Updated: Oct 18, 2020
Dear survivors, I believe you, because I am you. With April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I thought it would be fitting to make my peace
with myself, and my past. It is something that I have wanted to do for years now, and now I have the platform and the opportunity to speak more about it. Especially since we’re all locked down in our houses, what better way to pass the time than to read?
The month of awareness is only as old as me – it was started in April 2001 by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and since then, it has sparked a global movement for survivors of sexual violence. They even have their awareness color: teal. 2020 has been a victory for the #MeToo movement following the sentencing of Harvey Weinstein for criminal sexual act and rape. He is currently serving his 23-year sentence in Rikers Island prison.
However, I am not here to write about the monster that is Weinstein; I am here to tell my story. As I sit writing this article with my teal blanket (I didn’t even think about the correlation until recently), I can’t help but think about how far I have come. I am part of the ‘one in four children’ statistic who have been, and who will be, sexually abused. And I have survived.
When I was roughly eleven years old, I was sexually assaulted by a man who had become a father figure in my life, when my biological one had failed. My mother’s boyfriend at the time, the man whom I considered my stepfather, had violated me to my worst nightmare. That was the day my life changed forever. Though I, like many others, may not fully remember what happened, I know I was violated.
All the times that my mother and relatives would ask if anything was going on that I was not comfortable with. All the times that he threw a fit like a two-year-old when I asked him to stop tickling me. All the times that he would not let me go with my mother to places; forcing me to stay with him alone in the house. All the times that he came upstairs to check on us when we were sleeping, but I was awake. The time when we were on vacation in Disney in April, and I was being a stubborn teenager and decided to not wear a jacket, and he took it upon himself to hug me from behind to “keep me warm.” I refused to think that he could do this, and I refused to believe it. I was slowly dying from the inside out, and I had become a shell of a human who was afraid to be in her own house.
When someone goes through a traumatic experience, whether it be from war, witnessing a crime, being in a car accident, or being assaulted, they utilize a method of survival: the repression of memories. It has been shown that your subconscious brain does not let you remember the memories until you are prepared.
To that end, I did not remember my assault for five years. Thankfully, we had moved out of his house and onto our own lives, but the stress and experiences still haunted me. If I am being completely honest, they still do haunt me.
That’s the thing about PTSD from assaults like these; they resurface at any time, at any moment, and to my luck, at extremely inconvenient times. Like many others, I am in week three and a half of quarantine, and it has been a time of self-reflection and healing.
Trust me, it wouldn’t be the first time that I thought: “I have gone completely insane, and I am making this up.” However, I’m not, and unfortunately, neither are the hundreds of Americans who are affected by some sort of sexual violence every day. If you’ve taken Professor Laine’s class, or have an understanding on how the brain processes trauma, you may know about the ways in which our brains perceive memories from traumatic experiences and how it can tend to screw with us.
Of course, there will be critics and naysayers; however, I don’t understand the point of claiming that someone is lying. Trust me, I’ve heard it all. I hope that you will never have to experience what I went through because there were days where I didn’t think I would make it to the next one.
Nevertheless, based on my recollection, a part of me tells me that it happened in April; and specifically around Easter. Fitting, isn’t it? I have been advised as to how to deal with Easter, because I am usually miserable on that day. The best advice I was given was: “make the day yours” and “take back control.” With quarantine in full swing, I unfortunately couldn’t do much. However, I was able to make the day my own.
I think this whole COVID-19 pandemic has set a lot of people back; myself included. Your anxiety levels are extremely high worrying about a million and one things, and that anxiety is mounted by your past, or for some, your present. It was big in the news about what people in domestic violence situations would do because there is no way for them to escape, and with the guilt from the abuser, it is nearly impossible.
You can never assume that everything is fine in someone’s life just because you see them at school and they’re happy. I had friends come over during those years, and I had friend’s sleep over during that time. It has been a very long journey of telling myself that there is nothing you could have done, and it’s not your fault.
For people currently quarantined with their abuser, the end of this cannot come quickly enough. A survivor is more than likely riddled with anxiety, fear, and worrying about when I will be able to leave is a whole other ballgame. It can trigger severe trauma and set a person back even further.
There are multiple sources across states, as well as broader sources, that victims and survivors can contact if they feel they are in danger. Futures Without Violence, Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and UNICEF are all offering hotlines and support for people. As always, RAINN has their hotlines open 24/7 and are very helpful.
Chances are, you know someone who has been affected by sexual violence, and if you didn’t, you do know. I did not let my past define me; I let myself use the pain, anger, and confusion to start a Women’s March in my hometown of Bethlehem in 2019.
Statistically, I will not be the last child who will be sexually abused. According to RAINN, “One in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult.”
It was not easy, and my journey is far from over. It was officially eight years last week that I had become a victim of sexual assault. It had also been eight years since I have been a survivor and taken control of my life again.
During this quarantine, take time to reflect on your life, and check in on your friends and family. You never know who is struggling until you ask. For survivors everywhere, take the time to consider wearing the pin of teal ribbon in solidarity for those who have overcome. Dear survivors everywhere: I am you; I hear you; I believe you, and I will always stand with you.