Recognizing the Damage

Image of Souyenne Dathorne
PROSAF — Surviving Sexual Abuse In The Caribbean By Souyenne Dathorne

THE effects of Sexual Violence aren’t linear and no two survivors will have the same effects nor will their healing paths be the same.

As a society, many of us believe that those who have been sexually violated have a prescribed list of side effects that surface after their assault and a time frame within which it is reasonable for those effects to disappear. We have also neglected to take the time to try to recognize how an individual who has been sexually assaulted is affected and understand the process from trauma to healing. We mistakenly make the assumption that what they are going through isn’t terrible enough to warrant our empathy, attention or support.

Survivors of Sexual Violence don’t always realize the many ways in which they have been affected by their sexual assault — many not for a long time. If it happens at a young age and was done by someone they trust, it may leave them with a feeling that what is happening doesn’t feel right, but that this person whom they trust and love would not be doing anything to hurt them. This leaves them feel confused — and unsure of whether they should trust their gut feelings.

If the sexual assault happened when they were young but was done by a stranger, there is often the knowledge that what has happened to them is wrong, but they may feel helpless to change their circumstances, or to tell anyone. If the sexual assault happened when they were more mature, there’s the unending list of questions they’ll ask themselves about what they did to cause this and what they could have done to prevent or stop it.

The thing is that sexual assault, more often than not, leaves the victim/survivor in survival mode, going through the daily motions, but they are often cut-off from everyday experiences.

Many don’t fully understand or recognize the many ways in which they have been affected or the many ways in which they have changed since their assault.

Many survivors spend a great deal of their time trying to pretend that they were never sexually assaulted. It often seems easier to pretend it never happened than to share what happened and be consistently questioned — and blamed. This often causes many survivors to never truly address the traumatic experience/s they lived through.

What follows may be triggering to some (by ‘triggering’ I mean that it may cause some of the memories that may be buried or uncomfortable to resurface). If that happens, take some time to try and calm down, remind yourself of where you are and that while the memories are very real, possibly vivid and will potentially bring back thoughts and feelings you’ve buried, that you are no longer in the situation.

If you are reading this and are currently being sexually assaulted feel free to reach out, we are here to listen and help. Survivors of sexual violence often feel powerless to stop the abuse that happened. They feel ashamed and alone. The idea of sharing what they have been through or are going through with others feels scary — and most opt not to share for fear of being judged. The abuse they have suffered leaves feeling different from others, isolated and therefore unable to connect or relate to others. Sexual violence leaves survivors/victims hating themselves.
Some survivors find themselves hurting themselves as a way to cope, as a way to try to feel something other than numbness. Survivors struggle with being able to trust their intuition. They fear success – or, on the opposite end of the spectrum are driven to success and perfection.

Many survivors struggle with being able to identify and trust their feelings. Many suffer from nightmares and anxiety and may become dependent on drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with or numb the pain.

Survivors of sexual violence go through more than many of you readers may recognize on a daily basis and while every survivor’s journey and experience will be different, the pain they feel is real and very pervasive.

There are more people you know who are survivors than not — a sad but true reality. Many will not come forward because they don’t have support, because they hear our insensitive comments, they hear the ‘rape’ jokes we make, they hear the judgment we pass when a case of rape is aired on the news.

I could walk you through all the side effects, but I believe that you should also take it on yourself to do some research. Sexual violence is not as far away as you would like to believe and none of us is safe from becoming a victim.

Sexual violence requires your attention. It also requires that you be empathetic to the topic because there is at least one person you know who is a victim/survivor – even if you don’t know the person has had that experience.

To the victims/surviors who are reading this: Let 2019 be the year you start your healing journey. Healing will only start when you acknowledge what you have survived. Take the time you need but start.

I know it is difficult and scary and tiring and all the other emotions that will arise, but start. Start small — and again, when you are ready.

We are always here to listen and help — and if you ever need, reach out. Our articles this year will be influenced by the book The Courage to Heal — a Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass & Laura Davis. This is our way of getting the information in the books to you.

We are open to making our articles about topics you are interested in around Sexual Violence. We are also here to answer questions you may have through the articles.

Reach out to us via social Media or email if you have a question you want answered in our weekly articles or a topic you want discussed.

Survivors of sexual assault need a supportive environment to begin the healing process. They need to believe and feel that they are part of a culture that doesn’t support individuals who commit sexual crimes. We have to be the difference we want to see in our country. We have to be willing to start to make change.

We, at PROSAF, have acknowledged that violence against women is a problem in St.Lucia and the wider Caribbean. We are here to begin the metamorphosis that is desperately needed.

We are always here to listen and if you are not ready to come forward but need a listening ear, feel free to contact us. Remember that Sexual assault is something that happens to people, it does not define them, it is something that was done to them.

Survivors, Victims, Thrivers remember you are a strong, beautiful, intelligent woman/child/man who has suffered a trauma through no fault of your own.

You are not guilty of any crime, something was done to you against your will Sexual Assault is something that happened to you, it does not define you. You are worthy of love and happiness.

Always remember that you are not alone, that you have nothing to be ashamed of.

We are taking the baby steps necessary to make it better for all.

If you are interested in finding out more information about sexual violence and what you can do as part of this community, please feel free to contact us at:

Yours Sincerely,
SouyenneDathorne, Velika Lawrence

Email: [email protected][email protected]

Facebook: SURVIVING SEXUAL ABUSE IN THE CARIBBEAN: https://www.facebook.com/pages/PROSAF-Surviving-Sexual-Abuse-in-the-Caribbean/165341356853908

Webpage: http://www.prosaf.org (under construction)

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