My senior year of college should have been one of the best experiences of my life. I was on track to graduate with honors, I was the editor of the sports section for the school’s newspaper and I was dating a guy I thought I was in love with. What could possibly go wrong?

But something changed

I suddenly lost my motivation. I withdrew from activities I loved, like writing for the newspaper. I stopped socializing, choosing to overwork myself at my on campus job instead. I started skipping classes and spending less time on campus and more time at home.

At the time, I didn’t attribute these things to anything in particular. I told friends I was too busy to hang out. When the Editor and Chief of the newspaper reached out to me about my absences, I told her I was busy working. I called it a “senior slide.” I was making excuses, but I didn’t even know why.

The reality was, I was dealing with a trauma. My boyfriend sexually assaulted me, though I didn’t have the words to define it as such at the time. My mind was unconsciously struggling to deal with a trauma I hadn’t admitted happened yet.

You may be wondering how I could have been sexually assaulted without knowing. Maybe you’re even doubting that’s possible. It’s okay if you are, I don’t blame you.

Here’s what happened

I drank too much at a party. When my boyfriend took me home, I promptly passed out. My boyfriend stripped me naked and proceeded to have sex with me while I was unconscious. He even used my digital camera to take photos of the event.

I woke up the next morning naked and sore. I had no idea what had happened. When I found the photos on my digital camera, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

I immediately deleted the photos off my camera. The fact that those photos existed humiliated me. I couldn’t stand the thought of them. So I punched the delete button and hoped that would make it all better.

Unfortunately, deleting the pictures didn’t make it all better. I was still trying to mentally deal with the trauma. Although devastated and humiliated by what happened, I never once thought of it as sexual assault. Sexual assault happened to other people, it couldn’t happen to me. Rape happened in dark alleys, not dorm rooms. Sexual assault happened to victims.

Reasons I didn’t think I had been sexually assaulted

  • The guy was my boyfriend. I knew him. I trusted him. We were dating
  • I had drank too much
  • We’d had sex before
  • I never said no
  • I had been in my own room

Truth is, none of these things mattered. I was sexually assaulted. I was not a consenting party in the sexual acts that my boyfriend forced on me. It didn’t matter that he was my boyfriend. Just because I had consented to date him did not give him free reign over my body.

It took me almost five years to define what happened to me and another several years to finally come to terms with it. It was haunting me even before I had realized.

Unfortunately, society conditioned me to believe that rape only happened one way. I believed it had to be violent and gruesome and committed by a stranger. I was comparing it to the scenes on Law and Order: SVU. No one ever told me that my boyfriend could sexually assault me.

Acknowledging what happened to me became a key factor in my overall healing process. I was able to begin to deal with the trauma and move forward with my life. Although I still had other hurdles to move past, being able to define my experience was the first step in the right direction.

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