OVER the past few months we have been discussing the side effects and coping mechanisms as it relates to surviving trauma and sexual violence. It is however, also important to acknowledge those who are surviving, those who are still being victimized and those who come out of the other side of their trauma stronger, smarter, healthier, happier, more in control of their life, more empowered and more at peace with the cards they have been dealt. As survivors, we commonly feel like we are on a lonely journey. Some may feel like their pain is a bottomless pit with little to no reprieve, others struggle to get through the days without having to share or confess what is truly happening to them. Survivors learn to be their own rocks, their own cheerleaders, and they learn that many people don’t understand or don’t want to understand their pain. Sharing what you have been through isn’t easy, dealing with the criticism isn’t easy, dealing with the interrogation isn’t easy, and coming to grips with the fact that those who should protect and love you are willing to believe that you caused someone to violate you is heartbreaking. Survivors of sexual violence learn that they may be better off being alone on their journey because the alternative is to have no support and to be blamed for the crime committed against them. As we continue on, if you feel triggered please stop and either return to it when you feel ready or not at all. Our articles are here to educate and validate. But it is important that you are always listening to your body. Let it dictate your pace. Our healing journey isn’t something that can be rushed.
As a survivor, you may have been told that you caused your abuse. You may have been told that your sharing your story is about wanting attention or revenge. You may have been told that you seduced your abuser, that you caused his/her lack of control. You may have been told that your husband can’t rape you or that your boyfriend thought you weren’t serious about the ‘NO’ you repeatedly uttered. You may have been told that you were in the wrong part of town, that you were wearing the wrong clothing, that you misunderstood what actually took place. You may have been told that it’s a father’s right to ensure his daughter is initiated properly, you may have been told that your brother/sister/cousin was only playing around and that it got out of hand. You may have been told you are a boy/man and can’t be sexually assaulted by a woman/girl. You may have been told that as a child you are in no position to know what you want or what is best for you and that others get to dictate what happens and when it happens to you. As a woman you may have been told that your personality allowed for you to be sexually violated, that your responses were ambiguous, that you went out to dinner, dancing, etc. and were in no position to say no after time and money was invested on you. I say all this to point out that the excuses afforded the perpetrator and the treatment directed at the victim are polar opposites. Perpetrators of sexual violence are treated like they could not have helped themselves, while victims are treated like they forced their abusers to abuse them and are now complaining about what transpired because they are regretting the night before, or they are looking for attention from the individual who just violated them. Without fail, we give the perpetrators the benefit of the doubt. We, without a doubt rarely take the time to understand the pain and suffering the survivor is constantly enduring. An experience with sexual assault takes something from you, it robs you of the belief that you are safe in your body, it changes the way you see the world and people in it. It makes you doubt yourself because the person that assaulted you was more than likely someone you knew, someone you trusted. Those fears and beliefs are reinforced when you share your story only to be blamed, accused, and left to battle your mind and body on your own. We have all survived a traumatic experience so choosing to be understanding, to be supportive, to be non-judgmental isn’t a difficult concept to understand or expect as we have expected the very same from others.
To those who have survived, to those who are currently surviving, at some point you have to put you first. You have to decide that there are the people born into your life and those you chose to let into your life. Place boundaries in both spaces and work on only allowing those who are supportive into your life. Whether you believe me or not right now, your sexual assault was not your fault. You did nothing to cause it, you didn’t misunderstand what was happening, you are not an embarrassment to anyone, and you have nothing to be ashamed of. I know I say this almost every week, you are beautiful, strong; you are not your abuse. I am not trying to be repetitive but I know what it feels like to not want to look in the mirror. I know what it looks like to feel like you are alone because those in your life choose not to try to understand your pain and suffering. I say this to let you know that for many survivors, those we expect to be there to support and understand rarely are. You get to choose your family and fill your life with the people who care, who will support and empower you. You get to place boundaries on those who are causing you more pain. They don’t deserve to have you in their lives. They have chosen to believe and to excuse your abuser and have chosen to neglect your feelings. Choose you. Work on loving you. Work on putting you first. Work on being a brave, fearless and powerful survivor with a strong voice and an even stronger spirit.
We are here to listen and support. We are here to be a safe space. To be a listening ear. We are here to walk with you on this healing journey. If you have questions you would like answered or topics you would like discussed please reach out. If you would like to submit a written piece please contact PROSAF. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org – email@example.com.
Resources: The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass & Laura Davis