There is no right or wrong way to cope with sexual assault, but it is important to know that you are not alone and no matter what you decide, there will always be someone available to talk to.

Authored by: Jalisia Manning, Fahrenheit Creative Group

Two months, ago I started a new job at a marketing agency. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I had no idea I would be working on a project focused on eliminating sexual assault on college and university campuses. I also didn’t expect to be asked to write a blog for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

I have absolutely zero personal experience with sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking, so anything I write would likely be heavier on statistics than substantive experience that would be valuable to students, survivors, or professionals working to address these issue on campuses.

So, I decided to reach out to a friend of mine from college. She’s a young, 20-something from a small town in Alabama on track to be everything she always said she would be.  A leader in her community. A shoulder to lean on. A seeker of justice and equity no matter the cost.

When she was nominated to run for Miss Homecoming, it wasn’t a surprise to most of us. She was someone who earned her way to holding that title which has only been held by less than five women of color since its inception in the 1930s. But, her personal platform certainly caught me by surprise: sexual assault. I remember reading her story and asking myself a million questions.

When did this happen?

How did I not know? 

Why didn’t she say anything?

Most importantly, how did I miss the signs?

Here we are five years later. I wanted to know how she took authority over her pain and what that pain looked and felt like today. Here’s her story:

I didn’t think that I had been assaulted. I just knew something wrong happened to me. For months and months on end, I kept reliving it in my head. Every time I would lay in my dorm bed— there was this thought that wouldn’t go away. 

I decided to go to a “Take Back the Night” event to be supportive of the people who were there. And the more and more I heard their stories, the more they sounded like mine. 

And I knew then what felt so wrong, so different— I had been assaulted. 

But in the months that it took for me to understand— I wish I knew that what happened to me wasn’t my fault. 

I spent so much time thinking about what I could’ve done differently. What I should have done. But there wasn’t anything different that I should’ve or could’ve done—they should’ve listened to my no. They should’ve never tried anything. 

I needed to know that there are multiple options outside of going through the process of reporting. 

I wish I knew that I wasn’t alone, and just talking about what happened to me would break down barriers and walls not only for me but for others. 

Between the second semester of my freshman year and junior year, I had told a few friends and my mom but still kept that part of myself fairly private. 

Then I was nominated for Miss Homecoming— and needed a platform. 

I had said years prior that if I ever got the opportunity, I would use that platform to promote something significant, not trivial. 

There was a week-long chance to highlight the resources on campus, be present for survivors and work to make something bigger than campus. 

I didn’t want someone to feel how I felt. If someone felt less alone, more empowered, less ashamed— I know I did something. 

That week we raised over a thousand dollars for the rape counselors of East Alabama and collected hundreds of signatures in support of changing sex education laws in the state of Alabama.

But what got me the most, were the survivors coming up to me on the concourse just saying “Thank you.” Just people saying “Thank you,” touched my soul. I knew we weren’t alone.

Recently, I had the chance to share my story with my new pastor and his wife. And in talking with them, they reminded me that there’s power in sharing your testimony. That a bad thing happened to me, and it took time to grow through that situation and help other people. 

And I wish I knew that there was no right or wrong way to feel. 

Now, I don’t think about the assault or “him” nearly as much. I don’t cry thinking about it. I don’t cry talking about it. 

And that’s ok, and I’m ok.

As you can see with my friend, things got better with time, but this isn’t always the case.

Thankfully, there are a plethora of resources available to sexual assault survivors such as After Sexual Assault: A Recovery Guide for Survivor, which provides survivors with concrete next steps and a realistic idea of what life will look after sexual assault. It also provides survivors with one of the many things they lose after being assaulted: power.

“You get to decide. You get to decide what to do, how to cope, what it means, and what help you want. You get to decide what makes sense for you”

There is no right or wrong way to cope with sexual assault, but it is important to know that you are not alone and no matter what you decide, there will always be someone available to talk to.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call Safe Horizon’s Counseling Center at 347-328-8110.

This project is supported by Grant No. 2016-TA-AX-K076, awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.