Let me preface this blog with a trigger warning: I will be talking about my experiences with sexual violence. That being said, I hope you read this (if not now, then when you are feeling strong enough to deal with it) because I hope what I am about to write will help someone.
To almost everyone who knows me, I am a strong, confident woman. This is the survivor that has grown out of the shell of the victim I once was; and sometimes, still am. As any survivor knows, there are days where all you can do is mourn for the victim. Once you have been assaulted you lose a sense of autonomy and control over your body. In that moment where your no, your struggle or your complete lack of response goes unacknowledged, you lose so much of yourself to it. It takes years to gain back even the smallest sense of control. I used to repeat the mantra, “you are safe, you are in control, it won’t happen again”, the most shattering part of that mantra was having to change it to “you are safe, you are in control, you are going to be okay” because I couldn’t guarantee to myself, or to others that this would never happen to them again.
We live in a society where victims are not heard, if they speak up to begin with. In Ontario they estimate that 88% of sexual assaults go unreported. I am a part of this. I have never once discussed the crimes committed against me with any form of authority. If you look at cases like the flight attendant from WestJet or the fact that Kesha was denied the right to terminate a contract that forced her to work with a former abuser, you can understand why. There is such a stigma against victims of sexual assault, which is multiplied if that person is LGBTQ or a POC. Add to that fact that many of these victims already have a tense relationship with authority and you really have a recipe for disaster.
The last few weeks have been particularly hard for me. I’m living in a new place and so I’m creating a new social circle. In the process of doing this, there are moments where you are left raw and scared with no immediate supports who just get it. All the people who know my stories are upwards of 8000 km away with a 13 hour time difference. I have slowly begun to build up my network here, this has taken me reliving a lot of really horrific experiences. All that being said, it is something I am proud of myself for. I’ve come out on the other side with new allies, new people who have my back. For which I couldn’t be more thankful.
During times like these it is important to reach out for help. I emailed an old mentor asking for advice, I was lucky enough to have people here with me who listened, asked what I needed and never pushed for more than I was comfortable with sharing at the time. I video chatted with allies who have been with me through a lot of my healing, they told me how strong I had been and still could be. They encouraged me to make new allies who could help me in a similar way.
There are also two stories of hope that emerged in the time that I was struggling with. The first being the public story of Kesha and her abuser / producer. This case was incredibly public. Her courage is something I will never cease to commend. Kesha set an example that fighting the system that doesn’t believe victims is so difficult; but I hope in the end she feels it was worthwhile. The first verdict that was passed down was negative. She was not allowed to break her contract, effectively remaining enslaved to the man who had raped, manipulated and controlled her. There was public outcry over this, a show of support that goes to show how far popculture has come. The hashtag #freeKesha lit up the twittersphere, artists like Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Swift and Adele used their platforms to support Kesha. There was so much pressure surrounding the case that it has been reported that Sony plans to drop the producer before his contract is finished. This goes to show that our culture is slowly changing. While we may not yet be in a place where sexual assault is diminishing, survivors have shown resilience and alongside their allies, we have shown that we will not be stepping down from this fight. For a survivor/victim (a dichotomy I’m not sure I will ever leave behind) this is incredibly hopeful news.
The second story is of a much more personal nature. Amidst all of the triggers and hard days that I was going through, I had a friend from home reach out to me. He explained to me that someone he knew I had a rocky relationship with (read: someone who has assaulted me, he didn’t know the full story at the time) had reached out to him seeking advice. This person and I had dated for a brief period of time last spring. I ended the relationship for a few reasons, he was always late which made me feel really insecure and he didn’t have space for any emotional labour when it came to the relationship, I was expected to work through all of my feelings alone.
He had also forced sexual acts upon me without asking, the same way an ex of mine had also done. When I tried to check in with him about this, he took my question as consent to have sex. When it was all over with, I was completely triggered in front of him. He went to the bathroom and returned to me curled in a ball, shuddering with sobs and waves of tears. He condoled me and asked me to explain. When I regained composure enough to explain what had happened, we had a conversation about it that ended in me condoling him for his behaviour.
This same person had gone to my friend asking to speak about concerns that had been brought up about him and his knowledge of consent. He was the kind of guy who prided himself in being a feminist. Hell, he even had a pillowcase that said “consent is sexy” (a reminder that clearly fell on deaf ears.) He is also known for being incredibly defensive of his ideals. If confronted in an online debate he will never back down from what he believes is right. For all of these reasons and for the fact that it was too close to home, I felt powerless to confront him. Much to my joy, he reached out to a mutual friend of ours and actually listened. They discussed consent and intention and reputation. My friend tells me that it honestly sounds like he is trying to change his ways. They will meet again to continue this conversation at a later date.
While I still harbour so much rage for this individual, I also feel so privileged to know that he is trying to change. I told my friend that while this was a good deed in and of itself (and very much within his character to do) it still felt like a personal gift to me. This friend thanked me for the trust to share my story, and responded in kind that he was glad he could make me feel cared for. These are the kind of allies I am privileged to have in my life.
The best advice I can give to anyone who considers themselves a victim or a survivor (its not always easy to claim the second title, as much as it may be empowering for some) is to surround yourself with people who believe you. They don’t have to understand, because I assure you only a select few will. Surround yourself with people who fight for your voice to be heard, people who listen to your stories and believe you whole heartedly, people who will hug you when you want and merely stand behind you when you can’t be touched.
Lastly, keep in your heart the belief that we are changing culture. In Ontario there is a new sexual-health education curriculum (which I have had the honour of teaching) that includes consent! In the USA we have people like Lady Gaga and Joe Biden fighting the good fight. Don’t let the awful things pull you down, you have survived this far, you can continue to fight. When all else fails, remember “you are safe now, you are in control, you are going to be okay”.