What To Do as a Listener: Healing After Sexual Assault

A sexual assault survivor shares her story and wisdom:

Journal entry on March 9th, 2014

Today is March 9th, 2014. It is exactly one year ago today that I was roofied and raped. Each month I took note that I was getting closer to this day and I wondered how I would handle it. Truth be told, after it happened, I never healed from it. I went home that day, went to sleep, and hours later found all the bruises on my body. I didn’t remember anything, it wasn’t until later that I realized I had been raped, but I was in partial denial. I had a friend who was a street medic check me out but I refused to go to a counselor or a medical examiner to document the rape. I had training in rape crisis, “logically,” I knew what emotions I would bounce back and forth from. But I decided that I didn’t have any time to deal with my trauma. I had to finish all of my schoolwork and my thesis, so I chose to submerge myself in academia, silently in denial that I was bouncing back and forth from depression.

A month later, on my dad’s birthday, April 24th, I broke and finally sat with a Victim’s Advocate and received some counseling. I ended up having to terminate my counseling because my health insurance expired and I assumed that I was healed. I believed that because I could say the words, “I was raped,” that it meant I had accepted what happened. But I never really did. I could not write poetry, I could not be the person I was before it happened. Some of my friendships splintered that year and I figured that I was “too much” for people to handle. It is difficult to be a walking trauma survivor and have to take care of the people around you when you disclose to them your truth.

This day is not as big of a cloud that I feared it would be.

There are many things that I have learned as a survivor. First is that you have to confront the trauma. The more you hide from it, the bigger it gets, and the harder it will knock the wind out of you later. Trauma does this thing where it will tell you, “Oh… you don’t have time for me now…? I’ll come back later…” And trauma comes back bulked up ready to party. It will break into your house, create a shit storm and tell you, “later bro.” Allow yourself to heal by having people bare witness to your healing. That means talking. That means having space to say everything you want or need to say. Everything. Each time you cut yourself off so that people don’t get uncomfortable, you take away your ability to heal. (As someone listening to trauma, I’ll get to you in a second.)

My trauma caught up with me the day I said an awful joke about myself on April 23, 2013. A friend was expressing an annoyance over something and I reacted by saying, “Well I wouldn’t even be blah blah blah if I didn’t go out and get myself raped.” My friend stared at me and said, “That’s not funny…” My floodgates opened, it was the first time I said “raped.” I started bawling as I said, “I know.” On my bravest of days, I had skirted my rape by saying, “I had an incident involving sexual assualt.” Before that intense cracking moment, I talked to people who had a background in sexual violence. I sought comfort in intellectualizing my experience. But that wasn’t healing.

My joke was obviously not funny. But it was my subconscious finally saying, “DEAL WITH ME NOW!” It was not my fault I was raped. I did not go and get myself raped. Rape is about power. My perpetrator took power away from me. That was not my fault. And for those who are reading that have been sexually assaulted, it was not your fault either. Even though you may every now and then lay in bed at 2 am anxious about something you could have done differently—NO. You did the best you could in a horrible situation and you have to rebuild. So breathe. Your perpetrator was responsible for the actions they took on you. You do not share blame. Breathe. If you cannot breathe. Write. Call a hotline. Call a friend. Find a fence and throw eggs at it. Get out of your head. Silence will not help with the healing.

One of the biggest things that halted my ability to heal was the first time I tried to get close to someone, I told them what happened, or at least, I tried to. I stayed away from the words “rape” or “roofied.” I said “That a terrible situation happened and that due to bruising I was sure that…” They cut me off and told me that I shouldn’t assume the worst in people. That moment was a moment to walk away. Instead I stayed silent. People will say what they want. They will rationalize your experiences to fit what they know. Your body knows what happened was wrong. You know what happened was wrong. You need safety and people that will listen to you.

As a listener:

Shut up. Seriously. Shut up. Do not offer to kill or offer your deepest condolences. Do not cry tears for the trauma you are listening to. That space that a survivor is creating in order to be heard is not about you. So don’t make it about you. All you do is listen and if it hurts too much to listen… if you are uncomfortable… then deal with it. However, if you are a fellow survivor and it triggers you—that is different. Communicate that you are getting triggered. Then it is up to you if you want to share in healing or if you are not ready to. But do not shame the survivor opening up the space for their healing.

Never ask “why” of a survivor. “Why didn’t you…?” F**k your “why” question. You listen. A way you can listen is by making the environment safe by asking “how are you feeling about…?” When a survivor cries, cherish the tears as a sign of trust.

I’ve learned that when you allow yourself time to heal and be and listen to your body, you are better for it. You can allow yourself to hate and distrust the world, but that doesn’t bring in light into your world. When I told a friend about how I feared the date March 9th, she told me that perhaps a different way to look at that date and the day after was by thinking about all the people that showed me love. I remember my wonderful street medic friend. I remember the friends that created space and shared their stories with me. The people that found ways to distract me when I needed distraction and who sat with me in the trenches when I needed to cry. You remember that kind of love. You cherish every moment that you were compassionate to yourself. You treat yourself. You take care of yourself by feeding yourself. You are not damaged goods. I repeat: you are not damaged goods. Because you know what… I sure as hell am not damaged and I am more than a f**king commodity.

We thank this survivor for her courage in sharing her story.

Ava Love,


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