Sexual violence can have prolonged, harmful consequences for victims, families, and communities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Jennifer Albert (name has been changed), a BYU-Idaho student and rape survivor, said that flashbacks of her assault sometimes interfere with her everyday life. She said they can be triggered by the things people say.
“I think it’s the careless remarks by other people or the crude humor or jokes that will really honestly undermine my self-worth,” said Marie White (name has been changed), a BYU-I student and a sexual abuse survivor.
Albert said it is very upsetting to her when people use the word ‘rape’ casually in conversation.
“When guys play video games, they’ll say ‘I raped you’ when they win, and that is just entirely inappropriate,” Albert said.
White said she feels that few people know that individuals in their lives have experienced sexual violence.
“There’s that fear that if anyone finds out, they’re going to treat you like a victim,” White said.
White said she wishes people had an understanding that being a victim of sexual violence does not define a person.
“There’s a certain weight that you carry,” White said. “Every physical contact, every suggestive joke. Even if you’ve moved past the issue itself and are living a good life, there’s always a constant reminder that that happened to you, and you can’t change it.”
White said she does not talk to many of her friends about her abuse.
“I don’t want the way they see me to change,” White said. “I don’t want them to think that I’m limited because of it.”
White said many sexual violence survivors blame themselves for the attack.
“When I reported my rape, the police officer asked me what I was wearing and what else I had done that could’ve left me susceptible,” Albert said. “Does anything like that really justify what happened? Things like that are why women blame themselves for being assaulted.”
White said when she first told someone about her abuse, they did not believe her.
Albert said she feels that most people do not realize that sexual violence can happen to anyone.
“It doesn’t just happen in movies,” White said. “It doesn’t just happen in foreign countries or to people that aren’t us. It happens to you. It happens to your friends. It happens to your family.”
White said out of the 15 or 16 girls that were in her Young Women’s class when she was growing up, five have been sexually abused.
White said not only are members of the Church victims of sexual violence, but they can also be the perpetrators.
White said people sometimes have the misconception that only women experience sexual violence, but men are victimized as well.
White said many sexual violence survivors have problems in relationships because of the distrust the assault or abuse causes.
“It’s going to be really hard someday when I have to tell my husband,” White said.
White said her sexual abuse has caused her to put up walls between her and the people around her.
“I’m very concerned about trying to be in a relationship,” Albert said. “I feel like most guys are going to have a hard time understanding why I am the way I am and why I react to certain things the way I do.”
White said it is important for people to be understanding when pursuing a relationship with someone who has been a victim of sexual violence.
It is important to react supportively and to avoid judgment when someone reports that they have been sexually assaulted or abused, according to the RAINN website.
Albert said she does not think she will ever completely get over her assault, but that she deals with it one day at a time.
“I have bad days, just like everyone else,” White said. “I just tell myself that everyone has struggles.”
White said good ecclesiastical leaders and a strong relationship with God have helped with her healing process.
“We really do have an advantage by having the gospel in our lives,” White said. “We can always talk to our Heavenly Father and just tell Him how we feel.”
Albert said the atonement of Jesus Christ is what helps her cope with her assault on a daily basis.
“I want people to be educated that hard things happen, but it’s important to keep going forward,” White said. “We’re not defined by the things that have happened to us.”