by: Christina K.
I had no doubt my decision to study abroad during the summer of 2005 in Salamanca, Spain, would change me and the way I experienced the world. I was, after all, traveling alone to a foreign country where English was considered a strange language. Nonetheless, I was determined to completely immerse myself in Spain’s beautiful and mysterious culture, as well as improve my fluency in Spanish. It wasn’t until three weeks into my studies when I realized how drastically altered my world would become. After being sexually assaulted twice within a three-week period, it was all I could do to stop myself from reliving the nightmarish events that plagued my every moment. In the aftermath, I would sit desperately trying to think of something else, anything else.
After being attacked in the apartment complex where I was residing during my trip, I knew I could easily call my parents and come home. However, I refused to run away from my problems because I know every obstacle has its purpose, so I remained silent. This was a test of my personal strength, and I was not going to buckle under the pressure. The night before I left Salamanca, I said goodbye to the friends I had met during my stay, including a fellow student with whom I had attended class. We all went downtown to live it up one last time; however, the party ended early for me. In the midst of the celebration, it was as if someone turned off the lights because when I awoke in the morning to find myself in a bed other than my own, I couldn’t remember the happenings of the previous night. It wasn’t until later, when eyewitness accounts and hospital officials’ testimonies were pieced together that the horrifying reality emerged; my “friend” from class had drugged and raped me. That is when my world started to crumble at my feet. My trust had been violated, and I was devastated. So I returned home with a broken spirit and an aching heart. As I returned to school in the fall, not knowing in whom to confide, I internalized my pain and my grades suffered. I had difficulty concentrating in the classroom, and my enthusiasm for life seemed to slowly dwindle. These experiences tried my will almost to the breaking point, but I knew I could not succumb to the pain and weakness I was feeling in my soul. I endured these hardships with a single thought as my motivation: “I may not be able to change the past, but I can still make a difference.”
In the wake of my personal struggles, I became more committed than ever to making an impact by leading others through the painful recovery process so they too could become survivors. Volunteering also provided me with a pathway to channel my emotions. It was when I sought to connect myself with a sexual assault victim’s service center that I began volunteering with W.A.R. (Women Against Rape), which provides support, counseling, court and hospital accompaniment for victims. This decision had a tremendous effect on me. I was able to interact with individuals who had experienced the same strife as I had endured, and by helping others to heal, I began to heal. It was during my mission that I met many extraordinary people who continued to be silenced by their pain. Shockingly, while three hundred thousand Americans will experience an episode of sexual assault this year alone, less than half report the incident. As a RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) spokeswoman, I am able to demonstrate on a national scale the strength and closure victims can obtain by accepting the past and sharing their message. Whether the decision is made to speak up publicly or privately, I believe a national awareness and better understanding of rape will begin.
Speaking out was what began my healing process from victim to survivor, and I know now, more than ever, that my life and experiences have a powerful purpose. I am now a first year medical student at the University of Utah School of Medicine, and happily engaged. There were days when I thought life wasn’t worth living, and that I might never feel “normal” again. This is true, I have never felt the same; I am stronger now. These incidences changed my life for the better, which I would have never thought possible without RAINN and WAR. Beyond the darkness, there is light. You just have to be willing to look for it.