AS we reflect on Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I ask that we make some commitments to ourselves to do more where the topic of sexual violence is concerned. Sexual assault affects many within the Caribbean. Our statistics don’t clearly reflect the extent of the problem. Many prefer to remain silent because a supportive and non-judgmental environment is lacking especially in our country. Addressing sexual violence requires that as a society, we make the decision to become more educated, tolerant and supportive of survivors/victims in our society. It requires that we understand the damaging effects of victim blaming, that we let go of the belief that there is a certain kind of person who becomes a victim or perpetrator of the crimes of sexual violence. The shame and secrecy associated with crimes of sexual violence serve to perpetuate the cycle of abuse; they create an environment where sexual violence becomes woven into the fabric of the society. The month of April was supposed to be the month where NGO’s and governmental agencies alike encouraged education on the topic of sexual violence, where we validated those who have been victimized and who are being victimized. It should not be the only time the topic is discussed but it should definitely have been the time to start. No one likes to be called ignorant, but the truth is that when it comes to sexual violence as a society we are ignorant.
Survivors of this crime need to know what resources are available to them and who they can call on based on their current circumstances. Building the road to recovery means ensuring that society is part of that process, because currently society is part of the problem. We blame at every point, we place the onus on the victim/survivor. When a survivor is incapable of being a mind reader we blame them by saying they wanted it to happen. They wanted to be sexually assaulted. Healing requires a supportive and empathetic environment; a victim/survivor is healing from a/many traumatic experiences. They are trying to find out how to live in a world where everything has changed, they are trying to figure out who they are, how to move forward, who they can trust, etc. Healing requires that they exist in spaces that understand that they are healing from a traumatic experience, that they are mourning the life they used to have and coming to terms with the fact that their life has forever been altered.
“As a society we have to stop victim blaming. We have to stop insinuating that men are incapable of controlling themselves around women and that women are incapable of sexually assaulting men. As a society it is our job to ensure that we teach every generation what sexual assault is, what their rights are, and how they can find help should they be sexually assaulted.”
As a survivor of sexual violence, it is important that you decide what you need to begin healing – will being away from certain people be the first step in helping you take control again, will reading, exercise, music, therapy, relocating be the first step to helping you feel like you can move forward? There is no one path that should be followed, the best way forward is by doing what works for you. The path that you will walk requires that you put yourself first, that you decide what happens, how it happens and when it happens. Your choices were taken from you when you were assaulted; healing is about you taking those choices back. Healing is accepting what you have been through, understanding that you didn’t cause it and knowing that you are not defined by it. I truly understand on some level (as we each heal and hurt differently) the difficulties you are faced with. And I don’t say it lightly when I say that healing is possible. It requires time and energy and the willingness to face what you survived. As a society we have to stop victim blaming. We have to stop insinuating that men are incapable of controlling themselves around women and that women are incapable of sexually assaulting men. As a society it is our job to ensure that we teach every generation what sexual assault is, what their rights are and how they can find help should they be sexually assaulted. We as a society need to stop seeing sexual assault as something that affects only one individual at a time; it affects multiple persons and creates a break-down in our system. For so long the only method of dealing with sexual assault has been to pretend it doesn’t happen – this isn’t an option anymore. Pretending something isn’t or hasn’t happened doesn’t stop it from happening or erase what has happened. Acknowledging is the first step, education comes next and action follows. Sexual assault isn’t only about sex but about power. Join us in trying to make a difference. The time has come to stand up and do something. We have sat back and done nothing for too long.
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. 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 PROSAF.