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Surviving Sexual Abuse in the Caribbean — The Emergency Stage

Image of Souyenne Dathorne
PROSAF — Surviving Sexual Abuse In The Caribbean By Souyenne Hackshaw and Velika Lawrence

So you may be wondering what I am speaking about when I mention the emergency stage. You may think that all stages of sexual violence feel like emergency stages. And yes, It may feel like that initially but there are stages as you progress on your healing journey that have nothing to do with feeling like you’re dealing with, living in a constant meltdown. The emergency stage speaks to the time frame after you acknowledge personally that you have being traumatized by a sex crime. It speaks to what happens once you have decided that you deserve to begin to heal and feel whole again. It speaks to the time when it feels like the world has betrayed you, when you feel like you are going through this terrible ordeal on your own.

You are not, there are survivors all around you, and while you may not know it, the support group that you have as a survivor of sexual violence reaches far and wide. As a gentle reminder, as we continue through this article, some of the information we discuss can be upsetting or unsettling and or triggering. It can bring back unwanted, forgotten or buried memories. It can cause flashbacks. If at any point you feel triggered when reading this article, please stop. Take  a breath. Don’t push yourself to continue if you don’t feel ready or if the information is upsetting you. The article will be available to you when you are ready, if you decide to want to try reading it again. Remember to be gentle with yourself. Listen to your body. Be aware of the signals it is sending you. Listen to what it is telling you. Taking your time on this journey is imperative. Baby steps are necessary on this journey. As we have been doing for the past few months, we will continue to use the book “The Courage To Heal: A Guide for Survivors of Female Sexual Abuse” by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis as our guide.

Living through a trauma may leave you initially in a stage of shock followed by various stages of denial, anger, grief, acceptance, forgiveness, understanding etc. The emergency stage comes at the beginning of the journey where what you have been through begins to settle in and you begin to accept that you have been the victims of some form of sexual violence. The stages don’t have to follow one after another in any specific time frame or order. I personally feel that we go through the stages more than once throughout the journey. What we want to do is acknowledge that there are stages and that each stage will take time to navigate and learn from and that each stage both demands so much from you but will also give you so much. The Emergency stage happens when you decide to begin dealing with the fact that you have been sexually assaulted and that your life has forever been changed. This generally happens after you have made the initial first step and decided that you are ready to begin to heal. Once that decision has been made, many things that you have been unable to accept will arise. You may have, in the beginning, convinced yourself that you weren’t assaulted, that maybe this was somehow your fault, that you were not really affected by the assault.

Once the decision to heal is clear, you may begin to realize how different your life is now versus before the assault. You may begin to feel all the things that you kept at bay for a while. During this stage, it may feel like thoughts of abuse dominate every facet of your life. You may begin to realize how much of your life has changed after your assault. You may have unpleasant thoughts; you may feel that your life and everything in it is depressing, isn’t worth living, things will never get better and that you are doomed to live a life looking over your shoulder. A life where relationships feel fake because you are afraid to open up and share yourself with others. You may feel like the pain, the emotional and psychological trauma that stalk your dreams will never leave. You may be feeling like the triggers and flashbacks are controlling you more than you could ever control them. You may fear going outside, you may fear staying inside, you may fear sleep or only want to sleep. You may want to find ways to numb the pain, to make you feel more in control. This is normal for what you have survived, and for where you are on your journey. Be gentle and kind with yourself.

Those of us who have survived sexual violence intimately understand what you have lived through, what you are going through, what you are battling. The Emergency stage will not allow you to see beyond the pain yet, because the pain is raw and freshly renewed. Right now you see sexual abuse everywhere you turn and in everything you do. It may make you hyper-aware and hyper-vigilant. Understand that however it manifests itself, this stage is about you dealing with your sexual assault. This stage is about feeling the pain of the aftermath of what you have survived. I speak often as an advocate, a counselor, a psychologist, an educator but not very often as a survivor. So as a fellow survivor walking with you on this journey, there are days when I feel like years later I am still going in and out of the Emergency stage. There are days, weeks, months where nothing can ease the pain of how my life has been forever altered, the pain of knowing that too many survivors walk the path alone because those that should have protected us chose to continuously protect the abuser and themselves.

I was once told by someone very near and dear to me that people accept the version of the truth that suits them best and which helps them sleep at night and not have to accept their part. Deciding to heal and letting others know, that helps you to figure out those who will always be in your corner and those who are unwilling to understand and aid.

Those people don’t deserve to be in your life, those people will only make healing more painful. It takes time but you will learn that boundaries, your boundaries are important. That what you want and need is important and that you get to come first. As a survivor, this healing journey is not easy, it doesn’t happen overnight and often you find that the feeling of self-contained care feels the most right. There is no right or wrong way to go forward, you have to do what is best for you in the way that suits you. This journey is painful and difficult and not something I want wish on anyone. But alas, it is my path like the path of many others. Know that you have a fellow survivor in me. Know that PROSAF is here to help as best as we can right now. Know that this stage, as bad as it feels right now, has an end. You are a survivor, you are strong. Don’t give-up on yourself.

Survivors of sexual violence 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 violent 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 have to acknowledge that sexual crime against anyone is never the fault of the victim but that of the individual who committed the action. We live in a world where everyday women are fighting for the rights to their bodies, to be seen, to be heard, to be given the opportunity to decide what is best for them. Sexual Violence against women is a problem in St. Lucia, in the Caribbean and in the world. Pretending it doesn’t exist is not making it less of a problem. It only serves to aid in the rapid growth of these types of crimes. 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 Violence 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 Violence 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. KNOW YOU HAVE A SAFE SPACE IN PROSAF. 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,

Souyenne Dathorne, Velika Lawrence

Email: ssaitco@hotmail.com – thepowerofone_v@hotmail.com

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)

Telephone: 1-758-724-9991(sue)   1-758-723-6466(vel

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