Hannah Rad was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance on her college campus during her first year. She didn’t feel comfortable asking for a sexual assault forensic exam, also known as a rape kit, because she feared that others would find out and she didn’t want the stigma associated with sexual assault to be part of her identity on campus.
“There were no reporting procedures in place. There was no one to talk to. It was a catholic college and I was on a scholarship, so I was worried that reporting would affect my reputation. I didn’t want this experience to define me.”
She didn’t want to tell anyone about what happened because she felt ashamed. “I grew up in a conservative Catholic environment and believed that you should not have sex before marriage. I felt terrible that I wasn’t a virgin anymore and was worried about what people would say. On top of all of that, I was dealing with how to talk with people about the fact that I’m gay.”
“Throughout my 20s it was this secret. Not a day went by that I didn’t think about it—whether I wanted to or not. It was always in the back of my mind; I was never sure if I should tell someone, how and when to tell them, and how they would react. It was constant anxiety and a paralyzing fear of being fully honest. I couldn’t trust anyone, and would push friends away as soon as we started to get close.”
Hannah is now able to have close friendships and relationships again. “I’m so thankful for the incredible people in my life who are a constant source of motivation, inspiration, and positivity. I’m in a much healthier state physically and emotionally than I’ve ever been.”
The first person Hannah told about the assault was a close friend of hers, who was very supportive. She didn’t tell her parents until seven years after the attack, and noticed that not being able to be fully honest with them had strained their relationship.
While the response and effects afterward of opening up were unexpected and uncomfortable, Hannah continues to rebuild and repair while learning to forgive and understand everyone’s individual comprehension and healing processes.
For years after the assault and after telling her parents, Hannah did not want to use the word “rape” to describe what happened to her. “I would avoid saying it in any context, I just didn’t want to be associated with it. But I wasn’t being honest with myself.” When she eventually started to use the word, she felt that being able to label what had happened to her as what it was, was a huge step in her healing. “It loosened my rigid structure around the pain, guilt, and self-blame.”
Hannah says that being a member of the LGBTQ communitycomplicated how family and friends treated her after learning of the assault. “I knew from a young age I was different. I kept telling myself that I should have a boyfriend, but then I would notice a girl who I thought was really cute. I told my parents about being raped before I told them about being gay. That’s how much I didn’t want to talk about my sexuality.”
When she came out to her parents as gay a few years after disclosing the assault, they had trouble adjusting how they viewed their daughter. They asked, ‘Do you still believe in Jesus?’ The second question was ‘Do you think you’re gay because of what happened in college?’ Lastly, they wondered ‘If you’re gay, why is it that you used to wear dresses?’” At first Hannah was hurt and confused by these responses, but she has come to understand that the generations before had very different life experiences than her and were trying to comprehend a difficult and different situation.
Throughout her healing process, Hannah has found therapy, the support of friends, and the National Sexual Assault Hotline to be especially helpful. “Therapy has been wonderful, but there are times when I’m having a really hard moment and need to talk to someone immediately; at those times it’s been amazing to be able to pickup the phone and call the hotline.”
Hannah believes that college campuses must have sexual assault prevention and response education and provide students with materials and resources within the first few weeks of arriving on campus. “When I was in college nearly 20 years ago, the extent sexual assault was talked about was just to tell women not to walk alone at night, but there was no conversation about consent.”
Hannah’s background is in radio and music journalism, and she currently works as a television presenter and producer in LA. She also loves to DJ.
“I’m putting my story out there so others know they are in a safe space to tell theirs—whatever that is.”