Hi, my name is Iris Barber and I am a high school senior. During the past few years, I have volunteered with SCCADVASA and STSM. In my experiences, I’ve learned a lot about the heartbreaking statistics on sexual assault in the U.S. This past fall, I was really upset by watching and reading all the news about the Kavanaugh hearings. The seriousness of sexual assault was treated as a partisan political issue rather than a critical issue that impacts millions of people. I believe that if we want to end sexual violence, we all have to find a role we can play in bringing attention to the issue and developing solutions. I’ve decided that a good way for me to do this was to facilitate interviews featuring the stories of young survivors. I would like to thank the five young women who were brave enough to trust me with their stories and SCCADVASA for giving me the platform to present my message. I hope everyone reading this article thinks about these stories and can join the movement to bring an end to assault permanently. Hopefully after reading the sentiments of these survivors, you gain further insight into how society’s treatment of sexual assault makes survivors in our communities feel. All survivors of assault—including the five women whose stories are shared in this interview—are strong and beautiful, and deserve better than to be degraded and live in the fear of their perpetrators.
Youth Survivor Q&A
Please note: This interview includes transcripts from five young survivors in the Columbia metropolitan area. Out of respect for their confidentiality and safety, the identities of the survivors will remain anonymous. To read the full interview, please visit http://www.sccadvasa.org/blog/realationships-101/2019/interview-centering-the-voices-of-young-survivors-in-columbia.
Q: What age were you assaulted?
Survivor 1: I was in middle school.
Survivor 2: I was seven years old.
Survivor 3: I was sixteen and seventeen through the time of my assaults.
Survivor 4: I was fourteen.
Survivor 5: I was fourteen the first, and fifteen the second time.
Q: What is your relationship to the perpetrator?
Survivor 1: He is an extremely close family friend. My parents love him like a son […] I even saw him as an older brother in every way up until the assault.
Survivor 2: They were my brother’s best friends.
Survivor 3: He was my first love and during the time he was my on and off boyfriend.
Survivor 4: He was my best friend. Always had been up until that day.
Survivor 5: He was a family friend. His family lived in Spain, so the first time he came to my house for two weeks during the summer as a part of an exchange program.
Q: What were your immediate thoughts and feeling after the assault?
Survivor 1: I was filled with anger, confusion, self-hatred, and self-blame.
Survivor 2: In the first couple of minutes following I felt good, but I only felt good because my perpetrators had told me over and over again it was okay and I was doing the right thing and that people would be proud of me for it. So, after they left my room I went down stairs and told my mom what had just happened because I thought she would be happy and proud of me just like my perpetrators had told me they were. Then I watched her begin to cry and I realized what had happed was not a good thing. […] I was seven years old. I didn’t understand any of it.
Survivor 3: After I was assaulted, every time—whether it had been sexual, mental, or physical— I blamed myself. In my mind, I would excuse him because he loved me and I loved him, and he would never hurt me. Even though he did, it was my fault because I pushed him to by not agreeing with him and being a bad girlfriend. And honestly when I would feel sad or hurt by what had just occurred. I’d brush it off and say “I love him” and that “it’s just a rough patch” and that “he’ll grow up and things will get better”. Time after time I brushed it off, ignored it, blamed myself, and never held him accountable.
Survivor 4: “Everyone was right”—“Girls can’t just be friends with boys”, and “I shouldn’t have gone to his house”. “I did it to myself!” Those were only a couple of thoughts I had. Not to mention the betrayal I felt from being assaulted. I had trusted with everything my entire life.
Survivor 4: I think because I pushed it to the back of my mind and just tried to deny the truth of it for so long—and I mean years—the days I hear his name, hear a trigger word— I can be caught up in it and it be all I think of for days and days. I have regrets of not perusing legal action a lot and then I think about the girls I know who have and have perused legal action, and for so many of them it did not work out and their perpetrator walked away free. And from there, my regrets just turn to anger. But it’s no longer just anger for myself. Now it’s anger for everyone who has ever been assaulted in any way and now have to live with regrets and fear […]
Survivor 5: The first time I brushed it off because we were talking and well that’s what people do in relationships so, I kind of felt like I was wrong for saying “no” over and over again because it would have happened eventually anyway. The second time, however, we weren’t together and it was fully forced on me. So, I felt different. This time I could admit that what he had done was rape and it made me think back to the summer before where he had done it and I saw that this was the second time. My mind started twirling with thoughts once I realized this. I blamed myself and was pissed at myself because all I could think was if I had just admitted to myself what had truly happened the summer before maybe it wouldn’t have happened this time […]
Q: As a survivor what is your opinion on how the government handles sexual assault cases?
Survivor 1: As a survivor, I believe all the women who stepped forward were, and still are, telling the truth. Regardless of that though, I also believe the allegations alone should show what type of man he is and—with allowing him to be confirmed—sends a message to perpetrators that they too can get away with it and live out their dreams with no negative repercussions from their horrible actions.
Survivor 2: The government handles sexual assault like it’s a game or a debate—and it’s not. It’s something that is very personal to everyone who has to suffer from it. This past fall, the government took it and made it a political issue between democrats and republicans — and it’s not a political issue. It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green party, or however you politically align yourself. It can happen to you and probably has happened to someone you know. Survivors are normal people in everyday life from all political, racial, ethnical, gender, and religious beliefs. Sexual assault is not something to debate over. It’s something that needs to be stopped and the government needs to see that and address that.
Survivor 3: The government tends to make it a political issue when it’s not, and treats it like is not a big deal. All that does is push women away from wanting to report and go through the long legal process because with the way it is treated, the women and men who do report the violence against them—whether it be sexual or physical—will be judged in some way shape or form.
Survivor 4: Pshh, a joke! I can’t say I am surprised about it though because they’re not going to take it seriously unless it effects one of them directly. And I don’t think government officials really want to admit that it happens. If they did, then they would actually have to work together to bring an end to it. With the way everything is now, everything has to be a political debate all the time. That can be seen in the Kavanagh hearings. It was publicized so much for views and to get everyone to debate on an issue that’s not a debate. It’s a real problem that needs to be fixed not over time, but immediately.
Survivor 5: It makes me so angry. The government treats sexual assault like it’s a game and survivors are all worth questioning because no one, especially men in power, would use that power as a way to get what they wanted from a women. “You didn’t want that! (said in sarcastic manner). They excuse. You can see that the government makes for a man who makes “locker room talk” like “grabbing her by the pussy” okay—and it makes me sick to my stomach. For a government based off of freedom of speech, they sure are doing a good job of pushing survivors away from telling the truth about what happened to them.
Q: If you could say something to someone who had just been through an assault what would you say?
Survivor 1: Report it. Because if they aren’t held accountable for their actions, the perpetrator may and most likely do it again. I do not want you to feel and carry the regret that I do from not reporting. But most importantly, just because this happened to you, it does not define who you are and you can choose how you handle. If not, how it handles you.
Survivor 2: If you have been sexually assaulted, you should seek legal action and expose your perpetrator(s) if you can because they should be held accountable legally for what has happened to them. You have been hurt and will feel hurt from the assault for the rest or your life, so they deserve whatever should come to them from the legal system.
Survivor 3: Be strong. It’s hard to recognize when it’s from someone you love. And know—yes it’s going to hurt letting go—but you don’t need him/her in your life like I thought I did for so long. You’re worth so much more than you know and all those horrible things they did to you are not true. You will be happy one day without them, I promise.
Survivor 4: Don’t change the way you live. Not everyone is going to hurt you. It’s going to be a dark time for a very, very long time, but you can’t change who you are or how you live because of your perpetrator. You didn’t deserve for this to happen to you and you don’t deserve to have to live in fear for the rest of your life. You should talk to someone about it because—as you talk more about it to someone you trust and who believes you—you’ll learn that other people have had similar experiences and you’re not alone in this.
Survivor 5: There are many other people who have been through very similar situations as you and it’s going to be okay. You’re not alone in this. Stay strong. It wasn’t your fault and you most certainly never asked for it. If you are strong enough to go through the legal process, go through it. But, for every survivor, please find a healthy way to work through it—talk to someone, use some form of art, do yoga—whatever will help you get through it. Do it because you deserve to be happy and not live every day scared and upset.