy heart and a sickness in my stomach, which hasn’t gone away. But who knows, maybe that will be different in a year from now.

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