Power of the pen: Overcoming sexual assault through shared stories

Posted on Nov 17 2016 - 8:20am by Lana Ferguson

Alexis Smith loves stories. She loves to share. She loves to write. She loves to blog.

One of the latest stories she has shared is about what happened to her a little more than a year ago.

“Tomorrow makes one year since I was sexually assaulted,” her Facebook post begins. “I share this because I want to do my part to help end the stigma that surrounds talking about sexual assault and rape.”

The post has more than 300 likes and almost 30 shares. All of the comments are supportive, praising Smith for sharing her story.

Alexis Smith (Photo by: Cameron Brooks)

Alexis Smith (Photo by: Cameron Brooks)

Smith, a junior international studies major, was sexually assaulted in Oxford last Halloween. She said it took her about a month before she really began publicly talking about what happened.

She said writing and sharing her story has helped her to heal, and she has had other survivors of sexual assault reach out to her to share their stories.

“The more I share, the more I realize this has happened to a lot of people,” Smith said. “I share because it connects me with other people, mainly women, that have survived sexual assault.”

Through these conversations, Smith said the community of survivors continues the dialogue that is going to lessen the negative stigma surrounding sexual assault and rape.

“It helps people realize that this is a really big issue, and also, a lot of people, when it first happened to me, were really awkward, didn’t like talking about it or didn’t know how to respond,” she said. “Sort of just personalizing it and saying, this is a really important piece of me, and it’s probably the biggest part of my story, but it doesn’t define me, and it happened to me, but I’m still so Alexis, and I’m still so me.”

Smith said at first she didn’t realize what had happened to her was sexual assault, which is actually common among survivors. She called a friend who helped talk her through it; when they realized what happened, they went to the hospital.

She said because she’s involved on campus and really plugged in, she knew about other resources that were available to her through the university as a sexual assault survivor.

Resources the university offers include the UMSAFE website, the Counseling Center, Title IX and more.

One of the resources Smith utilized was Lindsey Bartlett Mosvick at the Violence Prevention Office.

Mosvick does not function as a counselor but rather helps students get the resources or accommodations available to them and can guide them through the Student Conduct Process.

Alexis Smith (Photo by: Cameron Brooks)

Alexis Smith (Photo by: Cameron Brooks)

Mosvick said journaling, like Smith does, is a recommended tool for survivors.

“During sexual assault, trauma can impact a person’s memory of the event, and journaling can help bring that story back together,” Mosvick said. “Additionally, journaling is a way to process feelings and emotions privately, and the release can make a difference.”

As far as survivors reaching out to social media to share their stories, Mosvick said she doesn’t know if that is common, but some survivors do it with the hopes of letting others know they are not alone.

“It’s a very isolating experience,” Smith said. “I still feel isolated sometimes, and I didn’t want anyone to feel as isolated as I did. I think sharing (the Facebook post) was a way to forge a community for myself and also let other people know, ‘Hey, you know me, and this happened to me too.’”

Both Smith and Mosvick agree the conversation of sexual assault has changed on campus in recent years.

“I think our campus is definitely more aware of this issue and more aware that it’s happening on campus,” Smith said. “I think it has come from (Rebels Against Sexual Assault); it’s come from administration; it’s come from student media.”

Alexis Smith said she does not want to be a poster child for sexual assault or work in any advocacy group later in life. She has faced PTSD, flashbacks and anxiety, and she shares her story mainly to let others know they are not alone.

Smith said she would sit in her classes, look around at her peers and think about the statistic that one in four women will be sexually assaulted during her four years on campus.

“I guess that was my drive to start writing about it and sharing about it, because I had never really seen anything on our college campus of girls being very open about their experiences and what had happened to them, because different people choose to respond differently,” Smith said.

Smith said a lot of work has been done on campus to educate the community about sexual assault and lessen the negative stigma around it, but there is still more work to be done.

“I do think it has gotten better, and I do think it is going to be continued,” Smith said. “I think, too, more people are just starting to speak about (sexual assault), saying this is a problem and sharing their stories and getting connected.”

– Lana Ferguson