Living as a Survivor

Photo by Baxter Turain

Photo by Baxter Turain

Tori Doran

Content warning: This piece contains a graphic, first-person account of sexual assault.

On Nov. 27, 2015, my life changed forever. I was an excited freshman at a big university who was still thrilled about attending a school with such a good reputation.

It was a couple months into the school year, and I was starting to feel comfortable in the new chapter of my life. I found a couple of clubs that piqued my interest, I established a small group of friends in my dorm and I was able to make my way around campus without Googling the location of campus buildings.

But one night in November, all of my excitement about college, meeting new people, deciding my major, being in a new city and life in general — all of it was completely stolen from me.

My life as I knew it was ripped out from underneath me.

Nov. 27 was a Friday night, and a ton of my friends were visiting for a big Saturday football game. We decided to take it easy and just go out for a little while since we were getting up early for game day in the morning. It was amazing seeing friends from high school who I hadn't seen in a couple months.

I was feeling good, looking good, having a great time, catching up with friends. After chatting for a while and having a few drinks, my friends and I made our way to the bars.

Sounds like a typical start of a night out, right? Now let’s add in a few more drinks, a crowd of way too many people, the darkness of the night and a twisted, deviant rapist. That’s all it took for a guy to change my life forever.

Although I might not remember exactly how I got into that unfamiliar bed in that random college house, I have a vivid memory of an aggressive, unapologetic guy forcing himself on me. Screaming and pushing didn’t convince my rapist to stop, but me getting sick did the trick. I rushed out of that bedroom, leaving my purse behind. But losing my purse that night meant nothing to me in comparison to everything else I lost the night I was raped — my pride, my confidence, my innocence, my safety and my security.

But rather than focusing on what that guy did to me, let me tell you about the people in my life who helped me take back everything I lost that night, and more.

On Saturday morning, my friends supported me and encouraged me to make the difficult phone call to my parents to tell them what happened to me.

My oldest brother, who was just a short drive away from campus, embraced me in my dorm room while helping me file a police report.

The police and investigators made sure I was heard as they trusted and documented every word I told them.The nurses at the hospital made sure I was safe and protected while examining me.

The survivor advocate who worked for the hospital sat next to me, held my hand and helped me see how strong I could become after such a horrific experience.

The rest of my family drove a couple hours so they could hug me with loving arms as fast as they could.

And I needed those hugs more than you could ever imagine because I was truly afraid to be touched — terrified to be touched — when I woke up that Saturday morning. I never wanted to be touched again after I looked at the marks my rapist left on my body. But my friends, my family and my support system knew I needed their love more than I ever had before. Thank God they did, because they helped me get from that broken, empty place to a place where I could be the empowered, determined and passionate survivor I am today.

But the journey wasn’t easy. I was diagnosed with PTSD. My anxiety and depression got worse. I pushed some people away and shut myself out for a little while. I was losing my friends, and I lost sight of the future I wanted for myself. My mind was occupied with blaming myself for drinking too much and for being too careless when I went out. I was so wrapped up in thoughts of how I could have prevented it from happening.

With the guidance of my parents, I made the decision to transfer second semester from this massive school with a great reputation to the smaller, homier Ohio University. I couldn’t handle the thought that I could come face-to-face with my rapist at any moment on campus.

Even though the transfer process was long, and it meant I would be placed with someone random in my new dorm at OU, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My random roommate became one of my best friends, and she helped me realize OU was my true home. Transferring led me to decide on a suitable major and it helped me find the best support system in the world.

I have learned the most important lessons through transferring, gaining an amazing support system, lots of therapy and three years of healing. I have learned to love myself enough to take what happened to me and turn it into something positive, and that is something that all survivors have to do.

We survivors don’t need sympathy, we need listeners. We don’t need advice, we need to be trusted. We don’t need answers, we need your love. With support from people who care, we won’t call ourselves victims of sexual assault anymore. We believe we are survivors, and we live like true survivors every day.

Living as a true survivor has encouraged me to join a sorority, where I have found the most empowering support system I’ve ever had in my life.

Living as a true survivor has given me the confidence to take on leadership positions, and it’s how I met the passionate board members of the Women’s Panhellenic Association.

Being a survivor has taught me to treat others with kindness and respect because you never know what someone has been through. It has taught me to be careful with my words.

Being a survivor has taught me to fully embrace the good times because after experiencing something so dark, you realize how truly beautiful the good times are.

Living as a true survivor has empowered me to speak about what happened to me. I first spoke up at a chapter meeting when the topic of sexual assault was brought up after a lot of reports were made on campus. I spoke up again when reporters from the Cincinnati Enquirer asked me about the anti-sexual assault banners raised on sorority and fraternity houses around campus. That article eventually was published in USA Today. I’m so thankful that the focus of the story had nothing to do with my rapist, and he’s not making any headlines anywhere.

The most valuable part of being a survivor is having the ability to move others and encourage change with the power of my story and the power of my perspective.

I’m speaking up because I am fed up and wish to see a day where all humans respect other humans’ bodies, minds and spirits. I want to see an end to sexual assault, I want sex to be consensual and I want our community to be safe.

Let’s continue taking a stand, and intervene when we see something wrong. Let’s promise to be better bystanders and to put an end to the rape culture on college campuses. Be there for your friends who have their own stories.

If anything ever happens to you, please utilize the confidential advocacy services through the Survivor Advocacy Program here at Ohio University. Receiving professional help and guidance was the best first step on my road to recovery.

I’ve decided to take a positive approach to sharing my story to give other survivors hope and to show the rest of the world that we are a powerful force. We know how disturbing, violent, brutal and life-changing sexual assault is because we relive the torture that was done to us every day, and that is why we work so hard to put an end to it.

To all survivors, I hope you believe my final thoughts sooner than I did.

We believe you and what happened to you was not your fault. No matter what you wore, how much you drank or where you walked to, being raped was not your fault. We are fighting to end sexual assault in honor of you and what you been through. Don’t be ashamed of what happened to you and remember you are not alone. Utilize the people around you, and let your light shine. Always remember you aren’t a victim, but a survivor of sexual assault. Live loud like a survivor would because that is who you are, and that is how you deserve to live.

If you have personally been a victim of sexual misconduct, or know someone who has, Ohio University provides a variety of resources depending on your needs:

1. Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS)

2. Campus Care

3. Survivor Advocacy Program