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It's not your fault A girl's journey as a sexual assault survivor

Story by Kate Morgan, feature editor and Peyton Sims, culture editor

Ashlee * knew something was wrong.

The cursing and screaming.

The slamming doors.

The fighting that never seemed to end.

The blaring music from her headphones couldn’t block out the sounds of a marriage falling apart. Yet it still came as a shock to Ashlee when she overheard her father shout that he wanted a divorce.

The sounds and shouting of anger and betrayal penetrated her bedroom walls, the place she had at one time decided was safe. She ran, sneaking out her bedroom window to a friend’s house that became her temporary safe haven. After nights and nights of running, the friend’s house down the street didn’t seem to get her far enough away from the tragedies unfolding at home, so she left.

Her aunt and uncle welcomed her into their home with open arms. A few phone calls between her mother and her aunt established that away from home was the safest place for Ashlee to be. She would be happy. She wouldn’t have to worry about her parents. She could finally breathe and distract herself by spending time with her cousins.

“My cousin, Will*, is about 11 months or a year younger than me. [All my cousins] are pretty close in age,” Ashlee said. “He’s always been really big, like tall and buff. He was in jujitsu which is a grappling martial arts.”

Ashlee sat in the room that she shared with her cousins as she watched the clock on her phone turn to midnight. The sound of a Youtube “Touch My Body Challenge” echoed from Will’s phone. Seconds after she heard the video end, she found Will at the foot of the mattress that was her makeshift bed.

“We should try the challenge,” he told her.

The disgust was evident in Ashlee’s voice as she responded.

“No. That’s weird.”

After Will’s endless begging and promises to “keep it clean,” Ashlee’s fatigue and annoyance overtook her and she gave in.

One harmless, stupid game. Then, he’ll leave me alone.

They alternated turns. One person blindfolded. The other person taking their hand and placing it on a body part. The blindfolded person guessing what it is.

Ashlee places his hand on her elbow. He takes a second before answering.

“Then it was his turn. I couldn’t figure out what my hand was touching, so I told him I gave up. And he was holding onto my hand because that’s how you play the game, and he wouldn’t let me move it. I just took the blindfold off and my hand was [touching him inappropriately],” Ashlee said.

Ashlee jumped back in disgust, ripping her hand away.

“You’re disgusting,” she shrieked. “What the [heck] are you doing?”

Before Ashlee could stand up to walk away, Will “grabbed me and pinned me to the ground, tore at my clothes, and [raped me].”

“It kept happening, almost every night [for] a month and a half to two months. I didn’t keep track of it. I never wanted to,” Ashlee said.

The floor creaked as Will moved towards her.

“You can’t tell anyone,” he told her. “You will be in just as much trouble as I will.”

With that, he left her alone, but he failed to take with him the feelings of fear and guilt that he placed on Ashlee. Her head flurried with thoughts.

It’s my fault.

Maybe, I could have fought harder.

Did I ask for this?

These accusations clouded her mind. She spent the next few months thinking about what happened to her, trying to make sense of it.

“He really got that into my head. I was scared of getting into trouble, and I didn’t want to tell my friends because I thought they’d judge me,” Ashlee said. “I guess, I also thought it was my fault. Even though I know now that it wasn’t my fault.”

Ashlee’s mother welcomed her back into her home and her father showed Ashlee his new apartment. Her mother woke her up in the morning. She studied her father’s old college algebra textbook and worked on her daily lesson plan for homeschooling curriculum. She shut the door to her room, played her brother’s old guitar and spent time with her dog, Cassie. Every few nights, she stayed with her father. A new normal had established itself in her life.

But soon, the time came around for family reunions and visits to her aunt’s house. All the feelings and thoughts, that Ashlee so desperately tried to escape, returned. Pain. Fear. Guilt.

She learned to think quick on her feet, coming up with excuses on why she was unable to attend.

I can’t go back to that house.

I can’t see him again.

“[What happened to me] controlled my life for a while. It controlled where I went, who I hung out with, and what I did,” Ashlee said.

Her relationships drifted apart as she put up a wall with her friends and family members.

“I lost trust with a lot of my guy friends. I would still hang out with them, but I put my guard up,” Ashlee said. “I couldn’t be anywhere alone with a guy without freaking out and thinking that something was going to happen.”

That distance prevented her from sharing her experience with the people that she was once close with. She waited for months before finally opening up to someone about her experience.

“I told my friend in February [2018]. She kept urging me to tell. I didn’t listen, but she respected that which I appreciate. I got to tell in my own time which, I think, was better for me,” Ashlee said.

In July, Ashlee opened up about her experience at a church camp after the friend she confided in urged her to talk to her youth pastor. After an emotional experience during the worship service, Ashlee talked to her youth pastor and some of the other campers.

“I just told them. I think they were all shocked, but really supportive. They told me that it wasn’t my fault. They made sure I got some help,” Ashlee said.

Her youth pastor arranged a meeting with her mother. Ashlee let the youth pastor do all the talking. She had no words.

“My mom was calm, surprisingly. I think it was because there were other people around. But she did respect my whole, ‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ thing,” Ashlee said. “I just wanted things to go back to normal.”

Shortly after telling her mom, a detective was called to investigate. He found nothing. Keeping her sexual assault experience a secret may have given Ashlee time to process what had happened, but unfortunately, any evidence that was present, was gone.

“It just sucked because Will didn’t even get as much as a slap on the wrist,” Ashlee said. “When we told his parents, he got in trouble, but he was only grounded for a few months. And that was it for him, but I’ve been in therapy ever since.”

The trauma that she endured and the drama waiting for her when she got home led her to look for other ways to escape from reality. When it seemed that there was nothing else to do, Ashlee turned to self-harm as a way to run away from the pain she was in.

“When I [cut], I couldn’t feel it. I just felt numb. I think it was because I wanted something that I could control,” Ashlee said. “Everything in my life felt out of control, but this was a pain that I could control. It was just something where I had a say and I had a choice.”

When the cuts on her thighs and wrists turned into attempts to bleed to death, Ashlee reached out to a friend before attempting suicide. After receiving paragraph long texts of reassurance, Ashlee decided not to commit suicide. Although suicidal thoughts were present in her mind, she never again attempted to kill herself.

Time has given Ashlee the ability to come to terms with being sexually assaulted. Yet, she still questions why it happened to her. For most of her life, sexual assault and rape were only discussed theoretically.

“You never think that the whole sexual assault, rape thing is going to happen to you, especially in a house where you were supposed to be safe,” Ashlee said.

After two years of growth and reflection, Ashlee has used her experience to help shape who she is and how she faces the world around her. Finding solace in her church group and with her new school friends, Ashlee has been able to become more comfortable speaking out about what she has survived.

“If I had the chance to talk to someone who has experienced what I have, I would tell them: It’s not your fault. You’ll get through this. I promise it’ll be OK. I know it feels horrible, but you can do this,” Ashlee said. “And tell somebody. Tell somebody who is important and who can do something about it. Don’t wait as long as I did. Because then, you might not have the opportunity to see that person [pay for what they did to you]. But, you will be OK. I promise.”

*Subject has chosen to remain anonymous

Created By
Kate Morgan
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Credits:

photo by p. sims