There have been a lot of discussions about sexual violence lately. Between Donald Trump’s disgusting statements about sexually assaulting women, numerous women reporting experiences of sexual assault perpetrated by Trump, Nate Parker’s lack of remorse related to being accused of rape, Brock Turner being released after only 3 months in jail, and President Obama recently signing a Bill of Rights for Sexual Assault Survivors, sexual violence has been a bigger part of every day conversations lately than it used to be. Sexual violence includes a range of physical and verbal behaviors from harassment to rape. Sexual violence is far too common. As many people have highlighted, we live in a rape culture, where sexual violence is accepted, victims are blamed, and very few people are held accountable for sexually harmful behavior. These are all things that need to change.
As we work to prevent sexual violence and hold perpetrators accountable it is essential to acknowledge the pain and trauma survivors of sexual violence experience. Being violated in the most intimate way is deeply painful and often causes people to question their faith, safety in the world, and worthiness as a human. People commonly experience a range of emotions after experiencing sexual violence including confusion, anger, emotional and physical pain, shame and self-blame, denial, fear, sadness, and isolation. Sexual violence is often traumatic and can result in a range of ongoing mental health concerns including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Some trauma related symptoms include having flash backs, being triggered or scared by seemingly benign stimuli, having difficulty engaging in sexual relationships in the future, feeling anxious, feeling unsafe when alone, and feeling scared of encountering the person who committed the sexual violence. This blog post is for those people who have experienced sexual violence. Know that it was not your fault. Know that your reaction to being assaulted is understandable. Know that you are not powerless. Know that you are worthy.
It was not your fault
One thing that survivors of sexual violence often struggle with is the feeling that they did something to cause the sexual assault they experienced. People often replay the assault again and again to identify what they could have done differently to possibly prevent the assault. While it is understandable for survivors to try to make sense of what happened to them, this thinking can lead to self-blame. It is important for survivors of sexual violence to know that it was not their fault. It does not matter if you were intoxicated or dressed in a sexually provocative manner. It doesn’t matter if you were messing around with a person prior to being raped. It doesn’t matter if you were in a relationship with the person. It doesn’t matter if you were unable to fight back or express your lack of consent. It doesn’t matter if you trusted your attacker or the person was a stranger. No matter what the circumstances surrounding sexual violence that you may have experienced, it was not your fault.
Your reaction is understandable
There is no right response to experiencing sexual violence. As I mentioned above, people have a range of responses to experiencing sexual violence. People may be sexually aroused and even have an orgasm while being raped and subsequently feel a lot of shame and confusion. It is understandable to have a range of reactions to experiencing sexual violence including denial, which may last for months or years. If you have experienced sexual violence try to show yourself some compassion and accept whatever you are feeling. Try to let go of the pressure to perform a particular response because you think it’s what people want or expect of survivors of sexual violence. It can be helpful to seek therapy to support you in processing your reactions. Therapy provides a safe, confidential, and accepting space where none of your thoughts or experiences will be judged. If you have experienced sexual violence you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline for support and help finding providers in your area.
Know that you are not powerless
After experiencing sexual violence many people feel stripped of their power. Feeling like your essential rights as a human were violated can make you feel like you no longer have control over your life. It is important to remember that while someone may have violated you, they cannot permanently take your personal power. One way to re-assert your power is to actively claim your humanity and wholeness. It is important to note that there are many circumstances in which we are not able to do anything to prevent sexual violence. However, as we work to prevent sexual violence we can think about ways to increase our personal safety when possible. After some time has passed and you have begun healing, it can be helpful to think about how you can take ownership of your safety. Think about when, where, and with whom you get intoxicated and determine whether you would like to make any changes. Consider the behaviors of people you are engaged with romantically, if they show signs of not respecting your desires, space, or body this may foreshadow abusive behavior. As I stated above, the blame for sexual violence falls squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator and that fact does not preclude us from taking steps to promote our safety in a society where sexual violence is woefully common.
Know that you are worthy
When your personal safety and ownership of your body is violated during sexual violence, it can make you feel unworthy as a human. Many people who experience sexual violence feel broken or permanently damaged. People question what it was about them that prompted the perpetrator to violate their rights. Survivors often carry the weight of shame after being assaulted because they feel that being assaulted means that something is wrong with them. If you have experienced sexual violence know that it is not a reflection on who you are. Being assaulted is not about you, it is about the person who chose not to respect your dignity as a human being. Nothing can take away your worthiness. Know that you are worthy of love, healthy sexual relationships, and respect.