Sharing My Story (and Dharma) in Honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month
Sexual assault awareness and prevention is as sensitive and uncomfortable of a topic, as it is crucial to talk about. It’s also very personal to me. Not just because I’m a woman or a therapist who specializes in trauma, or because I’ve worked with dozens of individuals who have experienced this. The main reason is because of the “Me Too” movement. I too have experienced sexual assault in my own life, and if I can help even one person by sharing my story, the vulnerability hangover is completely worth it!
I was 17 and it was the summer going into my junior year of high school. I was also in the beginning stages of my very first “toxic” relationship (after a series of traumatic events in childhood and adolescence that lead me to continuously re-traumatize myself). Since I had struggled with friends and was bullied throughout middle and high school, I found solace in him being my friend and ultimately my escape from anxiety, loneliness and depression.
One evening we were at his apartment partying with friends and I decided to go to bed early. All of a sudden, I had become exhausted without having drank very much. Was I drugged? I went into my boyfriend’s room and got into bed. My boyfriend came in a while later to check on me and let me know everyone was leaving to get some food. I was so tired and out of it, but acknowledged him and went back to bed. Some time later, he welcomed me by walking into the dark room and crawled on top of me. I woke up and accepted his sexual advances, despite how groggy I was. After several minutes (I’m not sure how long exactly), he said something to me, and I realized it wasn’t my boyfriend’s voice– a moment of panic flooded me. The man on top of me wasn’t my boyfriend, I realized.
I shoved him off and started screaming. The anger poured out, and then the tears and the shame–I was violated. I was “dirty”. I was taken advantage of. I was raped. The lights flicked on and I recognized it was my boyfrienraped’s acquaintance who decided to stay at the apartment while everyone else was gone. He quickly left after I was screaming and crying at him, and shortly after, my boyfriend came home. I let him know what had happened, but instead of opening his arms to comfort me and to share in my grief, he became very angry and accused me of “wanting” this to happen and doing it on “purpose”, like I had intentionally cheated on him. [note: I later realized that his reaction was based on fear, threat, anger, lack of trust and insecurity]. As you can imagine, the shame inside me grew exponentially greater, as did my feeling of being alone, misunderstood and experiencing immense pain. I ended up leaving and drove home to my parents house in shock and disarray.
I know this story is all too common and painfully familiar to far too many…
I wish I had known to go immediately to the hospital so I could get DNA “proof” of the assault. However, I had not ever received such education and instead, did what shame told me to do: I went home and hid. I didn’t tell my parents until days later when it was too late to get DNA evidence and ultimately, justice. Their reaction was heartbreaking and they shared my feelings of being enraged, helpless and powerless. My parents tried to take it to court, especially after learning that this wasn’t his first sexual assault accusation, but of course, you can’t do that without hard evidence. Even if you have the evidence, it is still extremely difficult to prove it was rape.
This was another traumatic event on my path of re-traumatization (which is very common with trauma, especially multiple life traumas) up until grad school, when I was 23. I have since sought out EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy to heal this trauma, to reprocess and desensitize it, and to shake off the negative beliefs and shame surrounding it. You can read more about the EMDR therapy treatment in a previous blog post, as well as a video series I created a couple of years ago. It has taken me a long time to not only heal, but become ready to heal. I didn’t realize how much pain I was still holding onto (years after the trauma) until I went to therapy.
The thing that bothered me for so long, and still haunts me today, is the fact that he may still be assaulting other women. That he never went to prison and was never truly held accountable for his crimes (besides getting added to the sex offender list) and he is still possibly getting away with it. AND I realize: how many others are like me and have never received justice or the support and compassion they deserve? How many have not received treatment? Are not yet healed from sexual assault? These thoughts have kept me up at night.
Sexual Assault Education
Continued awareness and education is crucial in order to influence change and prevent sexual assault. Sexual violence cases have fallen by more than half since 1933, so progress is happening. This is due to amazing work by organizations such as our local SAPEC, increased media attention, and movements like Me Too.
Statistics: according to RAINN
- Men, women and children are all affected by sexual violence
- 1 in 33 American men has experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime
- 1 in 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime
- From 2009-2013, Child Protective Services agencies substantiated, or found strong evidence to indicate that 63,000 children a year were victims of sexual abuse
- Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted
- Only 6 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison
If you find yourself a victim of sexual violence, PLEASE remember you are not alone in your experience or your shame. According to Dr. Brené Brown, shame needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: silence, secrecy and judgement. Consider sharing your experience (when you are ready) with a trustworthy individual (or therapist) who will not judge, criticize, or minimize your experience. It takes courage and bravery to be vulnerable and start your healing process – the “right” time is different for everyone, and that’s okay.
If you find yourself questioning whether it “counts” as sexual violence, or if you somehow contributed to the situation, I’m going to encourage you to slow down, practice self-compassion for what you’ve been through, and read the following definition of consent, borrowed from SAPEC at the University of Kansas.
WHAT IS CONSENT?
“Consent is when someone agrees, or says “yes” to sexual activity with others. Consent must be freely given, meaning that the person feels that they are able to say “yes” or “no” at any time. Consent to sex cannot be given if someone is incapacitated due to alcohol or other drugs. It is also not consensual when someone uses intimidation, pressure, fear or force to make a person agree to participate in a sexual act: That’s sexual assault.”
“Consent is verbally communicated. It is a conversation. This means that even though nonverbal cues are important, they are not enough. A person has to say what they want in words in order for consent to be present.”
“Consent is enthusiastic! All parties involved should be willing, eager and interested. If someone is hesitant, or just doesn’t seem that into it, that’s not consent.”
“Consent is an ongoing conversation. That means that everyone involved is checking in with each other throughout the sexual activity. When people continue to communicate, it helps them make sure that they are on the same page. It also makes it easier for someone to express that they would like to do something different, or stop.”
“Consent is mutual, meaning that everyone involved gives their agreement. It means that sexual activity is reciprocal — a shared experience that people are willing and excited to be a part of.”
Everyone has a shadow side that they reject in themselves. This is how fragmentation begins and adds to our mental / emotional health issues. The more trauma someone experiences, the worse the fragmentation and mental health of an individual can get. When we dissociate, ignore, and reject out story and don’t integrate those wounded parts of ourselves as our whole being, that’s where we get in trouble. Loving and accepting ourselves happens naturally as children, and slowly drifts away as our society, our family, or our community tells us in so many ways that we aren’t enough. Shame, disconnection and loneliness sets in. This is especially so when we’ve experienced a single trauma or multiple traumas over time, otherwise known as complex trauma.
So what do we do? What can I do? All of these barriers to healing, self-love, self-acceptance, self-compassion, faith, confidence and abundance are very near and dear to my heart. Therapy is amazing, but I’ve been wanting to offer something that’s more immersive and intensive (and more flexible / less clinical), that can feel like doing five years of therapy in a weekend. So we can stop these horrific generational patterns from continuing. So we can protect our children and be the one who breaks the cycle. So we can become our highest self.
I’m excited to announce — and put out in the Universe — that I am well on my path to becoming a Shaman. I have a while to go, but I am starting this path next month in a Shamanic Priestess Retreat. When I come home, I will be ordained by the Shamanic Global Ministry to begin offering such retreats for women — especially women who have experienced trauma. Even more specifically, women who have experienced sexual abuse and sexual assault. I would love to work with stepmothers as well, as I know how painful and lonely that journey can be. I am more sure than ever that this is my dharma (life purpose) and that this is the correct path for me in my own healing — and the healing for so many others. I look forward to sharing my experience with you soon!
Now I would love to hear from you.
Have you experienced sexual assault? How have you coped? Have you gone to therapy? How would you describe where you are you at in your healing journey? What helped (or would help) you become ready to heal? How do you manage the shame that came with it? Let me know in the comments below and I look forward to connecting and going deeper with you. Sending much love, self-care, and gratitude.