By Isabelle Perello | Contributor
When I was 15 years old, I was able to learn about sex at my own pace, letting my experience progress or slow down how I wanted. When my friend Bridget was 15 years old, she didn’t have that luxury.
Trigger warning: The following story contains elements of sexual assault and emotional abuse.
To those who aren’t aware, April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month. The National Crime Victimization Survey indicates that about 321,500 cases of rape and sexual assault happen each year. Many victims of sexual or emotional abuse in relationships bear the scars of their past for years to come. Luckily, there are many victims that find the strength and support to overcome their pasts and eventually become able to live their lives to the fullest. An example within this is the story of Orange County, Calif., sophomore Bridget Chagollan.
At 15, Bridget had gained something many young girls fantasize about while growing up: a boyfriend. While the butterflies of a new and young relationship initially excited her, it soon became short-lived. Her once-admired boyfriend quickly became emotionally manipulative, playing on Bridget’s compassion in order to keep her in the relationship and get what he wanted.
“There would be times where I would try to leave the relationship,” Bridget said. “But he threatened suicide if I ever left him.”
Emotional abuse in a relationship can often go hand-in-hand with physical abuse. Unfortunately for Bridget, her boyfriend’s continuing emotional manipulation eventually progressed into more physical aspects of their relationship.
“Almost every first [sexual] experience I’ve had was taken from me,” Bridget said.
While there was no specific pattern of how the abuse began or continued, Bridget recalled how her boyfriend would use her feelings for him in order to make her more sexually receptive.
“He would tell me things like, ‘If you liked me, you would do this for me,’” said Bridget. “He said there was nothing wrong with what we were doing.”
For victims of abuse, a pattern of mental illness is common either in the time during or following an abusive relationship. Victims of destructive relationships tend to experience a general decline of well-being, as well as increased difficulty with sleeping or a positive mental health outlook. During the span of her relationship, Bridget found herself becoming increasingly depressed, anxious and “overall hating life.” Despite the root of her problems developing from her dangerous relationship, Bridget found herself beginning to rely on her boyfriend even more.
“It was like this crazy cycle of being heavily dependent on this guy,” Bridget said. “I thought he was helping me with my anxiety, but he was really just making it a billion times worse.”
This spiral of abuse and depression began affecting Bridget’s other relationships, such as those with her parents. As her boyfriend pressured her to sneak out of the house or lie to her parents in order to please him, her mother grew increasingly distrustful of the teenage pair.
“[After the relationship] I definitely had to repair my relationships with my parents,” Bridget said. “It was absolutely demolished.”
Bridget endured the physical and emotional abuse for the six months that her relationship lasted. Eventually, she found the strength to put her own health before his threats and leave.
“I could no longer hold myself responsible for his actions,” said Bridget. “I finally acknowledged that he was the problem.”
While she continued working on repairing the relationships that were damaged due to her abusive relationship, Bridget faced continuing fear when attempting to begin new relationships. Despite her positive feelings for new potential significant others, there was always struggle when she tried to trust again.
“I had developed a fear of being alone and intimate with someone else,” Bridget said.
The experience, however traumatizing, has taught her that she no longer needs to be “a rock for other people.” Bridget has been able to come to terms with the fact that getting help for her mental illness is a positive thing, and that her anxiety, whether in life or relationships, does not define her. Today, Bridget is happy to report that she is able to enjoy healthy relationships without letting her past define her.
She also contributes a big part of her mental recovery to her faith.
“I credit God with everything I’ve been through and been able to get out of,” Bridget said.
While Bridget still struggles from the backlash of her experiences, she wants to use her story to encourage other victims to “see the light at the end of the tunnel” instead of burying their feelings.
“It’s okay to be angry and feel like [your] circumstances weren’t fair,” Bridget said. “Because they probably weren’t.”
For those in situations such as Bridget’s, you are not alone. Anyone affected by sexual assault can find support from online.rainn.org. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673).
“You don’t have to be a victim to your circumstances,” Bridget said. “I’m not.”
Isabelle is a sophomore marketing major from Seabrook.