one in which we can finally begin to openly, and honestly address the prevalence of sexual violence in our communities.
But at the same time, I temper any expectation for a new tone in the dialogue about sexual violence because I am well aware that as each witness steps forward to tell her story in court, she is bound to be eviscerated by the calculated cross examination by yet another high profile defense attorney. I should add that I, too, am a survivor of rape – and up until three years ago when I went public with my own disclosure, it was a secret that I had lived with for over 35 years.
With so many people watching this trial, it's highly likely that more women and men will come forward to share their own experiences of living with the trauma of sexual violence. One of the greatest fears that any survivor has is that by making a public disclosure, she or he loses perhaps the last vestige of ‘control’ in his or her life – the control of the narrative. This is indeed a real fear, and it is something that keeps many survivors from not only reporting the crime in the first place, but also seeking the subsequent therapy and support they so desperately need. It is with this in mind, that I thought I would share with you five things that I have learned being a survivor of rape.
It's a cluster bomb.
One of the disarming facts about sexual violence is that even though it may be perpetrated on one individual, its aftereffects can ripple out, and have an impact on a primary relationship, on a family, and on a community. Sexual violence is ensnared in the rudiments of ‘shame’ and ‘power’, and without a doubt, it is these elements that contribute to sexual violence having a toxic resonance.
It's a tattoo.
I’ve come to believe that as a survivor of rape, I will go through the rest of my life with an ‘invisible tattoo’. Others may not see it, but despite the endless therapy, medication, and the passing of time, it is something that cannot be erased from my being. Sure, I may be able to cover it up, but that too comes with a deep personal cost. The sooner I learn to accept it as a part of me, but not all of me, the better I will be able to go through life.
Oddly, it's a gift.
As an international advocate, I do a lot of public speaking around the issue of childhood sexual abuse and rape, and the question that most often arises from the audience is “How did you learn to get through, or over, the trauma?” My response is always the same – I would not wish my past on anyone, yet I would not wish for another past. The trauma I have experienced has allowed me to discover a wellspring of resilience and strength that I never knew I had. In some way, trauma as been a ‘gift’ I never asked for.
It's a semicolon, not a period.
Although there have been many days when I did not think I would be able to continue living with the pain and stigma of being a survivor of rape, the fact is that I have found a life on the other side of the trauma. If you, or someone you know, is currently struggling with coming to terms with sexual violence, trust that life can continue. There may be times when you will pause, and quite possibly retreat, but have faith that it is not the end of your story.
It's perfectly imperfect in its messiness.
So, what does life look like after sexual violence? I don’t believe there is one universal answer to that question. Everyone’s path is different, yet a path does lie before us. I wholeheartedly believe that it has less to do with surrendering, and everything to do with embracing the perfectly imperfect messiness of what it means to live an authentic life.