Maya's Story

“I finally got to the point where I have more control over my responses and my healing. Control over my narrative has been extremely therapeutic.”

Maya was raped by an acquaintance a few weeks into her freshman year of college. As is the case for many survivors, Maya didn’t immediately identify herself as a victim of sexual violence. She began processing her experience of sexual assault about six months later when she told a friend about what happened.

“I was describing what happened to me, but I hadn’t put a word to it yet. The person I was talking to said, ‘he raped you.’ That’s when I first started processing it—when someone else called it out to me and made it more real. It was a big shift in how I had been processing my experience and it became a little easier for me to talk about. I used to try to tone it down for myself, to say I was ‘taken advantage of.’ But now it’s been really important for me to call it what it was—to use the word rape.”

The months following the assault were a blur for Maya. The perpetrator harassed her on campus, making her feel unsafe and unable to focus on her studies. She contacted the Title IX officer and was able to get a no contact order, but because of the university crime reporting policies, she had to issue a more formal report of the assault than she wanted to. When the perpetrator learned that Maya had reported the rape, he wrote his own account of what happened, which Maya says “made me sound crazy.”

Maya had reviewed the university’s policies around reporting sexual violence and initially thought they were well-constructed, but issues came when there were sudden changes made to the process without the administration informing her.

“Reporting felt retraumatizing when I had hoped it would be part of my healing. There were all these twists and sudden changes. If you’re going to have policies and procedures, you need to follow them. It’s a difficult process for anyone and it helps so much to know what to expect.”

Though the reporting process presented challenges to Maya, she does not want that to discourage other survivors from reporting sexual violence. It was difficult, but she recognizes it as an important step toward justice for her, and hopefully for other survivors.

Because of the assault and the reporting process following it, Maya experienced PTSD and anxiety. She sought counseling, which she found helpful. She also began writing about her experiences and entering into advocacy for survivors of sexual violence as part of her healing process. “I made a very conscious decision to step into the advocacy space. It’s important to attach a human to these narratives.”

 

Maya spent a lot of her time in college leading efforts on campus to spread sexual assault awareness and prevention. Her story was featured in The Hunting Ground, a documentary on campus sexual violence. Her involvement brought her to the Oscars stage alongside other survivors and Lady Gaga, whose song “Til It Happens to You” was featured in the documentary and was nominated for an Oscar. She has since worked in a non-profit focusing on gender-based violence, and in 2017 received an award from the Department of Justice for her advocacy work.

Currently, Maya is in law school focusing on education law with a focus on gender equity issues and next year will serve as president of an organization of law students against sexual and domestic violence at her university. In her spare time, she volunteers in educational programming for kids and teens on developing positive views around sex.

Maya’s involvement in advocacy and in telling her story has been an important part of her healing. “I finally got to the point where I have more control over my responses and my healing. Control over my narrative has been extremely therapeutic.” However, she also recognizes the importance of self care during advocacy and of ensuring that survivors with different experiences and backgrounds than hers are heard. “I’ve learned there are times when I have to step out of the advocacy space for my own wellbeing. There are also other voices and other survivors who aren’t recognized as often, and that’s important too.”

Though for some survivors, like Maya, advocacy can play a big part in their healing process, this is not the case for everyone—each survivor’s experience is different. Maya believes that the #MeToo movement has provided a powerful platform for many to share their stories, but emphasizes that this might not feel right for everyone, and that’s okay.

“A lot of survivors are coming forward and I know there might be pressure to be public about an experience, but the healing process is different for everyone.” If someone chooses not to share their experience or identify as a survivor, Maya says, they should not be pressured to do so. “It doesn’t mean you’re a ‘bad survivor’ or not an activist. In the end, the most important thing is that you have control and figure out what is best for you to heal.”

Though Maya is glad that issues of sexual violence are receiving more awareness, she has also found it difficult sometimes to avoid constant media exposure to the topic. Her advice to other survivors? It’s okay to avoid social media if that’s what you need to do. She recommends taking that time you would have spent on social media and engaging in another self-care activity you enjoy.

“I’ve really started to own my experience. It’s great that I can see my work come into reality.”

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