Johnathon Cassidy was sexually assaulted by a stranger he met while at a local bar. The perpetrator put a date-rape drug in Johnathon’s drink, sexually assaulted him in a car, stole his personal belongings, and left him unconscious at a bus stop.
“When I was raped I was 6’4” and 220 lbs. I truly believed that I could go anywhere I wanted and no one would bother me—I’m part Samoan, I’m hefty, I wear cowboy boots that make me even taller—I was the defender. Everyone always said ‘Go with Johnny, you’ll be safe with him.’ I’ve been told my entire life that it was impossible for this kind of thing to happen to me.”
A week after the assault, Johnathon told his best friend at the time what had happened. He reacted in an unsupportive way, making it seem like the assault was an inconvenience because it happened at their favorite bar. He told Johnathon that he wanted to go back to the bar and pressured him into returning. “I was too ashamed to say I was afraid to go and I didn’t want to make my friend feel awkward. So I went back. It was a horrible experience, and to this day he doesn’t realize the impact his response had on me.”
Because of this first negative experience telling someone about the assault, he didn’t feel that there was a point to sharing his story with others. The fact that his friends and family did not know about it made him feel even more isolated and distant. “All I wanted to do was scream, to tell them ‘Your son, your brother, your friend was raped’ so they would know what I was going through. But I couldn’t; I just gave up.”
He later shared his story with his roommate, who reacted in a supported and caring way and helped him get access to testing when he developed symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) from the assault. “She was the supportive person I needed. She was the angel who helped me begin my recovery.”
When he went in for testing he had to retell his story multiple times to the medical staff—making him relive the trauma each time. The staff did not react in a supportive way, and they continued to ask repeatedly if Johnathon wanted to report to law enforcement even after he said no multiple times. “The doctors made me feel so uncomfortable and insignificant. And what was there to report? I couldn’t imagine how they would help me besides just make me retell my story again. I was just so embarrassed.”
Johnathon said that what he felt was most lacking in his medical experience after the assault was compassion and continued resources. “I told them I was raped and they gave me no resources or advice on what I could do next. I had to go home and google ‘what to do if you are raped’ and RAINN came up.”
Johnathon had intense feelings of anger, sadness, shame, self-blame, isolation, and alienation after the assault. “I punched a giant hole in my wall then broke down crying. I was just so sad. I wanted it to be over.” He experienced anxiety attacks, PTSD, depression, trouble eating, and loss of relationships in his life. “I didn’t want to end my life, but I thought all the time about how nice it would be to just not be, to not feel. All I wanted to do was sleepbecause then I would have to live less of the day and not feel anymore.”
Before the assault, Johnathon found an immense amount of fulfillment and purpose in his job as a hair and makeup artist. “I loved my job so much; it was transformative. I had the ability with my hands to make someone feel great, to bring their inner beauty out.” But after the assault, he quit his job. “I could no longer help myself or make myself feel better, so how could I do that for others?”
Keeping a list of self-care activities that made him feel happy and grounded and has been important in Johnathon’s healing process. When he felt lost and alone, he would refer back to the list and make himself do one thing he loved. “I started really focusing on my own recovery and what was going to make me happy, and I had to cut some people out of my life who weren’t supportive of that.” Though it was difficult for Johnathon to lose these people, it helped him eventually form new friendships with others who were understanding and caring in the way he needed.
Jonathan has noticed that in the year since the assault happened he feels afraid to go anywhere alone or to receive attention from others, and as a result he has started dressing and presenting himself to the world very differently. “I would say that I am gender nonconforming. Before the assault I used to have long hair and wear makeup or a dress sometimes. I stopped doing that completely. Now I try to look as much like a cis, straight guy as possible because I feel like it will protect me. I don’t feel like myself anymore, but I don’t want anyone to notice me or bother me. I want to be invisible.” For Johnathon, it’s important to let other survivors know that every survivor’s healing is individual and there is no one way it should look. “It’s still so fresh for me, I’m still focused on my initial recovery and am not at the stage like some survivors are of being able to go out there and advocate for others. I know that it will get better, but I’m still very much in that process.” Currently, Johnathon is finding healing and joy in his hobby of knitting and crocheting, and he loves to donate the hats he makes to those in need. “Knitting is meditation for me. I’ll start knitting when I feel an anxiety attack starting, and it soothes and focuses me.” He is also happy to report that he is restarting his career as a hair and makeup artist.
“You don’t need to rush it. Healing is a marathon, not a sprint. Go slowly and be patient with yourself.”