Kelsey Bruce, The Current’s A&E editor, is a sophomore speech language and communication disorders major who takes pride in her prolix Spotify playlists, zany greeting card collection and oddly specific poetry. She holds a volunteer position at Nicklaus Children’s Miramar Outpatient Center and as a Title IX Peer Educator for NSU. In her spare time, she loves spending time hanging out with black cats and puzzling out the mysteries of the universe.
“Love hurts.” I’ve heard this phrase all my life. I’ve read love story upon love story interwoven with love and pain, with couples who went through mystical battles and betrayal only to cement a stronger love in the end. From what I understood, you couldn’t have love without pain. You had to sacrifice everything — your mortality for a vampire or your beliefs for a kingdom. Maybe those stories, that romanticization of hardship, was part of why I never saw red flags in my relationships until I found myself tucking myself in at night with crimson sheets.
Let me explain a bit. I’ve had two romantic relationships thus far, and both were unhealthy, the first because my significant other was 19 and in college while I was 15 and a sophomore in high school and the second because my significant other created hardship in ways the books I read never dared to venture. My second S.O. was the first person who sexually assaulted me.
Yes, you read that right: first. Since then, I’ve experienced sexual assault upwards of four times, some by my ex-S.O. and accomplices, one from another person I met back home and a couple by people I’ve met on this campus. Each time, I felt degraded and pitiful. Each time, I found myself questioning whether or not I did something to cause my assault, and those doubts were largely driven by the way people around me reacted. In each instance, even if there was an initial condemnation of my sexual assaulter, their friends and even acquaintances seemed to forget their actions like last week’s gossip. People told me — directly and indirectly — that what happened to me wasn’t as significant as I was making it out to be. That I was being overdramatic or immature.
I found myself questioning how and why this happened. Why would my friends act so supportive at first and then proceed to associate with a person who had intentionally traumatized me forever? Eventually, I came to a few conclusions. One, that people tend towards convenience and self-service. But there was another factor that I’ve only realized recently, through a lot of self-talk, research and therapy at Broward’s Nancy J. Cotterman Center’s Sexual Assault Treatment Center. That is, those “friends” pitied me but did not respect me or my situation. They viewed me as a victim and felt sorry for me as long as they could muster. But sorrow itself only lasts so long.
To elaborate, pity implies an intrinsic accompanying sense of superiority. To feel bad for someone, you have to assign a little less value to that person’s life than your own. While feelings of superiority stem from variable roots, one huge possibility in my situations was that being raped somehow made me lesser. Perhaps people perceived me as passive or weak, or maybe they believed I deserved what happened to me, either because I should have known better than to trust the person in question or because I came off as too “inviting.” Either way, the people around me felt sorry for my loss, but they never did anything to give back what was taken — my dignity and my sense of security in the world around me.
At first, I accepted pity. I wanted support wherever I could get it, and I didn’t really notice the quality. Then, I realized that those people had a lot in common with my assaulters. They didn’t respect me and dehumanized me and my experiences. To them, I was a poor animal, and for a while, I agreed. But I’ve realized I am so much more. It has taken an inconceivable amount of strength for me to work through my trauma and redefine my identity outside of victimhood, and I have a backbone like no other. For all my bravery and determination, I’ve given myself a new title, one that rejects pity and it’s innate disrespect: survivor.