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Hayley Rose Horzepa Headshot

Relationships After Sexual Assault

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Or should I say the "lack of relationships" after sexual assault... Trust is a difficult thing, especially when you've fallen victim to a rape. After becoming a victim myself and eventually seeking therapy, I couldn't trust anyone, not even myself. Can you imagine the feeling of not being able to trust yourself? I am still very mistrustful and fearful. To understand why, I would have to revert back to the crime itself along with some common misconceptions.

Since writing about this publicly, many people, mainly men, have argued with me that rape is an act that men cannot help executing because of their "natural" sexual drives and desires. This misconception is also the reason why victim-blaming excuses often fly without much questioning from others. "She was dressed like a slut," "She is very promiscuous," and many many more excuses for rape crimes take the blame off the perpetrator and place it on the victim. At one point, I too thought that rape was a sexually-motivated crime. When it happened to me I was young, cute and totally disinterested in the "friends" who raped me. I thought that maybe they had wanted me bad and knew they couldn't have me so they resorted to rape as it was the only way to "get" me. It made sense in my head, at the time.

This is, of course, wrong. Rape is not about sex. It is about control. It is a crime like any other where something is taken without consent. If a man walks into a bank with a gun, he uses the gun as a weapon to procure money from the bank. Rape is similar. A rapist overpowers the victim by using sex as a weapon, much like a gunman scares bank tellers into submission by waving around a firearm.

A rapist is similar to a bully in the schoolyard picking on smaller kids so he can feel "bigger." It is possible that the friends who raped me did it because they knew I would never sleep with them in a million years willingly. This still doesn't make it about sex. Maybe they wanted to have sex with me but they knew that I wouldn't, and out of anger and resentment decided that they were going to have sex with me with or without my permission. That night, they put something in my drink so they could do it without fear of me remembering or finding out (or so they thought...). In the end, they got what they wanted, despite what I wanted. Yes, what they originally wanted might've been sex, but without my consent what they wanted from me surpassed the sexual and entered into the realm of control: They wanted me to do what they wanted.

Since starting counseling, my ability to trust has greatly decreased. For some reason, talking about what happened has opened whole new metaphorical can of worms. Not only do I have trouble trusting others, even family and friends I've known for years, but most of the time I feel like I cannot even trust myself. This is a problem many victims of sexual assault experience, and it often results in isolation from friends and family as well as a failure to forge new friendships and relationships.

A lot of people have difficulties in relationships, but a person who has survived rape will have extra issues. It takes a patient and special person to be their lover or even just their friend. Sometimes the additional trials and issues involved in relating to a sexual assault survivor are very, very sad. Last weekend I was invited to an awesome concert by a good friend. It was an all-day music fest, and it would be just the two of us and one of her good guy friends. I wanted to go but the idea of crashing at her place along with some guy I didn't know terrified me. Even though he was a good friend of hers, someone she knew and trusted, I could not bring myself to trust. Because she is such an understanding and kind person, she wasn't insulted when I told her why I was uncomfortable going. But not everybody is that understanding. Most people are not.

The friends and family I have both from my "real life" and those I've met online are the some of the most patient people in the world. I spazz. I am afraid. I do not and sometimes cannot trust. I overreact. I am overly emotional. With all those terrible traits, they are always there for me. They know I am trying but cannot help it. What has happened to me, to my emotions and my mind, is equivalent to a physical handicap. My perception of life and everyday occurrences will never be normal. They can never be put right again. Like a person who has lost a limb in an accident, the damage has been done and nothing will ever bring that limb back. Now that the limb is gone, they are presented with more challenges. They still have to live life as they did before they had a physical handicap, but now they must find new ways to do the things that used to come naturally to them. Now there are extra obstacles they must surpass to live normally; permanent obstacles that will be a new layer upon the structure of what they used to consider their normal daily life. Over time, things do become easier, but they will never again be the same, and only the strongest people can be friends with and participate in relationships with a person who has experienced this type of emotional trauma.

I sarcastically said that this article should be titled the "Lack of Relationships After Sexual Assault" because it takes an empathetic and patient person to be supportive and understanding to someone who has experienced that kind of trauma. Many survivors, including myself, have been dumped by a significant other after revealing that being a victim of sexual assault was part of our pasts. Though the term "survivor" sounds pretty tough, the truth is that survivors are often fragile, and find themselves being ditched by guys and friends alike who are often too callous or impatient to deal with the emotional rollar coaster a rape survivor experiences and deals with on a daily basis. It is easy for a survivor to become overly dependent on friends once they learn that they can open up and trust again because it feels so amazing to finally be able to trust a person.

Sometimes being honest about being a survivor or even just being yourself ends up pushing the friends who cannot handle it away. And though it always hurts, the heart knows in the long run that by being ditched, these "friends" were actually doing you a favor. I know that as a survivor of sexual assault, I do not need half-assed cold-hearted men or friends in my life, people who are scared of the mental scape that makes up my reality. Imagine living in my head? Imagine experiencing my fear and trauma firsthand? If a person cannot be there to hold my hand when something becomes difficult for me, if he or she does not feel that my good qualities outweigh my bad ones and cannot be forgiving of my emotional issues or the way I handle things, then maybe they do not deserve my friendship. Relationships after sexual assault are not always easy. In fact, sometimes the relationship with the self is as challenging as the relationships with the people around you. True friends will reveal themselves in time and it is those friends who must always be appreciated and never forgotten.

For more by Hayley Rose Horzepa, click here.

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