I remember staring at my phone; I had typed in 9-1-1, but when it came time to press “call,” I froze. My hands were shaking, my legs weak and trembling, but my body stayed motionless. I don’t even remember pressing the call button, but I stood there terrified for what felt like hours… until I was found.
The First 24 Hours.
When law enforcement arrived, I sat on my friend’s couch surrounded by people asking me endless questions. Their voices sounded so faint, drowned out by the emptiness filling my mind and body. I remember desperately trying to recall specific details and answer their questions, but I felt so overwhelmed I couldn’t breathe; it felt as if my attacker’s hands were gripped around my neck, strangling me into silence.
There are many symptoms which can impact your memory after experiencing trauma. I know how hard it can be to remember distinct details from a traumatic event, but even the smallest detail can make a difference. For me, I was able to take notice of the colour, make and model of my assailant’s car.
The police began the search for my attacker while I was taken to the hospital to conduct a sexual assault forensic exam (also known as a rape kit). This experience felt so demoralizing as I had to sit in the filth of my assault for what felt like an eternity. Showering was the first thing I wanted to do after being raped. Thankfully when I was found, my friend’s dad told me I could not shower as they would need to have me examined first. I am so grateful he had this knowledge as I feel like the general population would not know this, and as a victim you may be unable to think clearly in traumatic moments.
To anyone who has been sexually assaulted, please do not shower and please call the police if you can. They may be able to collect evidence for up to 12 days after the assault, so it is crucial to speak up when it is safe for you. I know it is incredibly hard, but I promise it is the right thing to do. For me, I remember so vividly thinking to myself “I can not let this happen to someone else.”
During my hospital visit, I quickly learned the importance of remembering phone numbers. With technology nowadays, I never thought I would need to know a phone number off the top of my head. So when the police took my phone for evidence, I had no one to call from the hospital; I didn’t know a single phone number. I was left completely alone, without any family or friends by my side. My advice to you is to try to pick at least two phone numbers to memorize as your emergency contacts.
Another very important lesson for your phone is to keep your tracking setting or “find my phone” turned ON. If you are ever in a dangerous situation, this can be used to find you or track where you’ve been. You truly don’t know the importance of these tools until something happens to you.
Following my experience at the hospital, I sat down for an investigation with a team of detectives. The room was cold and empty, just like me. By this time, I was eerily calm as I shared the story of my attack. I spoke like I was telling a story around a campfire. The same thing happened within the next few hours after I was released to my family. I told them what happened as if I was telling a story about someone else. I had no emotion; I was completely numb. I didn’t understand why I was so calm. I thought “maybe this isn’t a big deal…maybe I am fine?”
One of the hardest and most traumatizing things I’ve ever had to do was watch my interview tape from the first 24 hours (required for my court case). I sat there, horrified as I watched myself so calmly tell the detectives what happened to me. It broke my heart because I now know what I was experiencing after my rape, was severe shock.
Before understanding the symptoms of shock, I truly believed my calmness meant my attack wasn’t a big deal. I went to work two days after my assault like nothing had happened; I was completely numb. After months of total darkness and depression, I spoke to a Victim Services counselor to better understand shock, trauma, and its devastating effects. It is my understanding that hormones are released in traumatic situations to help protect your body from pain (both mental and physical). For example, hormones are released when you experience a car accident or lose a loved one. I learned these hormones wear off at different rates for each individual. For me, the shock from the first 24 hours wore off about a week later… and when the severity of my rape finally hit me, my entire world came crashing down. From this day on, my challenging journey began.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. This situation is one you can never imagine, one you can never prepare for, and one you can never completely erase. I hope my story sheds some light on the darkness I experienced within the first 24 hours. I hope this helps you better understand the overall process after a sexual assault, the powerful emotions I experienced, and the devastating effects of trauma. I cannot stress enough how important it was for me to seek professional help, to better understand my thoughts and feelings during and after this traumatic event. If you ever need to speak to someone, please let me know and I would be happy to share my resources.
I’d like to give a special thank you to the incredible officers and sex crimes detectives who supported and guided me through these terrifying first 24 hours. I am forever grateful for you all.
Finally, I invite you to share your Mental Health journey with me when you are ready. You can send your story to me HERE. Please know you are strong, you are brave, and you are not alone.