Ariel Smith shares her story to inspire survivors

Ariel Smith stands proud after receiving the 2021 senator of the year award from WSGA

Zac Surritt

Ariel Smith stands proud after receiving the 2021 senator of the year award from WSGA

(Trigger warning: sexual assault)

The key to fighting against sexual assault and raising awareness is by talking about it. It is an incredibly difficult topic to discuss, however, Washburn student Ariel Smith is sharing her story to let people know that they are not alone.

“April is recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. [The] month is for spreading awareness about what sexual assault is, as well as ways to prevent it,” Smith said. “It’s a difficult conversation to have, but it’s one that is important to have.”

Smith is a junior majoring in elementary education with a focus in special education. Smith is a survivor, a fighter, and an advocate for this problem that occurs all across the world.

Smith’s story began 2 years ago on Feb. 23 when she and her boyfriend at the time invited a friend who was a massage therapist over, just like they had in the past. The night took a tragic turn when their trust was violated by that person.
The situation was dangerous, emotionally brutal, and the last thing any person wants to do after experiencing something like that is to talk about the trauma.

Smith shared how hard coping with the assault was for her.

“After my assault, I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating, and I ended up losing weight. I went down to 85 pounds. I was diagnosed with PTSD and my grades suffered obviously…it takes over every aspect of your life and it’s really hard to understand that and to regain control without having those appropriate supportive measures,” Smith said. “That’s why I encourage anyone that is struggling and has experienced sexual assault to reach out to Washburn counseling services, the YWCA, and Molly, our campus advocate. They are all here, ready to support and help and it doesn’t mean that you’re weak, sometimes even the strongest people need help from others.”

Smith stood brave and fought for justice. Unfortunately her assailant was bonded out of jail after only 4 days. While her justice was cut short of what any of us would have wanted for her, she has not stopped fighting for others who have gone through experiences of their own. She wants others to know that she is there for them, she will fight for them, and she will help those around her.

“Speaking from a survivor standpoint, it was hard because I had it in my head that nobody was going to believe me with the victim-blaming aspect. It’s hard for people to come forward because it’s always in their head, ‘what if they blame me?’ But I think it’s important and I would encourage anyone who’s been thinking about coming forward to do so. There are procedures in place to protect survivors from retaliation,” Smith said when asked about the hardships of coming forward.

Smith’s passion and perseverance are admirable and she is an inspiration to others going through their own process of dealing with sexual assault. Smith is unstoppable, not only in how she inspires others, but in her college life as well. This academic year, WSGA shined a light on Smith by recognizing her for her Sexual Assault Awareness Month bill and efforts for prevention. She also received the 2021 Senator of the Year award at the WSGA banquet.
Smith wants survivors to know that she is fighting for them and she’s here for them.

“I’m here for them, I believe them, I support them a hundred percent and I’ll help them in any way I can,” Smith said. “It’s ultimately up to them if they want to report it. I’ll help them in the [way] I can in that process and stand by them the entire way. Any way that I can help that is most supportive to them, that is what I am here for.”

Edited by Madison Dean, Crystal Hendrix, Katrina Johnson