Life Lessons for Survivors of Sexual Assault
My training at a rape and sexual abuse center lead me to commit much of my work to survivors of trauma. My passion comes from the fact that society puts much of the burden on women to protect themselves from assault (don’t drink, don’t wear revealing clothes, and don’t walk by yourself at night) rather than to train men not to take things they don’t have permission for. I know that men are victims of sexual assault. The focus of this post is the majority of sexual assaults that occur, when women are attacked by men. Men must recognize that if she says no, SHE MEANS NO, and what she is wearing or what he thought he knew, is not consent of any kind. For a refresher on consent, please refer to Ashley’s post earlier this month.
I want to talk to those women who are survivors of one of the most horrific acts someone can commit. To those women who are a friend or relative of survivors, be her support system. Be counter to the dismissive, invalidating culture where sexual assault continues to be underreported, especially in the Black community. Because 1 in 5 women in the US have been raped, chances are high that you know someone who needs this.
This is not your fault.
Society asks what victims did to get themselves into the situation, leaving survivors to wonder, “What did I do wrong?” or “Was it my fault?” The reality is that you can’t rape yourself. Sexual assault is about power and control. Once he decided to take action, he was going to move forward with his action no matter what you did or did not do. We can not control other people’s behaviors and questioning the victim’s fault takes all accountability off of the abuser and makes the victim responsible for the outcome. When every extraneous variable is accounted for, i.e. clothes, time of day, acquaintance or not, and intoxicated or not, the common factor is the perpetrator. Every single time.
You are not broken, you are not damaged, and you are not soiled.
Sexual assault results in a variety of negative self-evaluations. The devastation of being violated so horribly can leave you feeling worthless but what was done to you is not enough to diminish your worth; you still have so much value. I don’t believe in broken people. If you’ve been sexually assaulted, you’re likely in a significant amount of emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical pain which needs to heal. Pain can be treated while your value remains the same; when brokenness is perceived as irreparable, a victim feels as if her value is lost.
Find someone to support you.
Don’t try to do this alone. As humans, we are designed for relationships. When you experience a traumatic event, having someone to hold your hand and be present with you is important for your healing journey. It is a journey, and it’s one that you can not do alone. You may start with a therapist, but build your support system with those who you trust, who can support you, encourage you, and make you feel safe to make the journey a more bearable and successful.
Get the help you need.
Therapy, a support group, a doctor, trauma-informed yoga—do whatever you need to make this journey more manageable. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are people who want to support you, but you must open up and ask to get the support you need.
This moment does not define you.
With all the defining moments in our lives, this does not have to be one of yours. A few episodes ago, we talked about the danger of having a single story. This doesn’t have to be your single story. You are so much more than this. This may have changed and impacted your life but you can take your power back. The more this controls your life and steals your energy, the more power you give to that trauma. Do the work that you need to do so that you can have a book of stories rather than just one.
Change your narrative.
You’re not a victim; you are a survivor. The words we use can significantly change our perceptions of ourselves and the world, so those who have experienced sexual assault are SURVIVORS. The word “victim” is associated with helplessness of something happening to a person who must take it. But when you are a “survivor” of something, you are fighting past the thing that occurred. Each day you wake up and take a step towards overcoming what happened to you, you are surviving. It takes a significant amount of courage to heal from sexual assault. Trying not to give up and living your best life every day is empowering.