I was really struck in a meeting I had recently with a fellow sexual assault survivor. I congratulated her about breaking her silence, and that I knew how hard it was and how proud I was of her. The response? “Of course, but I know that our situations are different. I spoke out voluntarily, and you never had that choice.” I realized how true that was, and how forced into that decision I had been. I didn’t make the choice to post my name on social media outlets along with fabricated details of my sex life, or spread the news about what had happened to me all over campus. Even that deleted blog post I almost got sued for was technically posted anonymously. I tried to hide and blend into the crowd after what happened and it never worked. Being the girl who got approached at parties about whether or not I was lying, or sent messages on Tinder about how I was a false accuser and a liar wasn’t fun. I made a point of not discussing issues around sexual assault because I was told that it would make me look like a social justice warrior who was lying for the cause.
All of this was tolerable because I naively thought it would end at a certain point. I had one more semester left, and during summer 2016 I decided it was time to start interviewing for jobs. I didn’t anticipate coming forward in any way about what had happened to me, and I wanted to get the next chapter in my life started. Looking forward to a trial wasn’t fun, so instead I was looking forward to my future career. This company had really shown some interest in me, and I felt confident about the interview. I studied for it, I spent almost everything in my checking account on a really nice pantsuit, and I was confident. Nervous, but confident.
The interview lasted less than 5 minutes. Keep in mind that a recruiter from this company had been talking to me for almost a year; I had spent a considerable amount of time investing myself into this process. I researched the company, made contacts within it, and was convinced that even if I didn’t get the job, I would rock the interview. The woman I was interviewing with walked in, didn’t so much as smile at me, and glared at me the whole time. I felt myself shrinking bit by bit; I didn’t know why I was getting this treatment, but it already felt like most of my interactions with my classmates since 2014. I wracked my brain trying to think of what verbal missteps I could’ve possibly made, or whether my lipstick was smudged. She didn’t even respond to or acknowledge the thank you note I wrote. I was devastated. I couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong until I discovered that the woman I had interviewed with was friends with one of my rapist’s sisters.
I totally felt my world fall out from under me at this point. I thought to myself that there was no way I could continue to walk around in the world this way. People I had never even met had heard things about me that were wildly untrue. I dealt with plenty of mean girls growing up. I could handle that when it was about my looks, or even just my personality. What I couldn’t handle was that this inhumane sociopathic serial rapist had assaulted me, degraded me beyond belief, cheated his way out of justice, and I was somehow paying the ultimate price for it. I was close to tears about how jealous I was of his other victims I had spoken to that hadn’t reported or come forward. I had started to wish that I hadn’t said anything at all. That wasn’t sitting well, and that is why I decided to come forward; full name and all. If my name was already getting spread around, posted online, and I was suffering for it, I might as well get the story straight.
It felt good for a while to know that I could talk openly about it. It also felt violating and retraumatizing to know that I didn’t really want any of this in the first place. Despite what you’ve heard, I’m not really a desperate attention whore. And definitely not for something like this; I used to joke that it would be so much more fun to be on Dr. Phil for having the world’s largest corgi collection instead. I fantasize about having the luxury of quiet and private healing. I miss the days when no one saw me as someone who could help them, or inspire them, or heal them. I miss being able to make mistakes. I am taking this role on because I know how necessary it is for me to be that person, but I also am doing it because I feel backed into a corner. How would I just move on at this point anyways? How do I handle the fear of reaching out and applying for jobs, not knowing whether or not they already know who I am? How do I continue to live on a minuscule income while in therapy multiple times a week, or find a career path that is compatible with healing from PTSD?
So many of you are reading this because you’ve read my story. And I’m grateful for that. I also am stuck in a real reckoning phase where I don’t know how much of this new identity was my choice. Not only was the original assault something I did not choose, but over the next two years, I watched my own life story get eaten up in front of my eyes. My social life was open for dissection to the school, people I met would already know some of what had happened to me, and I became terrified of answering my phone because of the calls I would receive from reporters. I remember having a radio interview that been giving me anxiety for days. The interviewer asked me who I really was aside from all of this, and despite his good intentions, I froze. I didn’t want any of my “real” personality to become a part of what the public could see. I thought that it would be possible to exist as a packaged, generic rape survivor who didn’t draw criticism from anyone for my personal beliefs or lifestyle. After all, who I am is not the point. Unfortunately, too many times I’ve felt my boundaries being pushed and stretched over how much I will share, and I’m sure that there is more information out there than I ever originally planned on disclosing.
I don’t have the answer to any of this. It’s hard to wonder, after seeing so many messages and comments about myself, how people will see me. I probably don’t have the ability to walk into a job interview and simply be seen for what I am. Even if I am, I don’t know how to explain the sudden departure from my field of study and the large gaps of time taken off of work. Doing an interview once for TV, I remember talking about the harassment. Afterwards, the woman I was speaking with took me aside and told me that the best thing I could do was to never listen to anyone else’s opinion again; positive or negative. It’s sound advice, and I wish that I had that confidence outside of my personal life. I know that I would never want to, for example, work somewhere that doesn’t respect my experiences as a survivor. I also know that I am not emotionally strong enough to handle the shame and other feelings associated with being rejected or more harshly questioned because I am a rape victim. I’ve dealt with it in various jobs, classes, and I just don’t want to do it anymore.
So, for now, I am in limbo. Not feeling that I could completely devote myself to being an advocate, and also not feeling like I can leave this part of my life behind. I just got married last week, and the urge to just change my name and leave Abby Honold behind is overwhelmingly tempting. However, I’m also committed to not leaving any survivors behind. I’m sure that we can find a way to balance a public and private existence, but there’s a lot of money for anyone who can figure out a recipe for balancing your trauma while still moving forward and creating a new life for yourself.