Survivor Spotlight: Aspen Matis

Survivor of sexual assault Aspen Matis portrait.

“Maybe I should have kicked him. I should have screamed.”

It was Aspen Matis’s second night of college. She had invited a few new friends over to her dorm room to watch the classic movie "The Breakfast Club." When the movie was over, two of the three people left, leaving one guy in her room.

He didn’t leave. She told him to stop, but felt frozen. He threw her clothes on the floor, and raped her. “I felt shame,” said Aspen, thinking back to that time. She eventually decided to visit an on-campus resource for sexual assault, where she was encouraged to report what happened. After the school’s campus mediator found the case inconclusive, Aspen found herself needing to get away and find some solitude in order to process what her college experience had turned into. She decided to walk 2,650 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail, all the way from Mexico to Canada. “The literal route of the long journey felt symbolic,” says Aspen. “Walking toward the pain, into it—facing it, feeling it hotly—and passing through it.”

Aspen decided to raise money for RAINN along the way, in support of other survivors who are making their way through the healing process. Aspen said, “When I called the National Sexual Assault Hotline, the staffer listened and stayed on the phone for hours as I spoke and cried. Her presence softened my sharp pangs of pain. She repeated that my rape was not my fault, that I should feel no shame, that—simple as it may sound—I hadn’t caused it. No one causes rape but rapists. No one causes rape but rapists. No one causes rape but rapists. It was true. And it hadn’t been obvious to me. But hearing it from someone else, a professional, someone who should know, helped me believe that soon I would believe it.”

Cover of the book "Girl in the Woods" by sexual assault survivor Aspen Matis.

After Aspen returned from her successful hike, she decided to write a memoir about her journey. Girl in the Woods, released on September 8, 2015, explores Aspen’s physical and emotional survival story, and reveals how she came to terms with an experience that many of those around her did not understand. “I met myself, my future self, learned who I was and what I needed and wanted, and earned massive respect for myself and my strength. I showed myself how strong I was. I became the hero of my own story,” says Aspen.

“We’ve followed Aspen’s remarkable journey since 2008, when she first contacted us about her courageous plan to hike the Pacific Crest Trail to support survivors,” said RAINN’s Director of Development, Chelsea Bowers. “Aspen’s sincerity and openness in sharing her story has already helped so many to know that they’re not alone, and Girl in the Woods will reinforce for thousands more that there is hope, and that recovery is possible.”

“I want other girls to tell their stories, and be free of them,” says Aspen.

Learn more about Aspen at her official website. Aspen is donating 5% of royalties through the sale of her book to RAINN: Order your copy here. You can also help Aspen raise money for the National Sexual Assault Hotline by donating here.

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE and, y en español: