Sometimes, the New York Times comments section tells stories just as important as those published on the newspaper's website. A comment made on a story about sexual assault yesterday, for example, furthers conversation about how rape can impact a survivor for the rest of their life.
The comment was made by a woman who goes by "Nancy," from Massachusetts. She wrote that being sexually assaulted when she was young has made it impossible for her to feel comfortable in relationships with men.
"I'm 74 and I still am not over it," she wrote. "The message I want to convey is that it is never over. I have been alone for over 40 years and I will die alone."
Nancy also wrote about struggling to get her mother to believe that she had been assaulted, and pleaded for parents of young children to pay attention for signs of abuse. "It is so easy to pretend that nothing is going on because you don't want to face the fact that it happened under you [sic] own roof," she wrote.
Colleen Doran, an illustrator with the New York Times, tweeted a screenshot of this comment and wrote, "Heartbreak. Comment Section. The New York Times."
Nancy's comment is in response to swimmer Diana Nyad's essay about a sexual assault she experienced as a child — yet another tale in a growing list of survivors who are speaking out about sexual assault and harassment they've experienced throughout their careers. Nyad's op-ed was published on the New York Times yesterday, and talks for the first time about how her swim coach sexually assaulted her as she attempted to take a nap on his couch when she was just 14 years old.
"Out of nowhere, he was on top of me. He yanked my suit down. He grabbed at and drooled onto my breasts. He hyperventilated and moaned," she wrote. "He ejaculated on my stomach, my athletic torso I was so proud of now suddenly violated with this strange and foul stuff."
Like Nancy, Nyad's assault changed her personality and impacted her life for years afterward. She writes about winning her swim meet the next day, but not being able to celebrate, about practicing her sport less frequently to avoid ever again being alone with her coach, about distancing herself from her peers throughout high school, and about dreaming of "hacking [her] breasts off with a razor blade."
Nancy and Nyad aren't alone. Sexual violence often impacts the mental health of survivors, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. An assault can lead to depression, PTSD, substance abuse, dissociation, sleep disorders, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. It can cause someone to distance themselves from others like Nyad, or to be uncomfortable in relationships like Nancy.
Nyad and Nancy's stories matter, especially in a time when so many people are shining a spotlight on sexual assault. We need to remember that an assault doesn't just happen in the moment — it forever changes the life of a survivor.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
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