It took me six years to accept the fact that I was sexually assaulted.
Unlike the little girl who passed away, I am far from being the perfect victim. Unlike her, I grew up with a privileged and somewhat westernized background. I had expressed my interest in the guy. I had been sexually involved with previous boyfriends before him. It would have been very hard for me to defend my case in court. I would have been labeled a slut, and some would argue that by expressing my interest in him, I had made myself sexually available. Still, what happened was beyond what I had wanted and, unfortunately, it was also one of my first sexual experiences that had shaped my emotional self as well as my sexual taste.
Stories of sexual assault in many forms have taken over the headlines of both international and local news outlets. All of them challenge the justice system that seems to fail to protect the victims as well as the social paradigm that perpetuates sexual assault. But I did not find any that gave the victim a voice, not until the recent open letter published by the Stanford rape case victim. Even as I was writing this, I still believe that she deserves a better pronoun than the reductive “victim”. If her assailant deserved to be called talented, I am sure she deserves much more recognitions and rewards. I am also sure, wherever she is right now, she will be much more than a victim.
It was not until I read Jessica Knoll's writing on a newsletter that I realized the reason why I resonated so much with the protagonist of her novel, Luckiest Girl Alive. Both of us are terrible at being a victim and both of us are good at positioning ourselves into the male gaze. We seamlessly morph ourselves into the projection of a man's desire. In different ways, we try to define ourselves besides being a victim. For her, it was by marrying a perfect on-paper guy – for me, by getting involved with different men. This was my way of downplaying the importance of what happened that night.
It was not until I got myself into another bad situation and got involved with an emotionally abusive man that I realized I had developed an unhealthy pattern. The men I was attracted to had always have a propensity towards either emotional or physical abuse. Until I met “B” I did not know I deserved a far better treatment. He was the first man to ever ask me what I liked in bed.
"How do you like it? Fast? Slow? Cause I can do both," he told me excitedly.
He was the first man to make sure I was comfortable at all times. He read my facial expressions well, kept his eyes on mine at all time, and he was always ready with soothing words whenever he saw me flinching. He inspired a healthy sexual awakening in me. Unfortunately, both of us were emotionally clueless.
I had to move back to Jakarta after finishing my masters overseas and that's when I met “G”. He was emotionally open and expressed his interest in having a relationship with me. That's when I had a round of anxiety attacks.
After years of bottling up my emotions, I had flashbacks of what happened that night. It seemed much easier for me to have a meaningless fling than to build a meaningful relationship with a partner. It is still unclear to me how much of it has to do with what happened.
Oscar Wilde once said, "Everything in the world is about sex, except for sex. Sex is about power.”
The corollary of that statement is that rape is an abuse of power. There is nothing worse than being reduced to a piece of meat. I have gone through heartbreak and loss, but I still can't find worse feeling than to have your own body weaponized against you. Why didn't I fight? Why didn't I scream for help? Unfortunately, under that circumstance I have learned to not scream for help until I am safe and far from danger. I have also learned that their lust is fed by resistance. The only way to be safe was to surrender and wish it would be over soon.
I decided to pretend it never happened, because if I told anyone that would be my identifier – The Girl Who Cried Rape. I did not want to be that girl. So I kept it to myself. It is only after accepting the fact that I was assaulted that I dared to assess the damage.
These days I have decided to take a break from dating in general. I am trying to mend my emotional self. I am learning to express anger and disappointment in a healthy way. Instead of keeping my emotions to myself, I am trying (with trials and errors) to honestly communicate my emotions. I have found that it helps with the anxiety attacks. All I need is to know that it is now safe – emotionally and physically – to be vulnerable.
It was not until G that I realized that I, too, want to have a meaningful relationship with a man. Not long after I met him, I reached out to a therapist to seek help. I had my first session with her and been delaying my appointments. Honestly, I am scared of looking back and potentially opening a can of emotional worms. For a lot of reasons, I have put my potential relationship with G on a shelf.
These days, I am busy working and spending time with friends and family. I am proud of both my educational and professional credentials. I earned both of my degrees from the most prestigious universities in the region and managed to get myself a job that thousands would kill for.
I am writing this in hope to inspire those who have been victims of sexual assault. I want you to know that it is possible to build a life that you are proud of. Building a healthy relationship, with the good struggle and much growing pain, is possible. It is possible to build an identity beside being a “victim”.
But, please do, reach for help. They are a few Google search away. There are chat rooms and books, if therapy is not your option. Seeking help has been the foundation I have rebuilt my emotional self.
Adriana Ilyas is a 20-something crazy cat lady who is trying to get herself unstuck on several different loops.