Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week
*Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse, sexual violence, rape, domestic abuse*
Monday 5th February to Sunday 11th February is Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week.
I find sexual abuse and violence a particularly hard topic to speak about, because I am incredibly passionate about it. Unfortunately, my passion for the topic is not simply down to my compassion for those who go through it; it’s because I have been a victim of sexual abuse and violence myself.
It isn’t something I speak about often, if at all. Only a handful of people in my life know anything about it, and whilst I have written an incredibly long and detailed post about my experiences, as a way of ‘healing’, I have never had the courage to press publish. There are a number of reasons for this; I don’t want to be branded a liar. I don’t want the men who made me a victim to come after me - because they quite easily could. I don’t want people to slut shame me, as so often happens to young women who come forward about being sexually abused. In short, I can’t deal with all the negative stigmas that would be directed towards me once I shared my story.
Which is really why Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week is so important – to raise awareness of sexual abuse and sexual violence and also to try to eliminate the stigmas and negative connotations that surround this topic, such as slut shaming.
I was sexually abused on more than one occasion, and by more than one person, yet each time the feelings were the same. Feeling ashamed, feeling dirty, feeling like it was my fault. In some cases I had been drunk – was that my fault? In some cases, I’d been dating the other person – so did that make it my fault? In some cases, I said no more than once and after being ignored, gave up – so did that make it my fault?
But there’s one key factor to each of the incidents. Every single time, I said no.
And really, that’s all it takes. If you say no, the sexual act, be it oral sex, vaginal sex, anal sex or something else sexual, should stop. No means no. Saying 'no' is the withdrawal of consent, and without consent, that sexual relationship you’re having (be it for one night, a few weeks or a number of years) becomes non-consensual, and therefore assault, and rape.
I was a lot younger than I am now when I was sexually abused. I blamed myself, told no one for fear of being told it was my fault and carried it around with me for years. It wasn’t until I began learning more about sexual abuse and assault, domestic abuse and abusive relationships that I realised what I had gone through was not okay – I had always said no, it had always happened. And that was all that mattered. And just like that, I knew that I was not to blame. Nothing that had happened was my fault. It didn’t matter if I said yes, then changed my mind and said no. It didn’t matter if I was drunk – far too drunk to consent. It didn’t matter that one of my abusers was a partner. It was all sexual abuse, one and the same.
"You're not a victim for sharing your story. You are a survivor, setting the world on fire with your truth. And you never know who needs your light, your warmth and your raging courage."
After I had learnt this, I began the healing process. I told people – only a few – but it’s true what they say; a problem shared is a problem halved, and once I had spoken about my experiences out loud, I felt so much lighter in myself. Once I had acknowledged what had really happened to me, I was able to begin to process it, to begin healing. And, two years later, I feel like I’m finally in a good place again.
I can openly speak about what happened to me – it’s hard, but if I have to, I can. I have friends who are sensitive to what happened to me and have supported me continuously. I have a boyfriend who is incredibly sensitive to what I’ve been through and always makes sure I’m okay with everything the two of us do (like any decent sexual partner should do). And I am able to share my experiences to help others, the way I am now.
Sexual abuse and sexual violence is one of the worst things I’ve ever had to deal with, and I know I’m not alone in that feeling. But if you’ve suffered from sexual abuse or sexual violence, there are some things you need to remember:
- It isn’t your fault.
- It doesn’t make you less of a person.
- You aren’t dirty or shameful.
- It can happen to anyone, so there is no 'reason' it happened to you. Children, adults, boys, girls, black, white, asian - sexual abuse and sexual violence doesn't discriminate, it can happen to anyone at any time.
- It takes time to process it and then to recover and heal – take all the time you need. There is no deadline for healing, and for some it’s quicker than others. This is a journey that is extremely personal to you.
- You don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want to but it is a lot easier if you do have at least one person you can confide in.If you feel like you can go to the police, or another person of authority, you should. It is important for me that you all know that in my case, I could not – I did not realise what I had gone through until many years after it had happened, and I knew, having seen it happen so many times with cases like mine before, that I would be torn to shreds in court. I’d be branded a bitter ex-girlfriend, too drunk, a slut and so on. Additionally, for my own sanity I couldn’t bring it all up again, face the people who did this to me, relive it all again. But if you’re in a position where you can, you should
One of the most important things we need to do surrounding sexual abuse and sexual violence is break the silence – something I am doing by beginning to share my story with you all today. However, it is equally as important to begin eradicating stigmas surrounding sexual abuse and sexual violence too. My story, and so many other people’s stories, could be so different had we not been afraid of the stigmas; afraid to be given certain labels or made to feel certain ways about ourselves and what we’ve been through.
If you’ve been sexually abused, sexually assaulted or suffered some form of sexual violence, please know that you are not alone.
And if you haven’t been, and feel you can’t relate to this post, or that it doesn’t mean anything to you, think again. Anyone can work to remove the stigma, to raise awareness, to help and look after those who have suffered.
I know that I can’t end sexual abuse and violence on my own, but I hope that by sharing my own story, I can inform, educate and maybe even help at least one person.
Sexual abuse and sexual violence has got to stop. #ITSNOTOKAY