Editor’s note: The names in this story have been changed to protect the identities and safety of the individuals involved.
A freshman enrolls at NSU for the fall 2017 semester and moves into his dorm, looking forward to a fresh start. He settles in a classroom desk when an old friend from home sits directly behind him.
Only he isn’t just an old friend.
He was sexually assaulted by this person on a school trip during their high school years.
Josh was unable to remain in that class due to the onslaught of anxiety and quickly transferred.
Four high school students were assigned a hotel room during a school trip five years ago. Two of the boys, Josh and Donovan, had previously shared multiple conversations and texts of a sexually explicit nature.
Both boys talked about experimenting with one another in the hotel that night. When they settled into bed, Josh told Donovan he was uncomfortable doing anything with him while two other students were in the room.
In the middle of the night, both boys are awoken by Josh’s night terror, and Donovan attempts to comfort him by mimicking a porn scene he had watched.
“Do you want me to try and help you relax?” he says.
Donovan leans down and performs oral sex on Josh without his verbal consent.
Josh tries to speak – any sound to wake the other boys in the room – but no words escape his lips; inside he is raging, but no sound emerges. He lies there, disoriented from the night terror. He commands his body to move, attempting to squirm his way up the bed.
Josh leaves the bed and locks himself inside the bathroom after the incident. Fear, anxiety and adrenaline come together, forming a crescendo of self-doubt. Physically ill and vulnerable on the cold floor, he feels a question lurking among the shadows:
“Was that rape?”
Ice and water form beneath Josh in his mind, and begin to coil and freeze around his prone form with the crushing weight of distress. Icy chills shoot up his spine, piercing his skin and filling the air around him with anguish’s bitter tinge.
What was once a friendship with Donovan is now tainted with memories of unwanted lust.
Josh’s color fades from his world, but a splash remains deep within his soul, preparing for the emotional battle ahead.
For the rest of his ninth grade year, Josh attempts to leave that scarring night behind but struggles with vivid nightmares and crippling panic attacks. He suffers in silence, fearful of what his peers might think.
“If people think I’m lying, I’m going to be hated.”
By his sophomore year, the emotional turmoil began to eat away at the armor Josh so carefully built. He struggled coming to terms with what happened. After his lust for life diminished each day, he decided to end it.
Armed with a bottle of pills intending to end his life, Josh’s saving grace came in the form of his mother.
“I had a panic attack and gave her the bottle of pills.”
Although lost in tides of self-loathing and confusion, Josh refused to sink. He realized how little control he had over his life after self-reflection and a failed relationship.
He began questioning his attraction to men, thinking, “What if it’s just me trying to find someone to protect me?”
He realized no one else could help him to fully move on; Josh had to face the emotional walls he erected on his own terms.
Upon discovering his alleged attacker was dating other students, Josh decided to raise male sexual assault awareness at his school.
“I may want to f—ing die, but I’m not going to let other people want to die like this.”
Josh worked tirelessly so others might be afforded the safety and choice he was stripped of. He was determined to regain control of his life.
He understood how easy it was to put trust in someone only for it to be shattered in moments.
The aftermath almost cost Josh his life. But through helping other young men and raising awareness, he now thinks of himself as a strong survivor.
He says the color best reflects the period of his life after he was assaulted. The color reminds him of blood and lust – twisting what is meant to be a beautiful act.
After years of reflecting on that fateful night, Donovan came to understand how much he hurt Josh. From his perspective, he only wanted to comfort Josh after the night terror. Donovan knows he should have received verbal consent and wishes he could change his actions.
“Regardless if I had been malicious or not, it still hurt him the same way.”
Years later, Josh says his true colors begin to shine through; he’s never felt more at home than he does at NSU. His transition from high school to college was difficult but afforded him the chance at a new beginning.
Sea green is the color Josh says best reflects his beginning at NSU. He says he is now more comfortable with not only his sexuality, but with his personal identity.
Prior to a definition change in 2013, the FBI received countless reports every year that didn’t fit the criteria to be classified as rape. That year, the definition changed from “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will,” to remove the word “forcibly” and include males, and both oral and anal penetration.
However, the new criteria didn’t help for Josh. He did not report the incident to police, as is the case with many sexual assault victims.
According to the National Crime Victimization Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, an estimated four out of five rapes or sexual assaults go unreported, making it the most underreported crime in the country.
In sharing his story, Josh hopes for victims to know one thing:
“This is not forever.”