I've been raped twice, on two different occasions, only months apart from one another. I was only a sophomore in college when both happened to me.
My first rape stripped me of myself, it stripped me of my feeling of safety, confidence, stability. I didn't know how to cope, I didn't know what to do or who to reach out to.
I tried to handle it on my own, tried to block it out and block out my rapist.
I tried to ignore what had happened, but I couldn't ignore it, especially not when days later I was getting poked by countless needles and instruments and getting countless tests done, just to make sure I would physically be okay.
I kept it hidden from most people for so long, and everyone around me watched me deteriorate. People watched me become secluded and act out in unusual ways in my emotions and behaviors. I didn't know who I was anymore, and I couldn't remember how to function well in social settings and even while alone for months.
My second rape just six months later made me feel even worse about myself and my life. I reacted very similarly to my first rape: trying to ignore it and push anything and everything about the event out of my head and out of my life. My emotions and behaviors spiraled out of control, and I felt like nothing could be done to take the pain away.
But I couldn't erase what had happened to me.
My rapists may have taken away my sense of self for quite a long time, may have taken away my ability to feel safe in public and around new people; they may have taken away my ability to sleep without nightmares almost every night, taken away my confidence and self-worth, taken away my naive trust in the world.
But they didn't take away my spirit.
They didn't take away my spirit to overcome my rapes, nor my spirit to become stronger and learn from what had happened to me. They didn't take away my kind, loving, caring spirit towards others and my ability to help others in need.
My rapists, whether they knew it or not, made me stronger.
It made me harden up to the world, to analyze it and situations more and to know when things weren't right. It made me learn to stand up for myself, to stand up for others, too, and not let uncomfortable and ignorant things slip by.
And they didn't take away my voice.
For awhile there, I was too scared to reach out, to tell others what happened to me. I was too scared to be open for fear of people laughing at me and not believing me, for fear of being ridiculed and not helped.
But when I found my voice again, something they could never strip from me, I made sure to make my voice loud.
I opened up to family, friends, and strangers alike about my rapes. I've warned others about things to look out for. I've been open about the negative repercussions my rapes had, in the hopes that someone else who may experience or already have experienced rape can work on these things, too.
I've become a safe place for individuals who have been raped or sexually assaulted to reach out to me, to open up to me when they feel like they can't open up to anyone else.
My voice, something my rapists never could have taken away from me, has been a saving grace for myself and for others. It's helped me learn more about myself and help others who wouldn't know what to do otherwise.
My voice and my spirit, never fully crushed by my rapes, have made me stronger and made others find strength through my words. I never want people to feel like they can't reach out, because I know how that feels. I had to go through my rapes alone and without guidance, but my voice and spirit is what carried me on.
And that's something my rapists could never take away from me.