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 know the holidays can be this expectation-filled, anxiety-ridden ball of stressful days in rapid succession. Let’s be honest, once Halloween hits, you know it will be the new year before you know. At least, that’s how it goes for me. I know the year is over with pumpkins and costumes. The rest of it turns into a blur of get-togethers, sugar overloads, and family reunions.
I know a few people who were dreading the days they would have to spend with family. There’s a huge expectation of presentation and performance with holidays. We have to put on like we’re happy, and we love our dysfunctional relatives. We have to catch up, and cherish time spent together. We have to make a perfect turkey, ham, sweet potato casserole, pumpkin pie, or other goodies. We have to spend money and give presents we can’t afford to make someone think we can. We have to try our damnedest not to micromanage, helicopter parent, or argue.
Heck, I’m visiting my sister, and I have already argued with my dad who happens to be 3 states away. It is a stressful time. We have a performance to nail, and dealing with traveling doesn’t make it any easier.
I’ve learned something in the process of working the twelve steps that helps me in these situations. See, a big part of why we [drink, use, overeat, under-eat, self-harm, gamble, shop, or ___(fill in blank)___ ] is because we carry around resentments. It is a big part of step four, to work through those resentments–to realize that the people who have hurt you are sick, and need your compassion and sympathy; and also, to see your part in things and remedy the situation as best you can.
A lot of people go back to their addiction(s) of choice because they get a resentment, and it takes them back into sickness. This is why, as in step 10, we continue to take a personal inventory and when wrong, admit it. Resentments will kill us. Resentments keep us firmly rooted in the problem.
This is why, I tread lightly on the grounds of my anger. I do not want to become rooted there. I have noticed that when I become angry, I can step away from the situation to let my feelings work themselves out. It is easy, after having a little time, to realize where you too might have overreacted. This is very helpful, not only in recovery, but in dealing with people or situations that can overwhelm you, such as holidays.
Always remind yourself of how precious your time is. October to January just flew past your very eyes. Keep that in mind. Years and lives fly in much the same way. Your in-laws or family may rub you the wrong way, but your time with them is short. This may either be a blessing, or a reminder to enjoy them while they are here. Either way, it is a good thing to keep in mind.
“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”~ Dr. Seuss
“Seeds of faith are always within us; sometimes it takes a crisis to nourish and encourage their growth.” ~Susan Taylor
I don’t typically watch the news. I have a computer and a T.V. without cable, or even basic access. I stick to Netflix, and I get my teeny bit of “news” from Philip Defranco, on YouTube. That’s about as much as I can take. In 2009, I had a therapist tell me to stop watching the news. I took her advice. I had, at the time, become overwhelmed, baffled, and distraught over the Shaniya Davis story.
I couldn’t understand how, someone could do that to their daughter. I couldn’t understand how someone could do those things to a 5 year old. I was starting to drown in a sea of headlines and news reports of just how evil this world is.
And it is true. This world can be a very evil place.
I have spent a good chunk of the past few years overwhelmed by an issue that the rest of the world seems underwhelmed about: sexual violence. Such violence is beyond an epidemic in our world, and repeatedly, our response is victim blaming, and sweeping it under the rug. It makes me cringe to know that 1 our of 4 girls, and 1 out of 6 boys will be the victims of sexual abuse by the age of 18. How do people walk around in their own little bubbles, oblivious of something so heinous?
I don’t know, they just do.
In some of the work I have done, I have teamed with people who had similar experience and ambition, wanting to do something on the matter. What have I found? That there are victims out there working toward solving a problem, without even having dealt with the issue in their own lives. It is like someone with a still gaping and bloody bullet wound trying to fight for gun control.
First, you need to address your own trauma.
The hard part is, no one else is stepping forward to solve the issue. All of those people who’ve never had to suffer through the trauma have no interest in dealing with something so dark and ugly.
This is just what I have found.
I look around me, and I see people becoming passionately driven about the issue of guns and asking themselves, “what could of we have done to prevent the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012?”
I would never venture to claim that this question is not important, pertinent, or should not be asked. I do, however, think that it is too soon to be torn apart by these issues. Our hearts are still breaking from what happened, and the details that continue to unfold. Our stomachs are still twisted by what the children of Sandy Hook must’ve witnessed that day. Chills are still shooting down our spines to imagine what evil it takes to commit such an act.
How have we allowed this to lead to a divide? What the survivors need right now, is a community to come together in support around them. They certainly have a long, tough road ahead of them.
Repeatedly, through the past several years we have witnessed tragedy and allowed it to, even for a short time, bring us together in mourning and solidarity. For the first time in my life, I have witnessed the opposite happen. That is what breaks my heart now.
I think ALL of us will agree that something has to be done to attempt to prevent these massacres from happening again, no matter what side you’re on. What that “something” looks like will start to materialize as we work on the matter. I trust that.
At this point, I don’t care what that “something” is just yet. I am still far too stricken with grief to start thinking strategy. Am I alone in this?
I look at the faces of the victims, and my throat starts to tense. I hear their stories, and my eyes are filled with tears. I cannot look at December 14th with a hard heart. I find peace in my belief that these children are safe and happy now. I find strength in the stories of heroism in the adults that fought for these kids with their very lives.
I remember too, those who survived, and I give them this message: you can overcome your trauma and live a fulfilling life. This may be a struggle, but it does not have to defeat you. This dark moment in your lives can become a place of strength, and a place of motivation. You are in the thoughts and prayers of so many, and we will still have your hands when the heavy realization hits you of just how blessed you are to have faced and survived a trial that many will never even have to face.
To the rest of us, I say: stand down. This is not a fight. We are worn and we are weary. We have faced far too much as a country this year. Yes, we must address this issue, but please, for God’s sake, can we take a moment to grieve first?
To all of us, I plead: Do not let this destroy us. We will march forward and we will advocate for the changes necessary to prevent such tragedy in the future, but first allow yourselves to grieve. Before you stand up to fight, address your own trauma. Make sure that when your time comes, when your voice rises, that you are in a place where you are strong enough to argue your side. So many times, I have seen angels fall short here, and lose the drive to carry on. We can heal. We can overcome. But first, we must grieve.
A heart must finish breaking before you can begin to mend it.
It is true that this world can be an evil place, but what is also true is that each of us has the ability to contribute to the good. If you are going to pour fervently into this world, be sure that what you are pouring is positive.