It took me over a year, almost dropping out of college, and countless nights crying in my freshman dorm room in silence to finally come to terms with the fact that I had been sexually assaulted.
I initially prided myself on my ability to maintain my silence. I saw it as an act of resilience and strength, rather than seeing it for what it was — a coping mechanism. If I pretended that it didn’t matter and pretended like it didn’t happen, then that had to mean I had won the battle. If there was nothing to overcome, nothing to accept, then there wasn’t a problem.
Alas, the human brain is notorious for thinking the exact opposite of how one should be feeling.
I spent my days pretending nothing was wrong and laughing with my friends — but I spent the nights too afraid to sleep in my own bed, where the assault had taken place.
Pretending that it didn’t happen for months on end, seeing my assailant in casual settings, even making eye contact with him, meant I relived every second of that night. I felt as suffocated as I did that night.
I begged him to get off, tried to tell him I was too tired, wanted to repeat myself — until I realized he didn’t care. He thought I was being a tease.
In the days after, just like that night, I forced myself to not say a word. If there were any silent tears, I ensured no one saw them. As if it wasn’t enough the first time around.
Speaking out about assault as a college student is harder than it should be. The added pressure of being a brown girl, with parents who uphold traditionally rigid Indian values made the acceptance of the ordeal even harder. As their daughter, I felt compelled to hide what had happened and not burden them with something that wouldn’t have occurred if it wasn’t for my own actions.
Inevitably, I knew, doubts would arise, questions would be asked, and fingers would be pointed. Had I been a good girl — one who had focused on just my academics and not been so concerned with making friends and partying — would this have ever happened?
I felt many people would think I am making a mountain out of a molehill, and so I never said anything, never raised my voice.
Girls from good, respectful Indian families, don’t get in trouble. They stay silent, speak when spoken to, and never let themselves get in situations like this.
As an Indian-American, I never fail to find people to connect with about my culture on campus. What has proved difficult, however, is finding people of my heritage, who have spoken about their assault, their experiences with it, and their personal victories.
It isn’t easy. You never forget it, and you might not forgive yourself, the assailant, or the universe for letting it happen.
When I finally broke down and reached out to ask for help, my university and advisors were more kind and helpful than I ever expected. It took me a year, more tears than I thought possible, and the unwavering support of my friends for me to come to terms with the assault.
It still amazes me when my wonderful boyfriend allows me to take it as slow as I want, never asks questions, and never assumes I am his to do with as he pleases. It gives me hope to know that men like him still exist in the world.
When sexual assault occurs, it is never really over.
But it’s not a disease that can be cured with medication or time by spending time in a hospital. There’s no healing period, no grace period, and no way to ensure that you’ll ever be the same person again. It’ll hurt until it doesn’t, and you will blame yourself until you don’t. And it’s different for each person.
These are the times to remember that women are stronger than given credit for. Women are stronger through their pain, grit and tears and are capable of handling unimaginable obstacles, fighting silent wars, and achieving monumental victories.
For me, my survival, my voice, and my happiness, is all the credit I need.
Isha is a sharp-tongued, big-eyed, Indian-American woman with dreams larger than life itself. She enjoys writing, learning about animal rescue stories, and aims to pursue a career in defense law to help the underprivileged and fight for those who can’t help themselves. Her dog Simba is her lifetime companion.