I am aware that much of my life has been viewed through a lens shaped by surviving sexual assaults. The world looks and sounds differently through these lenses. The screams of women or sounds of drunkenness you may hear at a party or in a movie have an immediate effect on my body’s physiology. It’s as if my entire body is ready for action. Predators are lurking and people are in need of rescuing. You see, for a survivor of sexual violence, the body holds a memory of the event. For some, environmental triggers bring forth fight or flight reactions and those reactions may color one’s perception of the world around them. Like many people, I had a young wound which contributed to attracting many experiences with sexual violence.
Factors Increasing Women’s Vulnerability
Many survivors I’ve known have lived in poverty, had long histories of violence and issues with addiction. In countries all over the world, poverty significantly increases vulnerability. “Poverty forces many women and girls into occupations that carry a relatively high risk of sexual violence.” (Omorodion FI, Olusanya O. The social context of reported rape in Benin City, Nigeria. African Journal of Reproductive Health, 1998, 2:37–43.) South Africa ranking 1st has reported 5 times more rapes than the United States according to South Africa and US comparison of Crime Rates.
I want to be clear that victims of sexual assault can be anyone of any socioeconomic background, gender identification or location.
According to the World Health Organization, at the top of this list of factors which increase vulnerability are; being young, consuming alcohol or drugs and having previously been raped or sexually abused. This profile held true for me. At a very early age, I began binge drinking to mask the inner distress I carried from early childhood sexual abuse. I was almost fourteen when I was first sexually assaulted and so deeply ashamed that I hid the incident. My desire to emotionally numb what I could not look at became ever more urgent. It was less than a year later, that engaging in those same risk-taking behaviors, positioned me for another traumatizing assault. It was then that “It” arrived.
For more information on risk and protective factors related to victimization, see the World Report on Violence and Health
When “IT” Arrived: The Body Remembers.
After the second sexual assault, I began to experience nightmares which included dream paralysis. A demonic presence crushed my chest each night, leaving me frozen and unable to move or scream. The terrorizing visits occurred nightly and gradually decreased over a span of ten years. Although I had very limited memories of what had happened during the assaults, my body remembered. For an assault on one’s physical body is a deeper assault; a dishonoring of the light we are. It was as if pieces of myself, of my soul, had been fragmented.
Attempts to Heal and Understand.
At first, I minimized the effects the assaults had on me. But there was no denying that I was often triggered by media and by the behavior of others, which I either deemed as risky or predatory. I struggled in my mind to understand how the desire for sexual/power gratification could override inner inhibitions around inflicting suffering on another human being. My college research revealed a correlation between higher measures of adversarial sexual beliefs and rape myth acceptance to sexual arousal to rape cues. This is one area I explored; however, many other factors are identified in TABLE 6.4 Factors increasing men’s risk of committing rape on page 13 of Violence Injury Prevention
Healing and Empowerment
Over the years, I have worked with dozens of survivors of sexual assault. The common core themes among survivors that have been most prominent are the minimization of the event, self-blame, shame and feelings of unworthiness. In my own experience, I had suppressed feelings of shame and rage, which were not brought to light until I’d had an outlet for them. Having a place to put those powerful emotions was a means of personal empowerment and healing. I now help other survivors to bring to the surface that which has not had expression.
Well-intentioned manufacturers of “rape proof” underwear and the more recently marketed nail polish that is used to detect rape drugs in drinks, emphasize the need to address the larger issues which underlie a rape culture. Societal shifts have changed the appearance of this culture; in that, women have become more instrumental in normalizing sexual violence and the curiosity in consensual expressions. The once gray areas of consent have become grayer. This reinforces the tendency to blame the victim and the belief systems which underlie justifications related to rape myth acceptance.
Similarly, dating apps like Tinder have men and women engaging in casual sex with alarming frequency and often without having any knowledge of one another. This too is a cultural shift which is contributing to the very belief systems which are at the roots of sexual violence.
I hear more often of concerns that a survivor has made false accusations than concerns about the rampant under-reporting of sexual violence. This is a clear indicator of the lack of accurate information about the issue. Each of us has a role in either reinforcing or dispelling faulty beliefs about sexual violence AND it makes a difference.
For more information: CDC Injury Prevention & Control
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE
We invite you to Join us on our Facebook Group!