When I was 16 years old, someone touched me. It wasn't the first time. It had happened to me two other times before. Two cousins violated me multiple times, and I never told a soul. This happened before I knew who I was, before I knew I was a woman, but I knew I had something some men wanted. They didn't want all of me, but a part of me. I hated myself a long time because of it.
I thought maybe I had enticed them, dressed inappropriately, lingered too long in their company or said something to make them think it was OK to do those things to me. I thought I had done something that warranted going along with their secrets.
It shook my world, but this time it was different. It was someone I looked up to as a father figure. He was the first man I was able to put my trust in fully. He was my family's hero, our knight in shining armor. He promised us the world, and he gave it to us. But, I never knew it would come at the cost of my molestation.
Too many women I know share this story. The stats say one out of every six women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. They are shamed into silence. They are manipulated and violated mentally, socially and physically. They never feel safe in their environment. They never feel safe enough to tell anyone what happened. They are traumatized by victim blaming. They are groomed into submission.
So, let's talk about what trauma has taught us:
We are made to feel helpless and weak when we are sexually assaulted. We are coerced and forced into these situations often by those we know. The perpetrator can be an acquaintance, friend or family member. It can be someone we've told our story to who, in turn, violated us. We no longer know whom we can trust because someone else has taken something sacred from us. They took something we thought we had power over: being in control of our own bodies.
We live in a constant state of worry or fear that it's going to happen again. We're nervous about the unknown because the unthinkable has occurred. We're scared that anyone we come into contact with will take advantage of us, too. Sometimes we fear being touched, no longer interested in sex or sexually related activities.
We don't want to be reminded of anything or anyone that's similar to the incident. Those things potentially trigger dangerous reactions. No longer are we able to enjoy something that may have been previously pleasurable because of the fear of being attacked.
There is a deep sense of shame that results from sexual assault. Most of the time, we find a way to blame ourselves. We face feelings of guilt and wrongly accuse ourselves, questioning our actions.
"Did I do enough to not warrant attack? Was I in the wrong place at the wrong time?"
But, there's nothing we could have done and nothing we can take responsibility for in any situation where we are victims of sexual assault.
A common reaction to sexual trauma is anger. We have anger toward the attackers for what they've done and anger at ourselves for not having the power to stop it. Someone who was once bubbly and positive could now be completely different because of the trauma. Our reactions and sensory levels become distorted. These incidents bring feelings of irritability and mood swings.
Perfectionism comes from needing to gain a sense of control over what happened to us because sexual assault affects our sense of worth. Therefore, we try to become worthy by being perfectionist. We try to save the world and lose ourselves. We think making the right adjustments of positivism and tenacity will get someone to notice that we too are precious. But, we're not too precious.
We do all of these things to try to make sense of a senseless act. Each and every one of them are normal responses to trauma and are not limited to what's stated above. Trauma elicits responses that can be emotional, psychological and physical.
Here are a few ways to combat these feelings.
- Confide in a trusted friend, family member, adviser or professional. You are not alone.
- Journal your feelings and use positive affirmation to alleviate the pain. "I am powerful. I am strong. I am fearless."
- Participate in different activities. Find new places to hang out and hobbies that you enjoy. You may find something you are passionate about.
- Take care of yourself. Exercise and eat a well-balanced diet. Take up yoga. Train for a 5K. Try swimming lessons or a karate class. Do anything you can to physically relieve stress and alleviate trauma.
If you find yourself in this situation and don't know where to turn for help, don't be afraid to reach out for support. Call the RAINN Hotline. It's free and confidential. Report it to law enforcement if you choose; the first 72 hours are crucial for evidence collection. There should be an advocate available to assist you through the process.