You don’t need to heal alone

“It’s something that doesn’t really leave you,” senior Sierra Savela said of the rape she experienced almost two years ago.

“The healing process is really long and the survivor will probably change a lot. Be okay with those changes and the things you have to drop during the healing process,” she said.

As we acknowledge the hundreds of people within our community at Calvin who have or will be a victim of a sexual assault, it’s important to understand what a survivor experiences as they heal and what friends and peers can do to support them through the process.

Lucy’s* perpetrator was admired at Calvin, an RA and looked up to as a spiritual leader on campus. For two or three years she found it difficult to call the incident a sexual assault because she blamed herself for it.

“I was afraid of not being believed by my friends, which slowed my healing process. It’s not your identity, but some people might make it your identity. I kept thinking, ‘Everyone else thinks he’s so great, so something must be wrong with me.’”

It wasn’t until after she heard Nicole Bromley speak at Calvin two years later that she was able to name it, confront it and begin healing.

The first thing for friends to do is to believe them and affirm that what happened to them was not their fault and tell them that whatever they feel is valid and okay. “The friend I told about the assault right after it happened, told me, ‘He took complete advantage of you,’” Lucy said. Establishing yourself as a supportive person is important to a victim, whether or not they choose to talk to you or not.

“Ask ‘What kind of friend can I be for you?’ and ‘Let me know if that changes.’ Check in with your friend as they go through the healing process to see if that changes,” Savela said.

Friends who said nothing were the biggest problem, she said. All you have to do is be. “I had really supportive friends who were there,” Lucy said. “There’s no way to solve the problem, but they knew how to just be. I also felt really comfortable with the professors in my major. I didn’t tell them about the assault, but just knowing how they stand and knowing that they’re safe was enough.”

There are supports at Calvin for survivors, and letting your friends know about them can be huge. Through Safer Spaces, survivors can access academic support, a no-contact order between the victim and perpetrator, an order against retaliation if perpetrator or others talk about the incident and a way to hold the perpetrator accountable for their actions. In many cases, a perpetrator will assault multiple people if there are no consequences.

“I wasn’t able to sleep, so having help with classes would have been huge,” Lucy said, who did not know about reporting options. “I thought I was just a bad student, but I appreciated professors who helped me even though they didn’t know what was going on.”

“Jane Hendriksma was the most helpful person,” said Savela, who did report the assault. “I couldn’t hold a job because of what was going on, so she helped me get support from the community care fund.”

Involvement with local organizations helped both survivors’ healing process. “I had to earn back my power,” Lucy said, which she did through volunteering with SAPT and YWCA. Savela “takes her body back” by getting a tattoo each year on the anniversary of the assault. “It’s weird, it’s almost a day I look forward to now,” she said.

Both Lucy and Savela affirmed that sharing their experiences with other victims was a powerful part of their healing process, and Savela would like to reach out to others. “I want to be there for other survivors now that I’m in a good place,” she said. “I’d love it if they came to me.” She can be contacted at [email protected]

The process of healing is incredibly difficult and friends who stick by survivors as they heal can be the most invaluable resource to a survivor. “Healing comes differently for every person,” Lucy said in reflection of what she’s learned over the years since her assault. “Even with our flaws we are so worth loving.”


*Lucy’s name has been changed to protect her identity.