To survivors of sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexual trauma- -I. Believe. YOU!
I believed you the moment the sexual assault took place. The moment you questioned if this could in fact be your new reality. I believed you the moment you wondered about what the world would now say and think of you. The moment you debated if your family and friends would ever believe and protect you. I believed you the moment you understood that life would never look and mean the same. The moment you thought you can’t be loved or love a single soul again.
This post is an honor of April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This post is in recognition of the people who have been victims of sexual trauma. Those who will become victims of sexual trauma, EVERY 92 seconds and the CHILD who will become a victim EVERY 9 minutes. This is in acknowledgement that sexual trauma is also a reality for boys and men. Sexual trauma exists in all racial, ethnic, educational, socio-economic, religious, sexual-orientation, ability/disability groups and more. It is a reality that changes the lives of many forever.
Experiencing sexual trauma is a far more common reality than many discuss. While many people know a survivor of sexual assault, or are one themselves-surviving sexual trauma is still difficult. We still live in a world where the victim is blamed before believed. Why is that?
I often wondered . . . If my family believed me when I shared the reality of my adolescent molestation, would I have lived in silence about my adult rape? Truth is, I’ll never know.
In my early 20’s, I was raped by a man I was becoming acquainted with. I thought he was a gentleman. I never pegged him for the type of man who would hear me say no, with tears running down my face, a body ice-frozen, and still continue to penetrate-against my will! NEVER had I engaged in sexual activity with him prior to that evening. As I laid there, lifelessly, I thought to myself, “what did I do to have him rape me now?”, “why is rape the first sexual encounter we are having with each other?”, and “did I deserve to be raped because I kept my promise to meet him after my previous engagement (so I met him at a late evening hour)?’
I wanted to believe he knew better and I wanted to believe this was NOT in fact my new reality. Feeling dirty and ashamed, I went home as soon as he was finished. I cried silently in my bedroom. In disbelief, my insides were yelling at every moment of pause I took to mourn the woman I knew before the rape. As though being a victim of adolescent molestation was not enough, I became a victim of rape as an adult. I did not know what to do. I felt like I should have known better. Was there a sign about his character that I missed? Did I appear to be an “easy” target? Why me and why now?
“Feeling dirty and ashamed, I went home as soon as he was finished . . . cried silently in my bedroom.”
I lived with my Haitian family at the time that I was raped. Growing up Caribbean encompassed its own pains among the pleasantries. As a first generation Haitian-American adolescent, it wasn’t until I wanted to share my voice with the world to seek help about being sexually-violated, that I realized my entire culture and ethnic origin was raped of its own innocence and voice-normalizing rape culture to survive. I felt betrayed when I quickly learned that every person in my family who taught me to share my voice wanted me to live in silence by silencing me directly.
“Generational trauma is a curse that deserves to be broken by those who believe in truly living.”
Generational trauma is a curse that deserves to be broken by those who believe in truly living. As an adolescent, my family did not respond well to my experience with molestation at the hands of a family member. Scared, angry, and disappointed at the interactions I shared, it was easier for them to not believe me, than to acknowledge the truth in my words, the pain in my heart, the confusion in my mind, and the loss of hope in my eyes.
I was 28 years old when my mother cried at my feet and begged for forgiveness given her betrayal and denial of my sexual assault experience at 15 years old.
“I struggled to find beauty in a reflection that only portrayed ugly.”
I stemmed from a series of sexual assault encounters and moments where my personal space was violated. As an adolescent, I experienced sexual trauma at the hands of strangers, friends, and family. Incapable of finding enough moments to love me through it all, and deem myself worthy of sincere love from others and myself, I attempted to commit suicide and became a cutter at 15 years of age.
I struggled to love myself beyond the trauma. I struggled to love the young woman that many sexualized. I struggled to believe the voice that said “it’s not your fault.” I struggled to find beauty in a reflection that only portrayed ugly. So when I experienced rape, it made sense to me! I needed to live in silence about my rape. So, I never talked about it until years after the rape took place. For a little over a decade, I was a victim of molestation, and for about 5 years, I lived in silence as a victim of rape.
Because Victims Can Become Survivors.
To be in a position to love myself now as a survivor of all sexual assault encounters and to be able to understand that I am and always will be more than the sexual trauma that I experienced since my adolescence, I had to decide to live a life no longer led by fear.
The reality of my decision incorporated the following: 1) I embarked on a therapeutic journey with a couple of therapists, until I found the one that worked for me and I delved deep into psychotherapy. 2) I partook in countless “ugly cry” moments-unashamed to let out all of the pain, misplaced guilt, and disappointment. 3) I distanced myself from those who did not understand or want to understand the processing that I was going through. 4) I spoke up about my experiences to those I trusted and empowered others and myself, every single time I shared details about my story. 5) I challenged the cultural norms of generational trauma that existed within my family. I will talk and they will listen I told myself. And while there are still more people I need to address within my family, I am happy to have spoken to some. 6) I shared my major disappointment in my mother with her. I believed that any chance at becoming the woman, mother, and wife I wanted to become, meant that I needed to heal with reference to my mother. 7) I embraced my arms full of cut-scars. I am not embarrassed by them. My scars are me and I am them. 8) I stopped apologizing for being a woman with a story that includes multiple counts of sexual assault. A partner deserving of my love, will work with me, not hold my past against me. 9) I do not pity myself for my experiences and I unapologetically hold men who would like to date/befriend me to high standards. No longer have I allowed undeserving men in my personal space. 10) And most proudly, every single day, I choose to live for me!
To those learning or going through the journey of loving and befriending a person who is a survivor of sexual assault, please understand the following 6.
- Believe and listen. One of the hardest moments of having to survive through an experience with sexual assault is when the victim is not believed and nobody wants to hear their story through a non-judgmental lens. Believe and listen to those who disclose to you. Additionally, thank survivors for sharing their story with you and for trusting you. When appropriate, ask questions regarding how you can be a support to them.
2. There is no right time for a person to speak up. Yes, many want/expect a victim of sexual assault to discuss it the moment the encounter took place. However, understand that it is not an easy experience to talk about. For some, they may disclose the moment the sexual assault happened, for many more, it may be days, weeks, months, and years later that they talk about it. Respect it.
3. Healing and processing takes time! A few therapy sessions and hugs of compassion is a start, but it is not the end. It has taken me years of reflection, moments of major insecurities, being incapable of letting others into my heart in a healthy way, losing the person I thought I could truly love, and having heart-to-hearts with people who have caused me years of hurt to truly understand the magnitude and depth of the impacts of my encounters with sexual assault.
4. Sexual assault survivors may never disclose all of the details, regardless of how close one’s relationship is to you. The reality of the sexual trauma that took place is painful and scary. Details are not being shared because reliving/retelling it all again hurts. And sometimes, we are combating the reality that some people’s desire to know the details are to determine whether or not we are to be believed. That alone, is painful enough.
5. Consent is the act of saying “yes”, not the absence of “no.” People in relationships, situationships, marriages, and who are hooking-up can also experience sexual assault at the hands of their partners. No means no! And if a person never said yes, then that means no as well.
6. A part of us “died” the moment the sexual assault took place, especially if the encounter took place at the hands of someone the victim knew or are taught to trust. As a result, one’s ability to trust, connect intimately (even if in a relationship/married), be social, enjoy social settings, and more may be difficult. In those moments, practice patience, compassion, and empathy. Victims and survivors are constantly working hard to make it through.
While there are many more lessons to be learned and shared regarding survivors of sexual trauma, these 6 tips are a great way to start understanding and building alongside a survivor of sexual assault and trauma.
To survivors, know that you are and always will be love, light, strength, and courage. Yes, your sexual assault encounter(s) happened and I believe you.
To allies, continue to be there for those you love and don’t even know. As a survivor of rape and molestation, who was not always believed-knowing you are there is motivation to keep going!
Sexual Assault Awareness month is in April. The assaults happen daily. What role will you play in the healing?
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