At first I felt a lot of pressure in writing about this. But I realised, the only thing I can really do is tell my story. I hope that it gives people who don’t understand some sort of insight, and those who do a sense of solidarity. I can’t speak for others but I can help break the silence, even if it’s uncomfortable and difficult to hear. I want to do this because we are one in four women (probably more) and our stories matter.
One of the shitty things about sexual violence is it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We live in a society that blames the victim and silences the issue. For example, there’s this guy from high school who contacts me about once a year to enlighten me that “women don’t actually have it that bad.” The most recent time his chosen topic was the representation of violence against women in the media. I knew I shouldn’t let him get to me, but the thing is, this isn’t about winning an argument or men playing ‘devil’s advocate’. Men who try and silence women on the issues that affect them directly, already are the devil’s fucking advocate. This conversation is not hypothetical. This conversation is something that affects every aspect of my life. Misogyny in the media doesn’t upset me because I’m ‘too politically correct’. It upsets me because it’s a reminder that I have been hurt in ways that can’t be undone. Every time men like him bring women down and attempt to silence them, even if they are not committing physical acts of violence, they are contributing to the problem.
The recent case with the Stanford swimmer really shook me. The father of the rapist referred to the assault as “just 20 minutes of action.” I found myself wondering if that’s what people thought. I wondered, what do people who haven’t experienced an assault think of people that have? Do they think I’m weak? Do they wonder how I got myself into those situations? Is it not actually a big deal, so why am I still hurting? I wonder if I was too promiscuous, so no wonder it happened?
I’ve had some people tell me I just need to surround myself with “good people.” I don’t think telling someone this, or telling them they can’t let people treat them badly, will really change anything. We put too much emphasis on what we’re supposed to do as women to ‘protect’ ourselves, but it isn’t our fault and we shouldn’t be made to feel like it is. Finding people who listen and understand can be so important, whether this is your friends, family, or professionals.
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I highly recommend seeking professional help, it’s scary but it really helped me. A few years ago I felt like I was ready to work through what happened, so I contacted Wellington HELP foundation, which is a counselling service for survivors of sexual assault. This involved seeing a counsellor, making an ACC claim, and an assessment with a psychologist (which is required by ACC, so they can approve more counselling). I have some issues with ACC and this process, but my counsellor at HELP was very supportive.
Practicing self care and self love are so important in recovery (and for staying well). I’ve written a list of gentle reminders that help me stay well, and might help others too.
Even if it doesn’t feel true, tell yourself it wasn’t your fault. Try to shift the blame to those who hurt you. You are allowed to have a voice. Your experiences are valid. Reach out to those you love, let them know how you’re feeling and let them support you. Forgive and accept yourself for feeling broken. There are going to be bad days, try not to let them consume you and let them pass. Emotions are not weaknesses, they show that you are resilient and brave. Feeling numb is also ok. You are allowed to heal in your own way and in your own time. Learning to trust again is difficult but it will happen. Be patient, remember to breathe and focus on the present moment. Notice the little things that make you happy. Hold onto what/who you love.
You are allowed to love yourself.
You are not alone.
If you are in need of help contact the following:
H.E.L.P. — http://www.wellingtonhelp.org.nz / (04) 499 7532
Victim Support — 0800 842 846
Wellington Rape Crisis — (04) 801 8973