Choosing forgiveness helped me to move on
A young woman shares her journey of healing after sexual assault
It was December 27. I had met a young man, and we started hanging out together. That night, circumstances led to him being in my apartment alone with me.
I think he slipped something in my drink; I don’t think I’ll ever know. In any case, I found myself unable to move, suddenly very heavy and tired. That’s when he started touching me and molesting me.
I was trying to say, “I don’t want to do this!” But he just ignored me.
I could not really resist or fight back. I just vividly remember lying on my bed and watching the ceiling fan above my head, rotating.
And then he started raping me. I could not do or say anything. In a state of panic, I just froze, and retreated into my head.
I remember one prevailing thought throughout it all: “Even in this moment, God is with me.”
The thing is, until then, I had never really been the type to be very vocal about my faith. I will admit that I hadn’t been the most devout Catholic. But I’ve always believed that God exists, watching over me in some way, shape or form.
So even in that moment, that was my prevailing thought. It was almost as if God were telling me, “I am right here with you, going through this, and suffering this with you.”
And that helped me more than anything else.
The immediate aftermath
So, after it happened, I immediately contacted my older sister. She advised me to go to the police to have a rape kit done and then go home to our parents.
That night, my friends also rallied to support me. One told me the code to her house door so I could spend the night there while her family was away on a trip.
When I told my boss what happened, she was immediately supportive and told me to take the time I needed. I flew back home.
I sat down with my parents and my sister. I told them what had happened, and my mom cried. She kept saying: “But how? How did this happen to my baby?”
I came out of that conversation feeling sad that it had happened and also upset at myself. I didn’t need to blame myself, but decisions that I had made up until that point had led to him being in my apartment. For whatever reason, my judgment was impaired that day.
A day or two after I told my parents what had happened, I received a call saying that I had been hired for the job for which I had applied barely a week before this incident … and it was in my home state.
Just the timing of it was like God telling me, “Here’s your opportunity to come home and then at least be physically away from where it happened.”
So of course, I accepted the job on the spot. I thanked God and then got ready to look for an apartment in that new city.
The police report
Since filing the police report, I had been communicating with the investigator. I remember how that process felt almost more violating than the rape itself.
They went into every detail, and they swabbed every part of me. They asked very deep probing questions and asked me for a urine sample. Unfortunately, it was all too late. They couldn’t test whether I had anything in my system or not.
While I was apartment shopping, I got a call from the detective, saying that she unfortunately had to throw out my case — there was not enough evidence to prove that what we did hadn’t been consensual, and thus not enough evidence to take it to trial.
At that moment, I remember being disappointed, but I also remember thinking, “I didn’t file this report because I wanted to get some kind of revenge. I wanted to file this report for myself, so that I could say that I did everything I could to bring him to justice.”
I was thinking of so many people, so many women out there who don’t report what happens to them because they are afraid, fearful of retaliation or because they are ashamed … how I felt when I filed my report.
I accepted the decision and thought about focusing on everything else that was going so well, such as acquiring the new job and looking for the apartment unit. There were so many other things on my mind.
But I remember that when I told my sister about the detective’s call, she became really angry. She was a little upset with me, almost saying, “Why aren’t you trying harder [to punish the guy]?” But she was more upset at the police, who seemed uncaring or unforgiving.
I told her that, for me, hatred is like taking poison, that being unforgiving and bitter and dwelling on this is like a poison.
I wanted to just move on and think about all the things in my life to be grateful for. I took solace in that. I had this new job opportunity; I had family and friends who immediately rallied to support me.
The floodgates open
Since I had to move out of my old apartment, my mom and I flew back to that state. We then packed everything up and started our three-day drive to my new apartment.
Up until that point, I hadn’t really cried, except a little while filing the report. I don’t know if it was because of the shame or the emotion. My mom was driving, and we were saying the Rosary in the car. I remember seeing a sign saying that we had crossed into a new state. And the floodgates just opened; I started sobbing and wailing.
I was begging God to help me not to hurt and not to hate, and to help me forgive that man.
I had started going to therapy, of course, before returning to the scene of the incident. One of the things that the therapist had asked me to do was write a letter to my rapist, as if I was going to give it to him. One of the main points of that letter was, “I forgive you, and I actually pity you, because you don’t know God.”
I wrote that “while you were in that act, you may have hurt me physically and emotionally, but you got nothing on my faith.”
And so that moment in the car was very cathartic because it was finally as if I was saying, “Okay, I’m leaving this state and I’m leaving this behind. Thanks and glory to God for giving me the opportunity to do so.”
The climb back up
I remember looking forward to the future. Usually after an assault, a lot of people spiral downwards. Thanks to God, my family and friends, I felt like I figuratively crawled my way up from rock bottom pretty quickly.
I especially thank God for my mom and her teachings that got me through this. She is the one who, because she knew of the Focolare spirituality of unity before I was born, taught me from the very beginning what it means to love others, to love myself, to love God.
For the first couple of years after it happened, the days around the incident were tough. I would have the toughest flashbacks to that moment. Even after I moved to my new place, I couldn’t sleep on my bed because my new apartment had a ceiling fan. Watching it rotate would bring me back to that moment. So, my roommate would often find me on the couch or on the floor. But with time, I was eventually able to sleep on my bed again.
The first year that I forgot that it had happened was 2019. I didn’t think that was possible.
By that time, I had met a young man, A, and we had been dating for some time. One day in particular, I was so excited that he was coming to visit. We had been having our serious talks about life, the future.
Then it hit me: the anniversary of the day of the incident had passed, and it hadn’t even occurred to me!
I like to think that I processed my trauma a lot faster than many other victims. And I know that every victim’s recovery is different. I attribute mine to God, family, friends — primarily my faith.
A new life
And then A proposed. I told him what had happened to me, and he supported me. He said to me, “You’ve always been there for me and now I want to be there for you.”
Before the engagement, and after we had been seriously dating for some time, I did have my doubts. We were living in two different cities, with a job that neither wanted to leave. He was not Catholic and getting married in a church and having our union blessed by God is something important, not just to me, but also to my parents.
During one of our visits, it turned out that he was already planning on moving to be with me. Also, not only was he open to learning more about the Catholic faith, but he also said that he was open to becoming baptized in the future. I remember in that moment, tearing up, and really thanking God.
We certainly have had our little conflicts, little squabbles ... and learning new things and annoying habits about each other. But I am learning that he really is the only one for me. We began searching for a house, and it was very stressful. We lost bid after bid and kept lowering our expectations. I continued to persevere and have faith and I prayed to God through all this.
In the meantime, A began taking his RCIA classes every Sunday. He never missed a single class. We had our little church wedding with my family and a few close friends … with social distance, of course. And a few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, A was baptized!
Around that time, we got the call saying that our offer on our house had finally been accepted. We’re now slowly moving in and settling into this beautiful home that needed very few modifications, very few repairs.
Looking back, I came out of the assault stronger, and with so many better things happening in my life. It happened, and I cannot change that, but rather than wallowing in it, I discovered that choosing forgiveness helped me to move on.
I feel it’s important to share this experience because if it could help but one person, it is worth it.
A. L., Washington
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