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Finding a community that is having open conversations about sexual violence has changed my life.

In 2017 I went on a trip to see my boyfriend, at the time, at his university. I never thought something like this could happen to me, especially, not by someone I trusted.

The next day I made up an excuse and got on a train back to Manchester. I presume that’s what happened, remembering details from that time is quite difficult for me now. You would think that I would remember every last detail, but I don’t. All I know is that after, I just carried on with my life as if nothing happened. For the next year I just existed, all my friends were at university and I was just sat at home confused about why I felt so depressed. Eventually, I got a job that I loved, I made friends and applied to Bristol University.

Then one night I woke up at about 3am and felt complete disorientated, I proceeded to open the notes section in my phone and write, I wrote down everything that had happened to me three years before. That was the beginning of a really hard journey I would find myself on. I thought when I packed my life up and moved to Bristol, I could finally escape what happened to me.

At first this was the case; I didn’t have to worry about bumping into him or his friends and I could sleep well at night knowing that he didn’t know where I was. I hadn’t planned on telling anyone about what happened to me, I thought that telling people was too personal and something I should keep to myself. I think the real reason was that I constantly doubted whether what happened to me was rape. My idea of sex and what a girlfriend was expected to be was completely wrong.

In my experience, university for someone that has experienced trauma can be tough. Sex and past relationships are pretty hard topics to get away from. Everyone is trying to figure out who they are, I wasn’t alone in that, but games like ‘Never have I ever’ at first were like torture. It’s hard playing a game that relies on the past when you are now a completely different person. Having a great group of friends helped with this, they didn’t know me before and they loved me for who I was now. I began to feel a sense of pride and confidence in letting people know what happened to me. I had a power over the situation if I was the one telling people about it. I felt a responsibility in making sure what happened to me wouldn’t happen to someone else.

By Christmas I was going to parties, enjoying my course, making lifelong friends and for the first time since my assault I had feelings for someone. Things were going really well for me, that’s why it was so confusing when I started to have vivid nightmares that made it hard to sleep. I was remembering things that happened three years ago that until then I had no memory of. Certain words or places triggered me, and in a crowded room his face was always there. My response to this was to seek out the destructive coping strategies that I had used three years before.

Being a sexual assault survivor comes with the grief of the person you could have been.

I was angry I couldn’t be who I was before or like other girls my age; I couldn’t just tell the person I liked how I felt because then he had the power to hurt me, I couldn’t join my friends in flirting with the strangers at the bar because then they might expect something. In the great scheme of things, none of this mattered but having the option taken away sucks.

Looking back now, after seeking the help that I needed, what I was going through was completely normal for someone with PTSD. At the time I had no idea, I thought that I would harbour that sense of anger I had towards myself forever. Each day I get a little closer to letting go of the guilt and shame that I have clung onto for many years.

To anyone who has experienced any form of sexual assault my advice would be to try and show yourself the love and compassion you would a friend. Finding a community who are having open conversations about sexual violence has changed my life. I wanted to share my experience in the hope that it would shed light on the journey sexual assault survivors are on. Each person’s journey is different, but I am starting to see, it doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.

Emily, a sexual assault survivor.

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