As adamant as I am about the issue of sexual violence, I feel that maybe my take on it can come off misleading. See, because of my own history with sexual violence, it is hard for me to actually be a part of the fight.
In 2009, I had a therapist tell me to “stop watching the news.” So, I did. Around the time, I had become fixated on the Shanyia Davis story. A mom sold her 5 year old daughter into sexual slavery. The daughter was later found raped and murdered, then tossed on the side of the road, like trash. I was dumbfounded and destroyed by this story. It pretty much shattered my world, and I couldn’t stop following it. How could someone do that to a child? How could a mother do that to her own child? I couldn’t understand it, and it made a frightening reality come to light for me: there is evil in this world, beyond my comprehension, and even with what I’ve been through, I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.
I wish I could tell you that when I stopped watching the news, everything got a little lighter for me. And maybe it did, a wee bit. Even to this day, I go online, and pick and choose headlines based on their triviality. “Reality TV is going down the toilet–literally” The more serious stories, I avoid. I know enough just by the headlines. “Police: Florida man linked to up to 1 million child porn videos, images” The headline says enough. I don’t need to read about this pig, and start to mull over the fact that those 1 million videos and images, mean that tens of thousands of children were forced to participate in sexual acts to make that stuff. I know that already. Although, maybe some people don’t. Maybe a lot of people are completely desensitized to that stuff, and don’t even consider those children when they read a headline like that. For them, I say: READ THE ARTICLE, and think about it.
For those of us who have survived similar experiences, I say: Don’t torture yourself.
No, I understand enough without subjecting myself to it. I heard tidbits about the Steubenville rape case. Enough to get a gist. I cannot read an article about it. I simply can’t. Maybe this makes me a hypocrite, or maybe it makes me self-preserving, I don’t know. All I know is, I just can’t stomach it and hold my world together.
Similarly, I write about the fight to end this stuff, because I cannot actually participate in the fight. I’ve been on the front lines of the battle, and I know how hopeless it is there. For those of you who can stay there and fight this battle, I thank you. I know what it feels like to notice that the army is lacking in numbers, and that all the people at your side are survivors. A lot of times, it is survivors like me, who cannot manage to stay and fight and hold their own lives in tact, but they fight anyway, their very livelihood falling by the wayside. I understand that.
It feels like screaming endlessly in a sea of people, who know you’re there, but choose not to acknowledge you.
I cannot actively delve into the numerous cases of sexual violence and survive. This is what I learned in recovery. If I want to survive, I have to take a step back. Sometimes, this makes me feel helpless and useless. Most of the time, I know it is what keeps me breathing.
I learned that in recovery, but I also learned something from my relationship with God: This battle isn’t just a physical one, or an emotional or mental one. This is a spiritual battle too.
Now this is where my two worlds collide. I know a lot of feminists working without God, and a lot of God-loving people, working without feminism. For me, these two worlds are not mutually exclusive.
I cannot be out there fighting emotionally, mentally, physically, or judiciously, but I can fight like hell spiritually.
I’ve started praying feverishly on the subject of sexual violence. I learned from my relationship with God, that the fight to end sexual violence isn’t hopeless, it just can’t be fought alone. Human beings simply don’t have the power to end it based on the sure will of the fight. We aren’t that powerful. But I fully believe, that with God at our backs, this battle can be won.
I pray for the victims, that they find healing and wholeness despite their experiences. And I pray for those who are on the front lines fighting, that they have the strength and ferocity to not back down, no matter what. I pray for the un-listening, uncaring world, that their eyes and hearts are opened to this battle, and that they join in the fight. I declare miracles over this battle, that it be won by the side that is good. And I rebuke evil’s grasp on so many of us through such violence. I declare victory against evil, and an end to sexual violence.
For those non-believers, you probably think this is useless. But that’s ok, we all have our opinions. Maybe prayer isn’t for you, but luckily, there are plenty of ways to join in the movement.
For those believers, I hope you’ll join me in prayer.
We have the power to end this battle. We just have to claim it.
Sexual Assault. Do you have to go through it to care about it?
This question always arises for me every April. I have a lot of friends who know someone with autism, and thus, support Autism Awareness month, which also happens to be April. This year, I see that friends who know someone who’ve benefited from an organ transplant supporting organ donation. April is also Organ Donation Awareness month. What simultaneously inspires and disheartens me is the fact that these people know someone who have been through these things, so they support these causes. Every one of these people, and the other 400 people on my Facebook page, know at least one person who has been sexually assaulted: me. And yet, the only people I see supporting this cause are the people who have themselves lived through such violence.
I think this is a huge problem in our culture. “As long as I haven’t been raped, then who cares?” Right? Why do I continuously find that the only people driven to stop sexual violence are those who have personally lived through it? Is it really that hard to imagine how awful it is if you haven’t experienced it? Do you really not care that much about the women and men in your life who have been victimized by sexual predators?
I think a lot of it has to do with the silence surrounding the issue, because it sure as hell isn’t the lack of prevalence. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by the age of 18. (Finkelhor, David, et al. “Sexual Abuse in a National Survey of Adult Men and Women: Prevalence, Characteristics, and Risk Factors.”) Are you really going to tell me that you don’t know at least 4 women or 6 men?
No, a lot of it has to do with our silence around the issue. Anything sexual is taboo. You know, as long as it isn’t sexual imagery in time square, music videos, magazines, television, movies, or books. From Fifty Shades of Grey to Abercrombie ads, sexuality is everywhere. However, when it comes to sexual violence, we best not talk about it. Virgin ears, and all.
Or maybe it is the violence part of it. Although, I recently saw Olympus has Fallen, and it suggests Americans have an endless thirst for blood. What’s a movie without a good knife through the head, eh?
Nah, it is just the careful combination of sexual and violence that sends people fleeing in a frenzy.
Let me be frank, you know someone, nay, you know A LOT of someones who have been sexually assaulted in their lives. Not convinced? Start asking around. Your eyes might just open. It is likely that your between your daughter, sister, best friend, mother, aunt, or cousin, at least one has been sexually assaulted.
What then is our problem with talking about it?
I venture to guess that this culture of victim-baming has a lot to do with it. As most recently displayed in the Steubenville rape case, which has brought out the Ugly and the Brave around the issue of victim-blaming. Keep her full of shame = Keep her silent = Let’s just pretend this stuff never happens = No one cares about Sexual Assault Awareness month, except for survivors of sexual assault.
Maybe I am being blunt, but I am personally insulted by the lack of interest around the issue. And I expect a few more people to be displaying their teal ribbons after today.
Let me tell you, from personal experience, about the residual effects of trauma. After it happened, I could barely sleep. I stayed awake, alarmed by any small sound in the night. I never felt safe. I have yet to be able to trust men. I have flashbacks, that feel as though I am reliving the trauma over again. Therefore, I relive it over and over again. My startle reflex is incredibly sensitive. When I went to see Olympus has Fallen, I was jerking repeatedly, startled by the loud sounds. Even a shadow on my computer screen makes me jump. Whenever I am put into a vulnerable situation, I get disoriented and overwhelmed. My pupils dilate, and I become sensitive to sounds. Walking to my car in a parking lot at night, for example. I avoid situations which might trigger these effects, such as: being around men, being by myself outside, being intimate with someone, or alone at night. It has been years, and I am still working to undo the harm done.
I’m not saying I am not living a fulfilling life. What I am saying is that it has taken years of hard work to get to where I can. And what I want to impress upon you is that my case is lucky. I’ve had a lot of resources that most people never have. Such violence haunts a lot of people till the day they die. It breaks their souls. And mending a soul isn’t easy. And even when mended, there will always be scars.
That is all I’m trying to say. Sexual violence is an issue worth caring about.
I don’t know where to begin with the struggles I have recently faced and the miracles that have blossomed out of them. I know God has blessed me with a gift for writing, but I ironically believe that words can never suffice.
I kind of feel the need to fill you in about my journeys over the past 6 months. November 20th of 2011, I entered residential treatment for bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, an eating disorder, and substance abuse. Over the past few years, I have struggled with intense depression. I experienced depression most of my life, but it had intensified over the past 3 years, and I was being hospitalized pretty regularly. That was the main reason, I decided to look into residential treatment. That is how things seemed from my perspective anyway. Looking back on it now, I see so clearly how God had His hand in everything. He chose where I was going to go, and the moment I would arrive and leave. He carefully chose my treatment team, and my fellow survivors that I would meet along the way.
The work that I did from November 20-May 1 was the most intense work of my life. It was incredibly difficult to face the most trying moments of my past head on, and conquer them. We worked from 7 am to 10 pm daily, on dissecting and addressing our traumas. In that process, we were strengthened and equipped to move forward.
I worked with some incredible therapists while at Timberline Knolls. My primary therapist was a Christian therapist. At first I was uncertain as to whether or not I could share the ugliest parts of my past with her, but we built the trust and she constantly reminded me that I needed to push forward. She helped me to stay focused on the tasks at hand, my purpose of a life spent serving the God who had saved me. He pulled me through before, she promised, He won’t desert me now. Sometimes she was the only person who I could listen to, the only person who knew just what to say.
My family therapist sacrificed so much time to care for me directly, and was moved when she witnessed me evolve. I worked with specialists, art therapists, expressive therapists, and DBT therapists. We took every single angle in addressing every single issue. I was blessed with a team that I felt truly cared for me and believed that I was capable of overcoming.
Aside from my team, I met so many other residents who proved to me that survival was possible. They proved to me that some of the most beautiful people in this world, are the people who have been through the most. And you would never even know it. We would spend our brief bouts of free time, laughing, coloring, knitting, or in fellowship. You would never look at these women and know the horrors that they had lived through. Getting to know them on a personal level made me realize why I am so passionate about working against the issue of sexual violence. It helped me face the need in this world to build women up, to help them know that they are valuable, lovable, worthy, beautiful, and strong.
I cannot say enough about the impact that these women had on me. Through high school, college, and even in church, I feel like my strongest friendships were built with the women who were there to witness me break and rebuild.
May 1st, I left to go to “transitional living” in the Los Angeles area. After a week, I left.
The weeks since have been incredible, difficult, reinvigorating, transformative, and inspiring. It hasn’t all been fun. I have had moments of incredible stress. Two weekends ago, I started to fold. I wasn’t finding a job. I wasn’t finding a home. I was starting to believe I wasn’t capable of accomplishing everything I had dreamed of doing. I quickly felt as though the presence of God was draining out from around me. I started to lose faith. I started to lose hope.
Last Sunday morning, I went to a church that I had been looking into since I arrive in San Diego. I was certain that I simply needed to find a spiritual community. Initially, I found myself trapped in one of those, “Seriously?! Really?!” moments. You know, like the Saturday Night Live skit. Almost as soon as church started, I was worried. The sermon was on TRUTH, and I started to consider what my pastors would say on the issue. I imagined them saying that the enemy will lie to you, tell you that you are weak, or try to convince you that you are the person you used to be. I imagined them reminding me not to listen to the lies, that the voice that told me I was capable and worthy and loved was the voice of truth. That voice was the voice of God. This sermon didn’t go anything like that. If you can consider for a moment every single controversial political issue that has ever arisen in which churches felt moved to comment, that was in the sermon. Abortion. Homosexuality. Other religions. Evolution. The pastor even fit the justification for rape into his angry rant, explaining that men have and natural reaction to scantily clad women… “they’re just wired that way.” That was the point when I started frantically looking toward the doors. Just so you know, if you ever start to question whether or not doors will be barricaded if you try to make a run for it… you should probably make a run for it. I calmly headed to the doors, as if I was heading to the bathroom, but I just kept walking.
Let me tell you something that I genuinely believe. I believe there are people who are directly being used by the enemy (satan, evil, etc) through the church. The media has highlighted several of these recently in North Carolina. I believe that this can be the devil’s strongest tool against God. They are puppets for evil who hide behind the guise of Godliness. On a daily basis, they are driving more and more people away from the love of God. They are IN THE CHURCH, but working for the devil. It is a perfect set up. I am probably going to pay for this, but I am calling them out right now. They do not work for God.
I have been in churches whose motives are genuine and true. I have experienced churches where miracles are started, and hearts and minds are opened. It is true that they are rare, but they are out there, I promise. I didn’t not know, until recently that they even existed. I did not know that church could be a spiritual experience. I thought church was a punishment, a bore, and a waste of time.
When last Sunday morning unfolded, I was pretty pissed. I didn’t resign myself to the disappearance of God, like I might’ve in the past. I let the experience infuriate and motivate me. That was NOT going to be my first experience of church in San Diego. I was NOT going to let go that easily. I set out for the rest of the day, focused on my recovery, and on turning things around. I had a healthy, balanced lunch, and came home to find another option. I recalled that I had looked at a church with a Sunday evening service, and I decided to try that one out instead.
I have missed my church back home dearly. I was almost certain I wouldn’t find a comparable church anywhere else. That being said, I was wrong. My church in NC is awesome. They are loving, welcoming, and intentional representatives of Christ. Their hearts are moved from truth. Their lives were saved by the purpose they found in God. One of my church’s focuses has been children with special needs. The Pastor’s sister is a special education teacher, and one of the most devoted families in the congregation is a beautiful family whose son has autism. The issue is close to their hearts.
Being that my passion has long been the issue of sexual violence, I have dreamed of finding a church who was committed to working on the issue.
See, it was my work in Women’s and Gender studies that led me to God. I was driven into the area of study by personal experience and a motivation to change the world. The passion to do this work has been powerful and unyielding. It is the very reason I titled this blog “Incurable Hope.” Because the issue of sexual violence feels hopeless, but the glimmer of a hope that things can be changed is the only thing that has kept me going all along, even when I wanted to give up. I could have easily given up on myself, but I couldn’t give up on the masses of people across the world whose lives are devastated by such violence. There were times when I felt like one of the only people who cared about it. I grew overwhelmed, daunted, and weary. I was in a perpetual tug-of-war between letting go, letting go of this purpose, of this life, and of this fight; and holding on. Just before midnight on March 27, 2011, I gave it all over to God. I had come to the point where I wanted to quit, and I knew that faith would be the only thing that would pull me through. It was quite a stretch. I believed in God, but I was cynical, jaded, and bitter. I was irritated by all this “He” talk, and I thought “God” was the hateful dude who was hatin’ on the gay folk. I surrendered anyway, and hoped for the best.
What I have found on the other side of that commitment has been incredible. It has not been easy, but behind all of it, I have found purpose. I have seen grueling struggles give birth to huge life changes. These are changes I have been craving for years, growth that I have yearned to experience. I had been stagnant, and God had been waiting.
I had considered residential treatment, but God made it happen, with nearly 100% coverage from my insurance company, something that is incredible, and sadly, very rare. I made plans in the months before treatment and in the weeks since, but God constantly reminds me that he has more in mind for me. I have met people who have blessed my life. I have heard stories that have fueled my drive and reinforced my compassion. I have pushed through and overcome trials that can often cripple or kill people. In short, the blessings have been numerous.
Last Sunday night, I found a home church here. It is a different kind of church, a church focused on changing the world in a positive way… “not by making a point, but by making a difference.” By being living examples of Christ’s love in a world that doesn’t know it. Keep in mind that this world is not unfamiliar with that love due to a lack of churches. Oh no, I come from a town where there are almost more churches than people. They have had a KKK rally and a cross burning in the past couple of weeks. Lack of churches is not the problem. The truth is that church is completely useless if it is not conceived from the genuine nature of Christ’s love and compassion. And how many churches do you know that are like that?
The church that I found has a ministry that is committed to working against sex trafficking, both here in the U.S. and abroad. The moment I saw that, I knew God had led me to my church. He led me home. Thursday night’s service focused on impacting the world around us, being kind, lending a hand to someone in need. Simple gestures that are huge in a cold and distant world. It helped me realize why I had been guided here. I have been driven to do this work, and what I found in doing it, was that I couldn’t do it alone, in fact, as Alcoholics Anonymous puts it, “No human power could…” It is true. Doing it alone would’ve killed me. The world is largely unconcerned with the issue of sexual violence. It is just too much. I honestly believe that things can change with a sturdy spiritual foundation, with God behind the work being done.
I have been very active in AA, doing step work with a sponsor, and attending meetings regularly. The entire concept mirrors how I came to believe. We couldn’t do it alone. We needed God to help us overcome. And it is true also with other change. I have watched women devote themselves to the work of fighting sexual violence, and drowning in the hopelessness of the issue.
What makes me laugh is that, as I reflect on my old view of this struggle, I see that I wanted to change the world. The task seems far less daunting when I consider that it was already saved.
I don’t presume to know where things will go from here. God’s plans for me are irrelevant until they come to fruition. I move forward in pure faith. I know he will not let me down. I know he has my best interest at heart. I know he has my back. With that knowledge, what more do I need? With God, all things are possible. 🙂
April is sexual assault awareness month. I have a group of friends, who are all survivors, who live all across North America. We keep in touch and share our struggles with and fight against the issue of sexual violence. This month, we’ve decided to share each other’s blogs as we post about S.A.A.M. and what it means for us. One of those friends/survivors is Sheena. Here is her Facebook page. Here is her blog. She sent me interview questions, which I answered, and decided to share on my own blog.
Before I get to the questions, I want to share the shirt that I made last night, as a part of a survivors group. It is for the clothesline project. You can find out more about The Clothesline Project here. It was started as a grassroots effort to give survivors the forum to speak about their experiences as an aid in the prevention of and awareness around violence against women. Survivors are encouraged to make t-shirts conveying their “testimony to the problem of violence against women.” As I watched women all around me, I tried to think of what I wanted to say in regards to the issue. I wanted to express my pain and anger, but I also wanted to share my hope that we have the power to turn things around. I drew an image of a bird coming out of a heart, but the words continued to evade me. Then a bible verse popped into my head. It is Genesis 50:20 and it says: You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. I think it adequately expresses the fact that we have the power to turn around what has been done to us and stop the cycle, a theme that was common as I answered the interview questions from Sheena. Here is a picture of my shirt:
Ok, and now for the interview!!! Enjoy:
1. Who are you?
Noelle: Freelance Writer, Future Banjo Prodigy, Recovering Addict, Self-Proclaimed Rock Star, Christian Feminist Slam Poet, Survivor
2. Does Sexual Assault Awareness month and Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention Month hold any significant meaning to you? If so, why?
Yes, because I’ve experienced both and I think they are both completely unacceptable and unacceptably quiet experiences in the lives of far too many people.
3. What is your story?
4. According to some statistics, very few people report abuse & assault crimes. Why do you think that is?
Because our legal and medical systems, as well as our entire society as a larger whole pressures those who experience such violence to stay silent. Often times this pressure is carried out in the form of shaming and further abuse of victims.
5. Do you think abusers, rapist, molesters, pedophiles and the likes can be reformed, healed or changed?
I think anything is possible. Ask me if it is likely, and I will say no.
6. What do you want others to understand about those who have been victimized?
That such violence is completely unacceptable. That victims receive little to no support after such acts are committed. That our culture allows and even endorses sexually violent behavior, and that it is EVERYONE’s responsibility to start examining the way we live and making a genuine and vigorous effort to change. And that such violence is devastating in the lives of victims, but with support and dedication, such violence can be overcome.
7. What’s been the most difficult thing to deal with as it relates to what you’ve experienced?
The most difficult part of my experience to deal with is how I was treated after I was victimized. Again and again, I was either completely ignored or simply not believed. I was belittled, accused, ignored, and silenced, not only by the legal system, but by my loved ones.
8. How have you dealt with your own personal rage at the traumatic things that have happened to you?
Honestly… I haven’t. I’m still working on simply allowing myself to feel the rage, because I spent my entire life trying not to feel any of it. Whenever I do feel rage, I want to sit with it, embrace it, and express it. I feel like I deserve that.
9. What was an unexpected thing that aided in your growth and healing?
God. It was very hard for me to get past the idea of God as a man, or that God had allowed these things to happen. I was angry and full of blame. What I realized was that I was misunderstanding God. I had always listened to what others believed God was, and I didn’t like what they had to say, but I lived with that God for a long time. Now, I realize that God is more personal than that. God isn’t some giant angry white dude in the sky with a long beard. I see God in a way that comforts me. I also had to make the distinction that God and people are two different things. People have free will. People f*ck up, in major ways. God doesn’t hurt us, God is there to comfort us when people have.
10. What encouraging words do you have to offer for anyone who has ever been abused or assault?
Keep going. Don’t give up. We have the power to change things. What happened was unacceptable and inexcusable. Allow yourself to feel, and remember that everything you feel is valid. Trust yourself. This doesn’t have to break you.
11. What have you learned considering your experiences?
Too much to write here. So much.
12. What do you think is the most important thing the world needs to hear?
We hold the power to turn things around.
13. What brings you ultimate joy?
My future. My nephew. God. My dog. 😀
14. What’s your favorite quote?
“Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” -Dorothy Bernard
15. Who inspires you? Why?
My sister, because she taught me to question authority, and that you can make your own family without recreating the mistakes of your parents.
16. Is there anything else you’d like to share? This is your space to say whatever you want to say unedited, unscripted and without any filters.
To Be Continued… 🙂