“It’s okay to get support. It’s okay to feel broken. It’s okay to experience trauma and still be a strong person. It took me a while to meld those things together.”
When Jeanette Morelan was a sophomore in college, she was facing a tough time. In the middle of an exam period marked by late nights of studying, she received bad news about her family at home. Feeling vulnerable and stressed, she turned to a friend to console her.
What started as a night of friendly conversation ended with the friend making advances, “I didn’t want that, but I didn’t reject him at first because I felt uncomfortable saying something,” explained Jeanette. “He began to have sex with me, and when I realized what was happening, I said, ‘no, I don’t want to do this.’ He responded, ‘it’s already done,’ and continued.”
Jeanette tried to block the event out of her mind. She was student body president and a top student—she didn’t want to feel like a victim or let anything get in the way of her goals. A few days later, the perpetrator texted her in response to an emotional blog post that she published online. “He didn’t think he did anything wrong. That’s when it really hit me, what had happened.”
Jeanette went to the university’s Title IX Coordinator and obtained a no contact order. “He honored the order, and I never had to interact with him again through my time at school.” The order helped, but Jeanette still felt isolated and faced some of the challenging effects of sexual assault, such as depression and sleep disturbances. She remembers feeling isolated by the experience.
“I felt like I was living two lives. I’d go to meetings as a leader on campus and come home a victim with night terrors. I didn’t tell anyone for a long time. Not my mom, not my friends. It was so incongruent with what I was doing on the outside.”
In time, Jeanette sought help through therapy. “I can’t say enough good things about therapy,” she said. “Finding a therapist you’re comfortable with can be a process, but it’s a worthwhile one.” Some people are concerned that starting therapy means entering into a lifelong contract. That isn’t usually the case. While there is no timeline for recovering from sexual violence, it is possible to establish a timeline with a therapist to help you find ways to heal from the experience.
Jeanette also found comfort in running. “Becoming physically active helped me regain a sense of control when I felt like I had lost ownership of my body.” While she’s always enjoyed spending time outdoors, Jeanette is the first to admit getting into a running routine wasn’t easy. “Growing up, I never really considered myself an athletic person and had never committed to something like running. I had to start off really slow, but pretty soon I saw my body getting stronger. Running became a day-by-day healing process for me. It was empowering to see myself accomplish something I didn’t think I could do.”
For many survivors, running and spending time outside can be a way to feel grounded following a trauma like sexual assault. Jeanette hopes to join other survivors and supporters at RAINN’s fourth annual Lace Up for RAINN 5K in Washington, DC. People around the country can also participate in the race “virtually,” by signing up and running in their hometown.
Today, Jeanette is thriving. She recently moved to Washington, DC where she is starting work at a nonprofit dedicated to finding sustainable solutions to end hunger and poverty. She is an active member of RAINN’s Speakers Bureau where she enjoys sharing her story to let other survivors know they are not alone.