Editor’s note: The Quad Community Press does not name victims of sexual assaults. The survivor will be referred to as “Jane.”
May 8, 2015 will forever be the worst day of Jane’s life. That’s the day everything changed.
On the Friday following Cinco de Mayo, Jane, 25, went to a bar with some friends for a birthday celebration. They ran into a group of four men. One of the men introduced himself as “Hugo.”
“I thought he was creepy but I did think one of his friends was cute, so I continued talking to his friend,” she recalled. Hugo became irate and begin calling Jane vulgar names when she started to pay more attention to his friend.
Jane, who was sober, decided to leave the bar and drive the 10 minutes back to her apartment. Once she got home, she was trying to lock the door when she felt resistance and before she knew it there was a man in her apartment. She quickly recognized him as Hugo. He said, “We are going to get to know each other very well.”
Jane tried to make it to her bedroom, where she had a 9 mm gun in her nightstand. “When I opened my bedroom door, my dogs rushed out. They believed we had a visitor and wanted attention. Scared for my dogs and knowing I couldn’t protect them and go for my gun, I froze,” she recalled. “Before I could get any further into my bedroom, he rushed me and slammed the door behind him. He grabbed me by the hair on the back of my head and shoved me on my bed. I remember thinking God, please don’t let him rape me.”
When the assault was over and Hugo had left, Jane did the one thing you are not supposed to do after a sexual assault: she showered.
“I felt so gross and sticky. I felt like I smelt like this rancid smell that I could smell coming from him. I felt so disgusting that my first reaction was to get into the shower,” she said. Jane works in criminal law, so she knew once the evidence was gone, there was a very slim-to-no chance that the perpetrator would ever be caught.
“I also felt a lot of shame and guilt. I thought it was my fault and that I was going to be blamed for this,” she said. “They won’t see me as a victim, they will just see me as a slut.”
Alexandra House Executive Director Connie Moore said, “A lot of times victims won’t report because they are feeling like — somehow — they are responsible for what happened. They feel that if they had done something different it wouldn’t have happened to them, so it is their fault.”
Jane was not able to tell her family or friends about the assault for well over a month after it happened. Anxiety and depression set in and she decided she needed to reach out to her primary physician.
“I remember driving in my car — I was going to meet with a client for work — when the doctor called for my appointment, and I just vomited everything that happened out to her. She was the first person I told,” she said. “She was super kind, she told me how sorry she was and that it wasn’t my fault.”
Jane began seeing a therapist and psychiatrist in July 2015. After only three appointments with her therapist, she stopped going to appointments because she found she just wasn’t ready to talk about it.
Moore said, “The more that we don’t deal with those things, the harder it is when you start to actually address them.”
It took Jane two years to work up the courage to see a therapist again. This time, she saw a trauma therapist.
“That is a really big turning point for the healing process for victims, to realize that it is not their fault,” Moore explained. “I think our society reinforces victim blaming. It is built into our society that somehow the victim of these crimes somehow had some responsibility in it.”
Jane was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), which is caused by repeated trauma over months or years, rather than a single event. Jane disclosed that she was also abused and neglected as a child.
“It (the assault) affects my everyday life greatly. I don’t have a break from it ever, but that is normal when you are going through trauma therapy and you are working on it,” Jane said. “I have flashbacks every day, and I relive the event several times a day.”
Five years after the assault, Jane has night terrors and trouble sleeping. She is on a handful of medications, doesn’t go to bars, is cautious of her surroundings and cannot go outside at night. She is still not able to talk about the assault in detail with her friends. She has been in a relationship with her partner of almost five years and requires very strict boundaries. “Luckily, I have a very understanding partner who respects me on that.”
Jane wants survivors who may find themselves in a similar situation to know that it is normal to feel guilty if you choose to not report the assault. “The guilt that you feel, and hoping that it doesn’t happen to another person, is normal,” she said. “It hurts and sucks knowing that you didn’t report it and somebody else could get hurt. That doesn’t have anything to do with you; that has everything to do with the perpetrator.”
Jane added,“It is not and will never, ever be your fault, no matter how much you feel like it is, no matter what you were wearing or if you weren’t careful enough, it is never going to be your fault.” She also recommends that victims seek help from a trauma therapist.
Moore said Alexandra House advocates and advocates of other organizations are there to listen, walk you through the options available and support you in whatever option you choose.
“There is help out there, and you are not alone. If you call Alexandra House, there is no judgment there, it is all confidential … Just know that there are people there to listen,” she said.
“Nobody is going to say, ‘Why were you in that restaurant or bar?’
‘Why did you walk down that street at night by yourself?’ That is not going to happen.”
Tina Bronson, marketing director, explained that advocates can be there with you if you decide to report the assault or go to the hospital for injuries or a rape kit. Many hospitals are not allowing advocates inside right now because of COVID-19; however, advocates are available by phone 24/7.
“I think a lot of people are afraid to go to the hospital right now. The police are still seeing the crimes, but victims and survivors are not reaching out like they would have,” Moore said.
“There is a lot of fear not only for themselves, thinking they might get sick, but when they call the police and get their perpetrator in jail, that person might get sick.”