Is this my fault?

by Shelly Crossland

Notes from the Editor:

I had the great fortune of meeting Shelly through an online support group where she helps create a safe space for survivors to come together to be vulnerable, honest, and share the journey of healing with one another. You can find the group on facebook at: Surviving and Thriving: A Support Group For Sexual Assault Survivors

Trigger warning: mention of sexual assault and groping, small details of assault.

I was 19 the first time I was sexually assaulted. I had always been a romantic, a believer in fairytales and love stories. I had only kissed a few people, and I wanted to be in love before I experienced anything else.

That choice was taken from me. “Do you want to go further?” “No.” He disregarded that no and went further. And further. My body and mind froze. Even as I knew what was happening, I felt like I couldn’t stop it. I just hoped it would end quickly. So many questions flooded my mind. “Why would he ignore the word no like that? Why would he do this to me?” But one question floated to the forefront of my mind, clearer and louder than the rest: “Is this my fault?”

"But one question floated to the forefront of my mind, clearer and louder than the rest: is this my fault?"

I was 20 when the nightmare happened again. And again. The word no seemed to hold zero power and I felt my understanding of sex and intimacy slipping away. I told them no, I made sure to emphasize and explain and implore they listen to me. They looked me in the eyes and told me they understood, that they wouldn’t cross that line. That the person who did that to me in the past was an asshole. But then they did the exact same thing. “Why are they doing this to me? How do I get back what was taken from me?” And again, that question rose to the surface louder and more defined than the rest: “Is this my fault?”

I was 26 (a year ago) when I was groped walking to my car after work. I felt him following me, looked over my shoulder a few times, convinced myself I was imagining things. And then he grabbed me. I recounted the incident to the police, standing in my apartment. I reported it. I reported it for my 26-year-old self, for my 20-year-old self, for my 19-year-old self. I reported for every other person out there, who has ever wondered, “Is this my fault?” For the first time in my life, that question hadn’t crossed my mind. After all these years, I was finally done letting them steal my power. I was finally done blaming myself. It was finally clear to me: none of it was ever my fault.

"After all these years, I was finally done letting them steal my power"

My power and control were taken away from me during each of these moments. I’m taking it back the only way I know how.

By talking about it.

By sharing my story.

By helping others feel less alone and heal their trauma.

8 years later, I still have a hard time letting people get close to me, physically and emotionally. I still wonder what a love interest’s intentions are, and if I can trust them, or feel safe with them. But what I don’t do anymore, what I refuse to do anymore, is blame myself. It wasn’t my fault. It was never my fault.


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