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Why It Took Me 6 Years to Discuss My Sexual Assault

A sexual assault survivor shares her journey of recovery

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I was sexually assaulted. 

Seeing those words typed out still makes my stomach churn. It’s surprising, when you consider I recently published a memoir, Incongruent: Travel, Trauma, Transformation, that includes the full story for all to read. But now I am dedicated to helping other victims feel seen by sharing my story. 

On a work trip to a former stomping ground, I had gathered for dinner with two old friends, one former work colleague, and one complete stranger. I was one Old Fashioned and two glasses of wine in when out of nowhere that attic box exploded like an erupting volcano and out poured the lava of words. “I was sexually assaulted six years ago in D.C.” 

You could have heard a pin drop at our table. I have no recollection of what led our conversation to open that rusty mental door, but I will never forget the look on their faces. 

When thinking of that day, the emotions that bubble up run the gamut from anger and sadness to shame and guilt. Anger at two men who could be so sinister. Anger at myself for not being smarter, wiser, stronger. Sadness for my soul, as she now wears that scar for life. Sadness for the weeks, months, and years this set back my own sexuality and my own ability to find joy in the company of strangers. 

Shame because the incident is wrapped in a cloak of “should” or more accurately “should nots.” I should not have engaged with those men in the first place. I should not have accepted the Champagne they offered. I should not have allowed myself to be alone in an elevator with them. I should not have ignored the screaming, yelling, panicking, red flag waving that my gut was doing. 

And the worst and most complicated of emotions: guilt. Guilt, because I managed what many other women could not, I got away. I escaped my attackers before they could complete what they had intended. In the end, I was not physically harmed beyond a few cuts, bumps, and bruises. But emotionally, I was devastated. The incident changed my relationship with men and sex for years. And yet, I carried the heavy weight of shame that what happened was somehow my fault. I traversed a complex set of emotions of feeling the effects of trauma and yet feeling unworthy of them. I should (yep, here we go again) …I should feel relieved, grateful…anything except the devastation I feel about the incident. 

And I know I am not alone. I know there are more women out there, maybe you are one of them, who is sitting in your own pool of complicated emotions. And here is my friend-to-friend advice on how to help heal old wounds. 

Face the shame monster

There came a point in my journey that I had to admit I was carrying all those swirling emotions about the incident. And more than admitting it, I had to sit in the room with them, staring them right in the eye until I owned the power over them. My inclination was to carefully place them in the darkest corner of the attic of my mind in hopes the dust they gathered would eventually crush them out of existence. But that isn’t how life works, is it? As hard as it is, we can’t heal what we can’t face. Face the monster and make him your bitch. 

Know you are not alone. 

Someone is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds in America. One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8 percent completed, 2.8 percent attempted). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2015) estimates that 19.3 percent of women have been raped during their lifetime. Additionally, an estimated 27.3 percent of women have experienced other forms of unwanted sexual assault contact. And yet, an exploration of victims’ narratives from the National Crime Victimization Survey (2010) reveals that 13 percent of respondents who experience rape or sexual assault express shame (i.e., self-blame, humiliation, or fear of public scrutiny) in their narratives. 

So, we are not alone. And yet, that solace only soothes at a skin-deep level. If you are like me, deeper in the caverns of your soul, you might still feel alone, swimming in a sea of if only and what if. Perhaps we always will. But the more we are reminded of the community of support that is out there, the more we can begin to rely on that community. 

Talk about it in all the ways you can. 

In my book, I recount the details of that day for the first time publicly. In writing this work, I dissect with a journalistic eye every important life experience that made me who I am today. This was the very last chapter I etched out in the work. It was by far the most challenging. Challenging because of my own imposter syndrome about the trauma it caused. Challenging because it forced me to release the anger and find the lessons learned. Challenging because I had to look myself in the mirror and say the words. 

I was sexually assaulted. 

And there it is again. That semi-nausea. So why talk about it now? Why allow this writing to trudge up all the ocean floor murk? Because I want to help others. Specifically help others feel seen and validated and able to dust off their own attic box. And in helping others, I simultaneously help myself. 

Our culture teaches us to blame victims, gaslight accusers, repress memories, shame fantasies, and persecute anything that deviates from the pure, non-sin Christian version of sex. And while rape by a stranger might make the news and draw an empathetic audience, anything short of stranger rape—sexual assault, date rape, marital rape, acquaintance rape—is all met with skepticism and dismissal. And it’s time that stops. It can only stop when we all start talking. To friends, in groups, in writing, on stages…whatever it takes. 

I am an accomplished, confident, outspoken woman. And it took me six years to say the four simple words that would open the door to healing. I write this for every victim who has carried the weight of those emotions for a day or a decade. You are seen, you are validated, you are worthy of healing. 

About The Author
Melanie Sue Hicks

Melanie is the author of Incongruent: Travel, Trauma, Transformation. She is an adventure seeking, social impact advocate dedicated to helping others overcome fear and live their dharma. She has led or participated in more than 50 service projects in 20 cities and three international locations and dedicates her life to creating impact on her own or amplifying the impact of others every single day. 

As an author and education, nonprofit, and workplace expert, she has been interviewed and published in more than two dozen magazines and websites including Forbes.com, Marie Claire, Authority magazine, See Beyond magazine, The District, and Doctor’s Life magazine. She is an experienced motivational speaker and master facilitator. Using her custom 3E Method of Change, along with her unique style of group facilitation, she offers training to organizations focused on helping to navigate the future of education and work for increased retention, productivity, and revenue.