If you’ve been following the news, you’ve likely heard about the “MeToo” Movement. Although the movement is getting a lot of attention and women are now coming forward now, this movement was originally started 10 years ago by a woman named Tarana Burke back in 2007 to let women of color, who survive sexual assault, know they are not alone. Actress Alyssa Milano started using the hashtag #MeToo and now it has gone viral. The actress also credited Ms. Burke as the creator and called the story “heartbreaking” and “inspiring”.
This is a great way to build momentum nationally as Sexual Assault Awareness month is coming up soon in April. So let’s talk about it. As a teen, I was molested by a man at the young age of 13 years old by a family friend. At that young age, I was more afraid of my life more than anything if I said a word. I didn’t want to be killed or any of my family members, as that was what the molester said he would do if I said anything. Although it was only a one-time incident, it was a traumatic experience as a teenager. Years later, I left for the military at 18 years old and knew I would rarely ever have to see this man again. When I as 22 years old, I found out my molester had passed away. At the time, I felt happy and relieved, because I knew he couldn’t harm any other child. I never shared this with my parents until the man was dead and gone. This experience has affected my life in a way where I was and still am very over-protective of my daughter and who I let around her. But as she grew up through her years, I did my best to keep an open communicative relationship with my daughter and teach her to be aware of molesters, pedophiles, and other things about life she should be aware of. Today, my daughter is 18 years old and I thank God she’s not experienced what I had been through.
Having served an additional duty, as a Sexual Assault Victim Advocate for 12 years until I retired, I felt it was my duty to help victims and let them know they were not alone. Now after retirement I still choose to be an advocate for others. I am all too familiar with the devastating impacts of sexual assault and the stigma that some survivors experience. If you are a survivor of sexual assault, here are three things that I want you to know according to what I’ve read and I also know from experience.
1. What happened to you was not your fault.
I know you may have heard this before, but that it might be difficult for you to believe. You may think to yourself, “If only I hadn’t gone to that party, this wouldn’t have happened” or “I chose to go back to his room, so it was my fault for sending him mixed signals.”
First off, I want you to know that this is a common reaction to sexual trauma. Your mind wants to make sense of a situation that ultimately was out of your control. Therefore, many people wrongly believe that they must have been responsible for what happened to them.
The reality is that when someone is sexually assaulted, the only person who is to blame is the perpetrator. No matter what party you went to, if you had a drink, if you didn’t fight the person off, if you were dating the person if you were aroused and regardless of any other circumstance-it was not your fault. You were not responsible for this and you certainly did not deserve it.
If you are struggling with feelings of GUILT and SHAME following sexual trauma, it can be incredibly helpful to reach out to the psychotherapist (preferably one who specializes in trauma).
2. Healing takes time but it is absolutely possible.
There are many stages of healing following a trauma, and everyone copes with this process differently. It’s important to note healing and coping with the impact of traumatic experience can take time, but it is completely possible to get to a place where you are able to have healthy relationships, rebuild a sense of trust and security, and find meaning and purpose in your life.
It’s important to be compassionate with yourself for whatever emotions you are experiencing. Beating yourself up for feeling the way that you do will likely only cause you to feel worse. You went through something that no one should have to endure and you are certainly not alone in struggling with the aftermath of trauma. Ultimately, you deserve to treat yourself with the same kindness that you would a loved one who had experienced trauma.
No one should have to struggle with this alone. Reaching out for support from professionals, as well as friends and loved ones can be incredibly helpful for survivors. Even if they can’t completely understand how you are feeling, they can provide you with love and support when you are struggling.
3. It’s healthy and “ok” to feel the feelings you have.
After trauma, there is often a sense of wanting to be to “numb.” Survivors might turn to negative coping mechanisms, such as drinking, using drugs, not eating, or self-inflicting wounds, to try to escape their intense emotions. Know that these coping mechanisms are coming from a good place, as you are using them in an attempt to feel better. But keep in mind that these strategies only provide temporary relief, and often lead to greater emotional pain in the long-term.
Engaging in these behaviors can cause you to become dependent on them. In addition, as human beings we are unable to selectively numb emotions. When we numb ourselves from feeling anxious and depressed, we also block ourselves from feeling LOVE, PEACE AND JOY.
It is ok and healthy to allow yourself to feel your feelings. Emotions are like waves in the ocean. They rise and peak, but ultimately if you allow yourself to sit with them, they will decrease in intensity. Talking to therapist, counselor and/or life coach when you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed, is one healthy way to process your feelings. Other ways might include talking to loved ones, journaling, drawing, going to a support group, or reaching out to a helpline.
No matter the words that are playing around in your mind do understand, YOU DID NOTHING WRONG. No one deserves to be molested and/or assaulted. In no way was it your fault. You’ve had a traumatic experience in life, but you are in control of your healing journey right now. Love yourself enough to turn your trauma into your TRIUMPH. And lastly, ensure you educate and bring awareness in the community and those around you…SEXUAL ASSAULT IS NOT OKAY!