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TW: Sexual violence, sexual assault, suicidal thoughts, depression, and PTSD.

April marks the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This year, the focus of awareness is on building connected communities to help us “reduce the likelihood of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment.” By focusing on connection within our communities, we can promote safety and look out for each other, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. During the month, people can share their experiences and create a healthy discussion about sexual violence and its impact on survivors. 

Sexual violence is an umbrella term that includes any type of unwanted sexual contact— including sexual assault, harassment, and abuse. Unfortunately, sexual violence is common. Over half of women and almost one in three men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetimes, according to the CDC. Beyond the physical injuries that can come with sexual violence, survivors may also suffer from PTSD, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. 

April is meaningful to me because, like many other women, I am a survivor of sexual violence. For me, the month is a time for personal reflection and collective healing with other survivors. It reminds me that my voice can’t be silenced and helps me release shame. 

My latest experience with sexual assault was carried out by a stranger when I was running. As an avid runner since middle school, my time on the roads has always been an escape from stress. But that changed for a long time after being assaulted. I felt shame, fear, anxiety, and anger. Soon after the event, I began to have nightmares of sexual violence, and still experience those today.

At the time of my assault in 2022, I had never gone to therapy. I told myself that sexual assault happens to women all the time and that I should just keep moving along with my life and forget about it. But I was wrong. I needed help and should have reached out for support sooner. 

After filing a police report and identifying my perpetrator, I decided to press charges. At the time, it felt like an easy choice. However, I soon found myself questioning that decision. I asked myself questions like, ‘Did he deserve to serve time for what he did?’ and ‘Was it really that bad?”’  

In reality, I was asking myself those questions because I felt a sense of internalized shame about the assault. I was angry with myself for running at dusk, not carrying a phone, and freezing when I was assaulted. I wanted to go back in time and change my running route and response. But more than anything I just wanted to forget that it ever happened. 

I continued forward and didn’t seek help. In the months following, I would have good weeks where I rarely thought about the event and others where the assault was on a recurring loop in my head.

A year after the assault, I was suffering from panic attacks after runs. As a Division 1 runner, that meant that practically all of my senior year races ended with me having a panic attack at the finish line. For people who have never experienced a panic attack, it can be a scary event to witness. 

My coaches, teammates, and others would witness these panic attacks but didn’t always know what was going on or how to help. At the time, I didn’t know how to help myself. It took me a lot of therapy sessions to realize that the panic attacks were likely connected to the sexual violence I experienced while running. I had never processed the event so the residual trauma, anxiety, and fear were waiting to explode inside me at the end of every hard run. 

Once I realized that I had to process the sexual assault to recover from it, I began my healing journey. For me, it started with talking about the event in therapy. While it can be challenging to relive the event, it’s also liberating. It made me feel secure, supported, and free. 

After discussing my shame surrounding the event, my therapist helped me recognize that I didn’t do anything wrong and couldn’t have changed the situation. Once I accepted what happened to me, I was able to share my experience with others. I wrote about the event and read poetry during a Sexual Assault Awareness Month event with other survivors. 

Writing and talking about my sexual assault helped me heal because I didn’t let the event define me. In a community of survivors, I’ve found that people hold space for you, believe in you, and validate your experience. Feeling understood and accepted as a survivor has been extremely healing for me. 

Beyond sharing my experience with a support network, I found that healing came from doing empowering activities. For me, that meant getting back into boxing and rediscovering my love for running. It felt empowering to improve my self-defense skills and take back my love for running. Since trauma lives in the body, I find that physical exertion helps me release the repressed emotions I have surrounding the assault. 

For other survivors, healing through empowerment could look like cutting your hair, singing in front of a crowd, or going to a weekend retreat. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to healing from sexual violence. Pick activities that you know will make you feel supported and comfortable. 

My greatest suggestion for survivors is to ask for help and connect with others who share similar experiences. Sexual violence can be isolating. Sharing your story, even to yourself through writing or a recording, can be freeing. Remember to give yourself grace and don’t rush the recovery process. There’s no specific timeline for survivors to heal. Go at your own pace and remember that the healing process should be tailored to your personal needs. 

National resources for survivors of sexual abuse:

Works Cited

“Saam 2024.” National Sexual Violence Resource Center,

“Fast Facts: Preventing Sexual Violence | Violence Prevention| Injury Center|CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 June 2022,

Mandriota, Morgan. “Healing from Sexual Abuse.” Psych Central, 25 Feb. 2022,


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