I Was Sexually Assaulted 20 Years Ago & It Still Affects Me

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault

You would think a traumatic experience that happened 20 years ago wouldn’t be on my mind on a daily basis. And it’s not, actually. But it has affected me and still affects me in ways that aren’t always easy to perceive. The impact of trauma is there, whether I realize it or not.

Twenty years ago, I experienced sexual assault from a boyfriend. I didn’t recognize at the time that what happened to me was actually assault because I initially “said yes,” but when I changed my mind and asked him to stop, he refused. He held me down in the back of his car and continued doing what he wanted to do, despite my tears and screams of pain. He raped me.

This was my first sexual experience.

I blamed myself for letting things go too far in the first place. I knew better. But under his constant pressure to give in, using coercion under the guise of “love,” I did not feel empowered to stand my ground in the moments leading up to the assault.

But would it have mattered even if I did?

woman crying, heal from past sexual assault

I have recently started unpacking this sexual trauma in therapy, and it has brought up a lot of unexpected feelings and memories I thought I had put behind me long ago. But those wounds opened up again unbelievably quickly, pouring out emotional pain through my body, almost as if no time had passed at all.

Other painful memories have been brought to the surface from the years following the assault which I hadn’t thought about in a long time. The common theme between them all was how I repeatedly felt unable to honor that gut feeling when I didn’t want to do something, whether it be sexual or otherwise. There were many times as a teenager and young woman when I found myself in a situation where I knew I should leave, and I didn’t. Or I knew I did not want to have sex, but I did. I would freeze and go along with whatever was happening around me, unconsciously believing that this was the safest choice.

What hurts the most when I think about those experiences is how afraid I was to trust my own feelings, to voice my opinions, wants, and needs, and every time I didn’t, I feel like I betrayed myself.

No one was looking out for the young girl inside me, even myself. It is still extremely difficult not to blame myself for the sexual assault and for some of the decisions I made following it. But therapy is teaching me that none of this was my fault. I was trying to deal with things the best I could.

The struggle to advocate for myself has been a pattern in my life ever since then. Saying no, even to small things, has always been difficult for me. I am just now learning how to actually listen to myself. Trust myself. Discover what my true desires actually are rather than constantly bending to the wants of others to reduce conflict in my life.

I feel very triggered by the anticipation of conflict. The feelings of dread and anxiety have been powerful enough to influence my behavior to a great degree in the past, but I don’t want to live like that anymore. I want to be truly free.

I am learning to consciously remind myself that it is okay if others get upset with me from time to time. That I cannot control what other people feel, say, and do. That I am safe to be me.

And I want all women and girls to feel safe to be themselves, too. We deserve that.

Therapy is really hard work, but it is so worth it. I wish I had been able to get help for this specific trauma twenty years ago, but I am grateful that I’m doing it now. It’s never too late to address traumatic events from your past. Please reach out and ask for help if there is something in the back of your mind you can’t quite let go of. You won’t regret it.

If you have experienced sexual assault and need support, call National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or contact the hotline online. Also, check out the RAINN website for resources for sexual assault survivors.


  1. Thank you for sharing your story and helping us all to know that we are not alone. And that letting go of the control over how other people feel about us is so important!

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