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A Photographer Charts A Journey Through The Fallout Of Her Rape

Editor's note:This essay includes discussion of a rape and its aftermath.

Two years ago, I was raped. I remember shaking uncontrollably on that warm summer day. It felt like a void consumed me from the inside out — I was left with nothing, I became nothing. I was in a place so dark, I could only imagine getting out by cutting and purging.

I learned that this was the cost of suffering in silence. So I decided I wouldn't be silent anymore.

Through photography, I found my voice when I had no words, and I found connection when I thought the world had abandoned me. My project developed into an accumulation of reportage, portraiture, abstract and conceptual images, and prose and poetry, all depicting my two-and-a-half year journey of healing and growth.

In times of rest, my eyes remain alert and open. Hypervigilance has taken over. I take apart each memory and tell myself: "I am okay. I am safe."
/ Rosem Morton
/
In times of rest, my eyes remain alert and open. Hypervigilance has taken over. I take apart each memory and tell myself: "I am okay. I am safe."

As I started to speak out, I learned the harsh lesson that there is trauma after the trauma. Rape remains one of the only crimes where victims carry more blame than the perpetrators.The people I turned to responded with avoidance and silence. The police even tried to refuse my report. At every stage, the burden was on me.

As I met more survivors, I learned that this experience is neither isolated nor unique: Our culture of victim-blaming and shaming permits this cycle of sexual violence and the continued silencing of victims.

In fact, an American is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds. One in six American women are victims of rape or attempted rape. Three-fourths of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. And yet, for people who choose to report, less 0.5% of rapes result in incarceration.

Sometimes, amid a sea of people, I still find myself very much alone.
/ Rosem Morton
/
Sometimes, amid a sea of people, I still find myself very much alone.

How do we break this cycle for ourselves and for others? Conversations are happening, but not much has changed. This is where we are as a society. Perpetrators continue to succeed as they count on victims to do nothing. The victims, on the other hand, continue to carry the heavy and painful burden of demanding action and engagement from our family, friends and community.

I kindle the fire in me to continue this journey. Hopefully the seeds of resilience will continue to grow.
/ Rosem Morton
/
I kindle the fire in me to continue this journey. Hopefully the seeds of resilience will continue to grow.

Rape is not just an assault on a person: It's an assault on our relationships, which fray when we are not believed.It's also an assault on time: The survivor often finds themselves transported back to the event, unable to move forward, while the assaulter moves on, unaffected by the life crippled in their wake.

I recently learned that sexual violence is known to increase in states of emergencies. This has been at the forefront of my mind as the coronavirus crisis has stretched on.

Memories fade. Emotions change. Thoughts deceive. But the body remembers the pain and the sorrows.
/ Rosem Morton
/
Memories fade. Emotions change. Thoughts deceive. But the body remembers the pain and the sorrows.

I wrote a letter a few months ago to the parts of myself that are still living in a traumatic loop, caught in the memories of the past, struggling to move forward.

To my dear self,

I want you to know that something terrible will happen to you. Someone will take something from you that is not theirs to take. You will examine every word and action leading up to the incident, wondering how you could've changed your fate. You will choose to blame yourself for many things. There will be many loses. There will be many regrets.

I turned to my partner, Ian. My heart unloaded all it could not carry and left an empty space within.
/ Rosem Morton
/
I turned to my partner, Ian. My heart unloaded all it could not carry and left an empty space within.

To ease the pain, you consider how to move on. Maybe you should sweep this under the rug.

You will remember that you've been in this exact circumstance in the past. This time around, you won't stay silent. Not ever, not again. You will decide to speak loud and true. I am sorry to say that people will disappoint you, and this will break your heart. The trauma that will follow will be much more painful and unbearable. You will be unprepared. You will shatter. You will break. There will be facets of the experience that will continue to haunt you to this day.

Some memories still haunt me. It gets better with each passing day.
/ Rosem Morton
/
Some memories still haunt me. It gets better with each passing day.

The fallout will hurt, and continue to hurt. But you will never regret living honestly. In fact, you will find it so refreshing that there will be no other way.

Amid the pain, I want you to know that you will learn something important: You can and will rebuild. You will love every piece you have salvaged, every piece you have improved and every piece you have fortified with steel. You will never regret using your voice. You will learn to love this new you.

I am unlearning and relearning. I am broken and rebuilt. I am living, breathing, surviving, one day at a time.
/ Rosem Morton
/
I am unlearning and relearning. I am broken and rebuilt. I am living, breathing, surviving, one day at a time.

Sadly, the ripples of trauma do not end — they ebb and flow. Some days will be easier and some days will be harder. On the difficult days like today, you will read this letter, look at these photographs and remember what you have survived. You have done it before and you will do it again.

I believe in you. Know that you are not alone.
Rosem

If you need help, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474: Provides a free, 24/7 helpline to survivors and their loved ones.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.