Yvonne E. Mwende
Being a survivor of sexual violence is a harrowing experience, especially aggravated by a sense or loss, of losing something that one can never recover. This loss can lead to a sense of hopeless despair, where one recedes into themselves. Perpetrators of sexual assault have an atrocious need for power, to control, to subjugate. Since sexual violence is a life-threatening event, many survivors are affected by the trauma for the rest of their lives. The effects can manifest as depression, flashbacks, low self-esteem, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and difficulty with intimacy. Unfortunately, many of these symptoms are augmented by silence and secrecy.
Often, survivors of sexual violence do not speak out about their experience because they are ashamed, feel guilty, or blame themselves. Some survivors keep silent out of duty to family or fear of being ostracized. Others are silent or their recovery is impeded because they do not recognize the experience as assault. It is important to understand and name what has happened. It can be a grope that has left you feeling odd, or even a No that was not adhered to. Whatever it was assess your feelings and understand and name what has happened to you. Then deal with the immediate effects and eventually move from feeling like a victim to feeling like a survivor.
As a way of regaining their power from an event that robbed them of control, some survivors find talking about their assault as an essential part of the recovery process. Some survivors would want to speak to close friends and family, while others would want to speak out publicly in an attempt to empower themselves and educate others about sexual violence. Whether you are speaking to a group of one or one hundred, it takes an enormous amount of courage to tell your story.
Telling can be trans-formative. It can help you move through the shame and secrecy that keeps you isolated, to taking back power and control. It can open doors to understanding and support. It can empower others to speak out against their own assault. Speaking out can lift the burden of silence.
However, it is important to remember that there is no panacea for recovering from a sexual assault or rape. It is an ongoing process, and no one moves through that process in exactly the same way.
Elizabeth Smart, founder of Elizabeth Smart Foundation that seeks to prevent future crimes against children, bring hope and end victimization through prevention, recovery and advocacy was abducted from her home at 14 years old and held prisoner for 9 grueling months, where she was raped by her captor every day. The police eventually found her and safely brought her back to her family. Her captors controlled her by threatening to kill her and her family if she tried to escape. Through the traumatic experience, Elizabeth has become an advocate for change.
Speaking at a Tedx Talk in 2014, Elizabeth shared the advice given by her mother that the best punishment for the perpetrator is to be happy, to move forward with her life. Holding on to the past and dwelling on what happened to her, would only allow her captors more control and more power. She offers advice of her own that “when faced with a trial, don’t give up, don’t surrender, move forward, because you never know the lives you will be able to touch.”