Sarah's Story

“I would like people to know that this is no one’s fault but the person who did it.”

When Sarah Whitney was 16, she was raped by someone she had never met before while visiting a gym with her best friend. At the time, Sarah’s friend didn’t know what had happened to her and Sarah only wanted to tell her then-boyfriend. He reacted in an extremely unsupportive and hurtful way—blaming her for the incident and breaking up with her on the spot.

The reaction of the first person a survivor tells is pivotal and can have a huge effect on their healing. Her boyfriend’s reaction not only made her feel that she was to blame, but discouraged her from telling anyone else. “He was the closest person to me at the time, so I thought that if he didn’t believe me, no one would.”

Sexual assault was not a topic that her friends and family discussed, so she felt that no one would understand or believe her, including law enforcement. “I kept it to myself for the year following because I was struggling and didn’t know anyone who had been through it.” She experienced depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Though she had not told them what happened, her family noticed a change in her behavior. Her mother wanted to help and brought her to a therapist. Sarah didn’t feel ready to talk yet, so therapy was not helpful. “I didn’t want to go talk to a stranger about it. Going to therapy made me feel even worse because I was doing something that was supposed to help me, but it wasn’t working. I didn’t understand why.”

Sarah’s reaction to the trauma she experienced affected her relationship with her family. “It was a really dark lonely year. I stepped away from them.” A year after the assault, Sarah attempted suicide. When she was recovering in the hospital after, she told a nurse about the assault. With Sarah’s permission, the nurse told her family about the assault. Her family was supportive when they found out, but Sarah wishes she had been able to tell them herself.

When Sarah felt ready, she started seeing a therapist recommended by a friend who specialized in trauma. Therapy has proven helpful, but most of all, Sarah has found talking to other survivors has made her feel less alone and helped in her healing. Some of Sarah’s biggest sources of support and love during her healing have been her best friend who was with her during the assault and her current boyfriend.

“For me it was honestly just connecting with people my own age. It’s sad, but a lot of my friends have actually gone through some sort of assault in their lives,” says Sarah. “I felt so alone before because no one I knew had talked about it.”

Sarah wishes that her family and school had talked more about sexual assault prevention and response. “In school they had sex-ed classes, but they never talked about sexual assault. People need to be educated on what you can do if you are sexually assaulted and the different ways you can get help,” Sarah says. “You can always let your friends know if you feel uncomfortable in a situation; it’s also important to let people know where you are and to keep your phone charged and with you.”

She also regrets not reporting the perpetrator to the police because she worries he may have assaulted others—though she recognizes that some survivors may not feel comfortable reporting, just as she didn’t at the time.

Sarah’s advice to loved ones of survivors is to listen and not jump to conclusions. “I think with my story a lot of people blame my best friend because she was with me at the time. It’s crazy to me that someone could hear a sexual assault story and blame someone besides the person who did it. My best friend struggles with it a lot because she blames herself too, but there’s nothing she could have done.”

After years of struggle and difficulty, Sarah is flourishing. Her relationship with her family is much better, and she’s incredibly thankful for the love of her best friend and boyfriend. She also has two dogs, “Peanut and Charming. I am a huge dog person—they bring me more joy than anything.” Sarah’s message to other survivors is that you are not alone, and if you feel comfortable doing so, tell your story and report if possible.

“You don’t realize how many people have gone through this until you start talking about it.”

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