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effects of sexual assault

Thoughts About #MeToo

I’ve been following the #metoo movement, started by Tarana Burke, and became widespread when Alyssa Milano posted about it following the dozens of allegations of sexual harassment and assault against filmmaker Harvey Weinstein.

Alone by Marc Falardeau from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I wish things like the #metoo movement weren’t necessary. I feel sad and disgusted when I think about the sheer number of people who have been sexually harassed, abused, and assaulted. How can anyone feel entitled to take advantage of another person like this?

These predators thrive in silence. They rely on the fear and shame they invoke in their victims so they can continue to prey on others. #Metoo helps break the silence, and give survivors a voice. It breaks the pattern of downplaying these incidents and staying silent out of fear of the repercussions that could result from speaking out against these perpetrators.

As a survivor, I’m grateful for #metoo.

Don’t Rape by Richard Potts from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

It’s validating and empowering to see people speaking out about their abuse. It reminds me that I’m not alone. It exposes the vastness of this problem. Sexual assault doesn’t just happen to “other people,” it happens to your friends, your family, your co-workers, people you look up to – people you know.

Although reading about other people’s #metoo experiences is validating, it’s also painful. I read these posts to honor and validate the survivor, but I also read them to see that I’m not alone in my experience as a survivor. My fellow survivors know what it’s like to be taken advantage of, to be frozen in fear, and what it’s like to be physically violated.

When I read a #metoo story like McKayla Maroney’s, who was repeated sexually assaulted by the USA Gymnastics team doctor, Dr. Larry Nassar, for years starting at age 13, I read her words, and I identify with her experience. It reminds me of what it feels like to be trapped, helpless, and covered with the sensation of icky-ness. Even as I type, I pause to shake my hands, trying to rid myself of that wave of shame.

I love this photo of Joe and me by Brandon Larkin (Creative Commons License)

Reading these accounts is triggering. As I was getting ready for work one morning last week, I wanted to climb back into bed and avoid the world instead of going to the office. Enveloped in shame, I could barely look anyone in the eye. When I went to my therapy appointment, I spent most of the session curled up on my therapist’s couch while we processed what I was feeling. (I couldn’t look him in the eye either.) He reminded me to take extra care of myself.

Why do I share all this? Because calling out the people who commit these disgusting acts is only part of the story. The impact on the survivors from being sexually harassed or assaulted can be devastating. It was for me.

It’s not something I went through, it’s something I live with. I’m getting better, thanks to therapy, medication, treatment, 12-step programs, and having a loving supportive people around me, though I still have days where I struggle with depression and I’m burdened with shame. Going to 12-step meetings taught me that “our secrets keep us sick,” so I have to share my story to help myself heal.

I support the #metoo movement and survivors sharing their experiences even though it can be triggering for me. This problem will only continue if we ignore it.

Thank you to everyone who validates me by sharing their story.

I Can’t Stay Silent Anymore

The way sexual assault is handled in the U.S. makes me so frustrated. Sexual abuse and sexual assault is so pervasive – the CDC estimates that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused and the number of women who are sexually assaulted in their lifetime is devastatingly high, and yet it’s something that is almost never discussed. I saw the trailer for the documentary about sexual assault on college campuses, The Hunting Ground, last tonight and it filled me with fire.

I get so angry when I hear about child molestation by church priests, the abuse by Jerry Sandusky, and the pervasiveness of sexual assaults on college campuses. I’m not angry just because people are being attacked, but because the institutions who are responsible for the victims’ safety are protecting the perpetrators. They are more concerned about maintaining their reputations than doing what’s right. Are they completely oblivious to the devastating effects of sexual assault? Do they know that they have shamed people into silence and attack them for speaking up? It makes me so angry and frustrated at “the system” that it’s hard to find words to express it. I just want to scream at them.

To every institution that turned a blind eye or blamed or shamed of victim who was sexually assaulted under their watch – Fuck You! I don’t believe in protecting perpetrators or the people that protect them.

As a survivor of sexual assault, my heart goes out to these victims and fellow survivors. I suspect I know your pain, your anger, and your shame. We live in a world that tells us to stay silent about being victimized and traumatized, to “get over it.” The people who say this are too uncomfortable with the fact that this happens everywhere and to all types of people, so they try to ignore it. They push the problem onto the victims when it’s really them who have the real problem.

The survivors of sexual assault have a challenge – to deal with the damage of the trauma we’ve been through. And if you’re a survivor too, you know how soul crushing and devastating it can be. This isn’t something we just “get over.” We live with it for the rest of our lives. It’s our responsibility to do what we have to do to take care of ourselves, whatever that looks like. And for some of us dealing with this deep trauma doesn’t take weeks or months; it takes years, maybe even a lifetime.

I’ve been silent for too long, shamed by individuals, institutions, and cultural norms. Speaking only for myself, I feel like I’m at a point where I can’t say that survivors should feel empowered to speak out whenever they need to an to call out individuals and institutions that perpetuate this problem, unless I’m willing to speak out too.