Trigger warning: sexual assault

(I’m sorry, family and close friends. This isn’t how you should find this out, but it’s the only way I know how to help others.)

He was my first long-term relationship in college. We met in marching band after our paths kept crossing during practices.

I was a freshman in color guard, the flags in the marching band. He, a sophomore trombone player, would tease me about almost hitting him with my flag. I would jab right back and say his trombone was a perfect target.

Eight months later, I trusted him. I thought I loved him, and we were going to end up together.

I didn’t know that he would be capable of raping me.

It’s been five years since he assaulted me in his apartment. I never reported it.

I had been spending a few nights with this guy, and I was ready to go back home and spend some time with my friends. I was sick of sitting around playing video games all the time.

I tried to leave, but he got whiny when I said goodbye. He knew exactly what to say to get me to stay, tugging at my inability to disappoint people.

He told me I should relax, take a shower and stay the night again. Of course, 19-year-old me listened because I thought he would break up with me if I didn’t.

I jumped in the shower and started to relax a little. Then, the door opened. He walked in. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for that to happen, but I would usually invite him in.

I asked him to leave. He wouldn’t. He got undressed, joined me in the hot water and got really forceful.

I don’t remember a lot after that. I know I was crying. I know I was uncomfortable. I know I was raped.

The next thing I remember from that night is going to bed. I laid next to him for hours, staring at the ceiling, him snoring next to me. I got out of bed, grabbed a blanket and laid on the couch. I still couldn’t sleep, but I knew if I left the apartment, he’d be pissed. I didn’t know where I would go, either.

Two months later, we broke up. I dumped him because I couldn’t stand the sight of his face. My stomach would lurch every time someone mentioned his name.

I moved on. I tried to put it out of my mind, but I couldn’t escape this pit in my life, this darkness that kept dragging me down.

My grades slipped. My social life was wretched. I quit marching band, something I loved, because I couldn’t stand the sight of him. I dropped out of college and worked full time to get away from him and anyone close to him.

Eventually, I went back to school.

The 2015 football season came. It’s always been my favorite time of the year.

In October, I saw him at a game. It was the last one I went to as a student. I didn’t know he would be there.

As soon as I saw him, I ran. I ran up the stairs of the stadium faster than I thought I could, my best friend trailing behind me, worried about me.

I went to the bathroom and cried. Shaking, I told her everything. My heart was pounding, and I couldn’t stand.

The saddest part of that day wasn’t that I wasn’t able to see my Chippewas play again. It wasn’t that I relived moments from the day he raped me.

It was that he was with another woman, and I worried about her. My first thought when I realized they were together was “how can I protect her from that monster?”

I started spiraling downward again after that. Reliving those moments in that shower, laying wide awake next to him after he did that.

I sought counseling. I knew I couldn’t handle this alone, and I needed someone to talk with about it. I also started medication, Prozac, because it seemed like an easy way to help me.

It’s been five years since that boyfriend assaulted me in his apartment.

I haven’t let that stop me from thriving, though. I’ve gotten my degree. I’ve started a new job with a beat I love. I have an incredible boyfriend who knows this all happened to me, and he supports me in everything that I do.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.You might not realize it, but you know a survivor. Everyone knows a survivor. Whether it’s someone extremely close to you, or someone you’ve met in passing, they’re in your life.

One out of every four women will be assaulted in their life. Post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression, anxiety and even suicide can come from this awful experience.

A lot of women don’t report that this happens to them either. I was one of those women. I didn’t go to police because I thought he couldn’t rape me as his girlfriend. I thought they wouldn’t believe my story.

I hadn’t told my parents this happened (sorry you had to find out this way) and only a few close friends knew.

But it’s important for survivors to know they aren’t alone.

It helps to talk about it. It helps to admit that it happened so you can start the healing process.

I never thought I would have this kind of a story to share. I never thought I’d be that one in four.

However, this is so important to realize how big of an issue this is and how many women and men it affects. So many of us choose to stay silent.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among female rape victims, perpetrators were often intimate partners or acquaintances.

Consent always has to be given, whether it’s just two people making out, or if it’s full-on intercourse with penetration. Consent has to be given enthusiastically. You cannot consent if you’re inebriated or intoxicated in any fashion.

In college, they had a program called “No Zebras” (as in a lion isolating a zebra from a herd and attacking her). It’s a course that’s now taught on military bases to give information about consent and not being a bystander when you see someone who is in a threatening situation.

It’s important to talk about these situations. These are real issues that affect millions of men and women every year.

It’s time for people to speak up. It’s time to share our stories. It’s time to teach everyone about consent. It’s time to realize just how strong we survivors are and how important it is that we’re heard.

– Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at kranzenberger@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDKatherine

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