I get the feeling that when people ask me what my worst experience has been, they expect me to say sexual assault. Instead, my answer is probably surprising.
Yes, sexual assault was incredibly traumatic, and has had a lasting impact on my mental health. However, as soon as it happened, I was surrounded by supportive people, online and offline. Not once was I made to feel alone in the aftermath.
So what is the worst thing I've ever experienced?
Cyberbullying and stalking. Without a doubt, that is the worst thing I've ever gone through. From the moment the first Facebook post went up calling me a manipulative, sociopathic liar, I felt alone. The educational establishment I was studying with at the time did little to help, instead making me feel alienated and attacked.
People attempted to sabotage a voluntary freelancing arrangement I had going on, others attempted to sabotage my future employment prospects. I went through the hell of not knowing who my friends were, of people trying to force me off social media altogether.
Strangers commented on posts about me, saying that I didn't deserve to be happy, that I ought to feel ashamed of myself. Fake accounts were set up for the purpose of spying on me and watching for any kind of response.
What started all this exactly?
I refused to work alongside someone who made me feel uncomfortable without an adult present. It had only recently been brought to my attention that what I'd experienced for upwards of a year had been sexual harassment, and that it was perfectly understandable that I felt uncomfortable around this person.
Even now, given the choice between cyberbullying and sexual assault, I'd still say sexual assault would be less traumatic for me. Simply because with sexual assault, it was over quickly and I was able to deal with the emotional fallout in my own time. With the cyberbullying, it was relentless and felt as though it would never end. I actually still get suspicious when I get a friend request from someone I don't know, and I'm pretty sure the stalking element of the cyberbullying is over.