How many sexual assault survivors do you know? I am sad to say that I have far too many friends and family members who have experienced some form of sexual abuse or assault at some point in their life. Male and female. Adults and children. The fact of the matter is one is too many. But unfortunately, based on the statistics, it’s likely that you or someone you know has experienced some form of sexual abuse or assault as well.
These past few years have been filled with media coverage of high-profile sexual assault cases involving people such as Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Catholic priests, as well as the recent allegations made by Dr. Christine Ford against the now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. These events and powerful movements such as the #MeToo movement have forced a national conversation surrounding sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. I think that it’s great that the climate and the conversation has shifted and now more and more people are speaking out about their own experiences.
But what happens after the public outrage has died down? After the media has moved on to their next big story? After everyone else has moved on with their daily lives? There are still many sexual assault survivors who’ve now been triggered by these stories and who have now been reminded of their own experiences. Perhaps still coping in silence and secrecy, not yet ready to open up about their own stories. Not sure who they can talk to or whether or not their feelings are valid. Possibly minimizing their experience and thinking that ‘it wasn’t so bad’. Maybe they aren’t yet ready to start the healing process or perhaps they’re not ready to acknowledge that they have anything to heal from.
Also, aside from dealing with their own internal battles, survivors have the added stress of witnessing other sexual assault survivors being blamed, bullied, and not believed when they do choose to come forward. It is no wonder that victims are hesitant to come forward and sometimes choose to remain silent. I’ve heard so many people talk about what they would do if they were ever sexually assaulted. But the truth of the matter is, after experiencing a traumatic event such as that, there’s no way of predicting exactly how an individual will react or what they will do. They may do all the things they say they would do, but there’s also the very real possibility that they would do none of those things.
Sometimes people make hurtful comments and have biased opinions about sexual assault victims based solely off of their political views, socioeconomic status, race, gender, sheer ignorance, or some other hidden agenda they may have. We’ve watched this happen time and time again. I can only hope that survivors who witness this do not feel defeated but instead are emboldened to speak up about their own experiences. However, I understand that some survivors are not yet at that point in their process and these disparaging comments can actually compel them to remain silent and not seek the help that they deserve. Please understand that when I refer to sexual assault survivors “speaking up” I am not implying that survivors do so on a large public platform. Speaking up can actually be a low whisper to a close trusted friend or disclosing your experience behind the walls of confidentiality in your therapist’s office. That low whisper is actually very powerful and it’s a huge step forward in the healing process.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault there are several things that you should know. First and foremost, this is not your fault and you should not blame yourself! Yes, even now as 2018 is coming to an end, victim blaming is still a very real thing. But that doesn’t mean that you should join in by blaming yourself. It’s not helpful and it’s not true. Second, the decision to heal is yours. This is where your power lies and this is where you take your power back. Healing begins when you make an active committment to heal. Also, dealing with memories and suppressed feelings after years or even decades of suppression can feel overwhelming. This is a normal part of the healing process and this too shall pass. It is also important that you trust your intuition and your feelings. You need to be patient with yourself as you go through the healing process and allow yourself time to grieve. Finally, as I mentioned earlier, opening up to someone you trust about your experience is a very powerful and important part of healing. This comes at different times for everyone. Breaking your silence to a trusted friend or family member can be very helpful. Speaking to a licensed professional therapist for in-depth therapy is necessary for deep healing. You don’t have to face this alone nor should you attempt to.
If you are the friend of someone who is currently in the process of healing from their experiences, be patient and understanding. Be a listening ear for them. Let them know that you believe them and this is not their fault. Avoid being judgemental or attempting to rush them through the healing process. Also, educate yourself further on sexual assault and the healing process so that you will have a better understanding of what your friend may be experiencing.
Whether you are a sexual assault survivor or a loved one there are resources available to you. You don’t have to deal with this alone. Please check out the list of resources I have listed below for more information that I am sure you will find very helpful.
“Silence about trauma also leads to death– the death of the soul. Silence reinforces the godforsaken isolation of trauma. Being able to say aloud to another human being, “I was raped” […] is a sign that healing can begin.” – Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE (4673)