Surviving sexual assault to speak out

A TRU student who was sexually assaulted back at home is speaking out about her ordeal

kehlaniA Thompson Rivers University student, who was sexually assaulted this past December when she went home for the Christmas break, is speaking up about what happened to her in order to keep the dialogue on sexual assault open on campus.

The student, who wishes to be referred to by the pseudonym Kehlani, wants to tell her story to open up the discussion on campus about sexual assault, with the hopes of letting others know that they are not alone.

This, as Kehlani told me, is what happened.

This past year, Kehlani had gone home over winter break and was at a house party with a group of friends from high school, including many who attended the local university. A boy she had known for a few years was sitting alone in a corner. To include him, she engaged him in small talk.

The two had a brief history, which included a single intoxicated encounter at a graduation party. The boy reminded her of their past and suggested that they go to an upstairs bedroom. Although Kehlani was uncomfortable, she agreed to go upstairs on one condition.

“I said, ‘I only want to kiss you, I don’t want to do anything else.’ I was very clear,” she told me.

As they reached the bedroom, the boy unexpectedly shut off the lights.

“He turned me around and pushed me onto the bed,” she recalled.

Kehlani’s previously matter-of-fact tone took on an edge I hadn’t heard from her before now.

“I was laying there, and I felt my dress being yanked up super aggressively.” As she squirmed on the bed, he undid his pants, and pretended to put on a condom. “Then, he started going away at it – and it hurt.”

She told him no. She told him to stop. “You didn’t even kiss me.”

But he didn’t until the door opened, and two of Kehlani’s friends entered the room. They asked her if something was wrong. She had the opportunity, but she just couldn’t.

“I was so embarrassed. I just wanted them to leave,” she told me.

When her friends left, she turned to her assaulter and again asked him to stop. He suggested that she simply needed to change positions.

“He moved me and I was gripping the wall, and he just kept going. I had tears streaming down my face,” she said, voice steady.
She agreed to perform oral sex, thinking, “anything to make the pain stop.” When he left, she cried herself to sleep.

In the morning, she found an unused condom on the floor. She recalled that her legs hurt from clenching, and it was this detail which finally caused her eyes to well up with tears.

“For someone else to make your body hurt like that is really sad,” she said.

Kehlani has not yet sought professional help. In fact, it took time for her to label her ordeal as a sexual assault.

“[I thought] ‘it’s a one-time thing, it’s not a big deal.’ I wouldn’t even call it rape for the first few months,” she said with a bitter laugh.

Kehlani wanted to avoid the stigma of being a “girl with issues,” and she tried to convince herself she was unaffected. But the longer she went without help, the more the assault affected her. Kehlani contracted an STI, leaving her feeling like she was, in her own words, “dirty” and deserved what had happened to her.

Her body also remembered. Months later, she found it difficult to be physical in a new relationship. Being in a similar position evoked a reaction of terror. She had a nightmare in the summer which revisited the assault, and awoke terrified and crying.

Her party dress from that night still hangs unwashed in her closet.

Later, she discovered that another of her acquaintances had been assaulted by the same person, and had witnessed a third assault. “[The other girl] said, ‘I didn’t tell anyone either, because I thought I was the only one.’”

While Kehlani wants to prevent others from enduring the same ordeal, she still has no desire to officially report the man who assaulted her. She wants to deal with the emotional consequences and move forward. While she isn’t seeking any resolution to her own experience with assault, she would like to see sexual assault and consent discussed more frequently on campus to promote a culture where sexual assault is not acceptable.

Charlene Eden agrees that discussing rape culture needs to happen earlier and more frequently. She’s the agency coordinator at the Kamloops Sexual Assault Counselling Centre.

“We teach women how to stay safe. What are we teaching our young men?” she asked.

It’s all too common for women like Kehlani to avoid seeking help, Eden said. She believes this is partially due to the blame and shame that is often placed on the victim, and the negative, unsupportive reactions that can come from disclosure.

The process of going to court can also be daunting for victims. Finally, as supported by Kehlani’s story, Eden told me that victims are often unsure whether their ordeal even counts as assault.

“We need to start telling victims there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s not their fault,” Eden said.

As a member of TRU’s sexual assault task force, Eden had an inside look at the university’s new sexual assault policy.

“TRU is doing a better job than most [universities],” she said.

Eden sees the university’s willingness to consult with the community and their rapid appointment of a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Manager as positive steps.

Options for a student who has been sexually assaulted include reporting to the university, or connecting with a community partner such as KSACC, both of which can include reporting the incident to the RCMP or simply counseling and support services.