Ethan's Story

“It’s been really important and valuable for me to recognize when I feel supported or not and to be willing to call something out, shut it down, or walk away. I don’t have to accept someone else’s version of my story.”

Ethan Levine was sexually assaulted in high school by a friend of someone he was casually dating. After the assault, the person he was seeing became emotionally and sexually abusive to him. Years later, Ethan experienced two other instances of sexual assault in different contexts.

“In the immediate aftermath of the first assault, my focus was on whether it was real and whether I was right about what had happened. I got hung up on the fact that what happened to me didn’t fit the definition of rape I had grown up hearing.”

After the assault, Ethan went to a trusted adult in his life to ask for advice on how to get STI testing. When he told them about the recent assault, they asked “Are you absolutely, completely sure you said no clearly?” They told Ethan that unless he was sure he said no clearly, he could not report the crime to the police—which is not true about the reporting process. This response to Ethan’s first time disclosing made him feel that he hadn’t done enough to stop the assault and made him wonder if it had been his fault. No survivor should be made to feel that way.

When Ethan did receive STI testing, the doctor he saw was exceptionally supportive and sensitive to his needs. “It was one of the best medical experiences I’ve ever had. She gave me time to react to what had just happened and showed me that she believed me and took me seriously.” Ethan also appreciated that the doctor only asked him medical questions that were directly related to the sexual assault.

Ethan already had an established relationship with a therapist at the time of the assault and found that having that built-in support was essential in his healing process. He also found his step-father’s support particularly helpful. “He was really amazing. He never tried to take over my healing process because he knew I didn’t want him to.”

Unfortunately, Ethan also encountered some hurtful responses when he told people of the sexual assault, especially as it related to his gender identity. Ethan came out as a transgender man when he was 19; and when he disclosed this, some people in his life told him that his identity was a result of being sexually assaulted. Not only was this untrue, but it made Ethan feel invalidated both as a sexual assault survivor and as a man.

Ethan experienced flashbacks immediately after the assault, and they returned a few years later when the person who had sexually and emotionally abused him reappeared in his life. “I started having flashbacks again and I would feel triggered during sex sometimes. The assault became a major feature in my life again.” During this time, Ethan also experienced trouble with unhealthy coping strategies such as binge drinking and a return to self-harming behavior in the form of cutting.

 

 

Ethan attempted to return to therapy to help him cope with these difficulties but was turned down. “I went to my local health clinic looking for counseling around sexual violence recovery. They told me they didn’t have anyone who could talk to someone like me.” He also tried calling a hotline for LGBTQ survivors but was surprised and disappointed when the person on the hotline asked the same hurtful question Ethan had encountered before—if he thought his identity as a transmasculine person was a result of the sexual assault. Ethan is thankful that, even after experiencing these barriers to support, he was able to get through this difficult period with the help of a supportive network of friends and family.

Every survivor has a unique healing process, and it was important for Ethan to discover what worked for him. For years he felt that many common self-care practices weren’t helpful. “There were a lot of calming activities, like meditation and baths, that weren’t for me. I’m not a serenity person. I love playing video games online with my younger brothers to get out my frustration—they’re cathartic and don’t hurt anyone else!”

Ethan feels that online support services, such as RAINN’s online hotline, are an important resource for trans survivors who may be self-conscious about their voice sounding higher or lower than they would like or who have concerns about facing stigma or discrimination. “The rise of the online hotline has made a huge difference for me. It gives me a lot more control over how much my trans identity comes up in conversation.”

Ethan has a doctorate in sociology and has worked extensively in anti-sexual violence; he has found that his work and research have been important aspects of his healing process. “Part of what helped me figure out and embrace my trans masculinity was my rape crisis training.” Ethan loved that he could support other survivors, but until he heard a guest speaker talk about working specifically with male survivors, he often had trouble relating to some of the standard content in trainings. “For the first time in my life I felt like everything he described really applied to me. I realized that I hadn’t had a weird or wrong reaction—the way I emotionally handled and processed my experience of sexual assault just fit much more with common male reactions.”

As both a survivor and someone who works in the anti-sexual violence field, Ethan emphasizes the importance of believing survivors. He also points out that, although it is well-meaning, it is often unhelpful for loved ones to try to take control of a survivor’s healing process on their behalf, including whether or not a survivor should report to law enforcement. “There’s a tendency to assume that going through the full reporting process is a good and safe idea for everyone, but it might not be.” While it may often be helpful for survivors to report, they should never be pressured into it.

Ethan believes that survivors should feel in control of their experience, and he wishes that in the past he had a better understanding of what resources and support were available to him. For instance, he wants survivors to know that they can accept or refuse any part of a sexual assault forensic exam and that choosing to have an exam does not mean you have to report to law enforcement.

Through both his advocacy and research, Ethan is working to make sure that there is more gender-inclusion, especially for trans people, in anti-sexual violence services.

“I truly believe it is possible to call out and prioritize sexual violence against women while also acknowledging that sexual violence affects people of all genders.”

Es difícil saber qué hacer, qué sentir y cuáles son sus opciones después de un abuso sexual.

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