314 days–that's how long it has been since I was last sexually assaulted. 0 seconds–that's how long it has been since I last thought about sexual assault.
For nearly a year, not a day has passed without me remembering rape. For most* heterosexual, cisgender males, no more than a few moments are spent considering sexual violence during the course of their entire lives. Unsurprisingly, it's difficult for those who haven't suffered sexual violence to understand the toll that such trauma takes on an individual. Consider the daily occurrence** of traumatic memories alone–the constant test of your emotional stability, composure, and resiliency is exhausting. Just when you think that you've been granted a day's vacation from psychophysical attacks–that you've been blessed with something like a Christmas-day ceasefire–thoughts about your assault strike at the 23rd hour when you're rinsing the day off of your body, dozing off, or even dreaming. (Not even sleep can offer protection from breaching memories, for nightmares are a trademark of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder–a syndrome commonly suffered by soldiers and sexual assault survivors.)
There's this misconception held by non- victim-survivors that being triggered results exclusively from sexual contact or encountering graphic depictions of sexual violence. The truth is that, for many survivors, triggers are in every place and every thing. Triggers are multifarious in nature, taking somatic, sensory (i.e. auditory, aural, haptic, gustatory, and visual), emotional, and even cognitive forms. Since sexual violence precipitates profound anguish, anything physically or emotionally painful can can bring a survivor directly back to their trauma–that which they associate pain. It follows that commonplace phenomena which are benign to most people have the potential to inflict suffering on sexual assault survivors. For instance, an unexpected hug, a betrayal of trust, driving alone with another person, catching a whiff of strong cologne, and being offered the type of cereal that your ex liked*** can all elicit PTSD responses from victim-survivors if they are associated with the assaulter, the location of the assault, or the assault itself.
So, the next time you catch yourself rolling your eyes at a seemingly-unnecessary trigger warning or expecting a victim-survivor to "just get over" or "forget" their traumatic experiences, remember that it's impossible** to ignore something that's always lingering beneath the surface or your consciousness. Most importantly, remember that victims-survivors are more than their trauma–we're impacted but not defined by the atrocities which befell us. We're humans, and as such have personalities, talents, passions, and dreams just like anyone else. We're not irredeemably broken–we have the resilience of forests after wildfire.
*Men also experience sexual violence (about 1 in 33), but their rates of victimization are significantly lower than "gender-outsiders," namely women (esp. Native women) and members of the LGBTQIA community.
**Not all victim-survivors experience trauma this way. For instance, the traumatized brain sometimes represses painful memories as a method of coping.
***Fact: 7 in 10 rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows whether that be a relative, a partner or former partner, an acquaintance, etc.