Monday, October 13, 2014

To All of My Guy Friends: Dare to Share?

Lately I have been ranging from frustrated to outright angry over things I am witnessing in our world.  It seems that the more efforts that are made on behalf of raising awareness for rape and sexual assault, the more I feel the enormity of the problem we are facing.  The things that need to change, the things that lead to rape/sexual assault (and thus, our rape culture) are considered "status quo" by our society and just continue to be perpetuated.  More and more women are speaking out, but every woman on the planet could scream for change and NO CHANGE WOULD HAPPEN.  It is not just a women's issue, this is everyone's issue.  Not only are there also male survivors, but for change to take hold it takes men standing up and speaking out on our behalf.  When guy friends of mine learned of things that I have been through (assault, rape, domestic violence), their immediate response was to offer to beat up the offender.  While as a survivor I have no compassion for sexual offenders, that is not what I (or any other survivor) needs.  What we need is for that indignant outrage to be channeled in a less destructive and far more productive reaction.  We need men to break their silence and show their support.  As much as I appreciate my friends' desire to "take care of the problem," what I need is to see them take their rage as motivation and speak out with me.  The article from 30 Men Show Us Who's Really Responsible for Preventing Sexual Assault brought tears to my eyes, and it was just strangers attaching their name to the messages supporting survivors and speaking out against victim blaming.  I know so many great men who support the message, but in many cases it's silent support.  Whether it's working with an organization (like one below) or just clicking "Share" for an article or blogpost (etc) on Facebook, this silence needs to be broken.  Men need to tell their friends when someone is talking about taking advantage of a woman, to let their friends know when they are doing something wrong.  There is no "easy" way to address this issue; it's an uncomfortable topic and there's no way around that.  But the more men speak out, the closer we get to changing the current state of our society.  

So in response to all of my guy friends out there who have asked me what they can do to support myself and other survivors, I say this: Break your silence and take a stand with me.

And to all of my friends out there who have supported me over the years, I say thank you.

Men Can Stop Rape
A Call To Men

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"Anybody who looked at those pictures, you're perpetuating a sexual offense," she said. "You should cower with shame." - Jennifer Lawrence

"Anybody who looked at those pictures, you're perpetuating a sexual offense," she said. "You should cower with shame." - Jennifer Lawrence
Men, now would be a good time to choose to stand by women in our fight against rape, sexual assault, and the various other sex crimes. Every single one of you who has piggishly feasted on Jennifer Lawrence's photos or any of the others who suffered this fate ARE ENCOURAGING SEXUAL PREDATORS. By supporting and not condemning you are telling the men who prey on women that it is perfectly acceptable. I have worked hard in the past to focus on encouraging women (and men) to stand together and avoid victim blaming rather than ranting about the offenders. But enough is enough! I know for a fact that quite a lot of men I know have enjoyed the leaked photos, and to you all I can say is I am beyond disgusted- I think enraged is a better word. Most of you consider yourself "good guys" but you're not. Right now your among the lowest of the low scumbags, right there with all the other sexual offenders. I don't give a damn if someone is offended by what I have to say- if you're offended it's because you looked at those pictures. Men it is time to lose the neutrality act: if you're not actively supporting the change from a rape culture to that of a rape free culture, then you're sending a message that these crimes are ok. ‪#‎HeForShe‬

Thursday, June 12, 2014

George Will is Hating

George Will's article (link below) claiming that rape and sexual assault survivors are speaking out because of the great privileges that come with the title has absolutely OUTRAGED me.  I am blown away.  He skews statistics in his poorly written article full of excessive thesaurus use leading to a pompous sounding maze of faulty logic and hate.  Seriously, not only is he spewing hatred and skewing facts, but his article is not an easy read because of the ridiculous word choices and sentence structure (I'm going to get off this side throught now).  So in response to his demeaning and sarcastic use of "survivors" (he put it in sarcastic quotations), I am going to respond in equal tone:  Yes, being a rape survivor has made my life INFINITELY better- you caught me, I have just loved life since I was raped. Perks GALORE. George Will, if the perks are so great why don't you try a day in the life? 

I love the attitude of Katie McDonough in her response to George Will's pompous and idiotic anti-rape rant (article below), very well written and smart mouthed :)  high five to her!

Such ignorance is outrageous and somewhat alarming. The campaign for awareness is spreading, lets hope the truth outshines the haze created by moronic and egotistical people like George Will. We know what happened to us, we know what happens to others, and we know the high price we pay if we choose to speak out. Stay strong out there, the only way to see change is to persevere through adversity.

But honestly, how does George Will's article make you feel when he's criticizing "survivors" (he put them in sarcastic quotations, not me) and claiming that we survivors get special privileges for speaking out as survivors of rape and sexual assault? Or of his comments about not getting the big deal about unwanted sexual contact and groping? What do YOU have to say in response to George Will? Speak your mind and share your thoughts!

Katie McDonough's Response: George Will: Being a victim of sexual assault is a “coveted status that confers privileges” The Washington Post columnist thinks women are lying about sexual assault in order to get "privileges"

George Will's Article: Colleges become the victims of progressivism

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Support Survivors And Salute The Troops: Inability For Empathy Does Not Excuse Lack of Sympathy (Inspired By Hannibal)

So I was just watching an episode of season 1 of the show Hannibal (great off shoot of Silence of the Lambs for those who like Criminal Minds and that genre of crime show), and I hear the line "there is nothing more isolating that mental illness" and I simply could not put off this topic/post any longer.  

Being raped or assaulted does not "give" a person a mental illness, but a survivor's internal struggle and the need for support and understanding from the people in his or her life can truly be isolating.  And one of the greatest reasons is that people around you, even those with the best intentions, get impatient with being patient.  They don't understand why you can't move on as fast as they think you should because more often than not they don't have any real grasp of what you are going through, there's no other experience that is similar.  Then there are survivors out there who are either in denial or have healed in their own way (be it through time, therapy, both, etc) who forget what its like when the wounds are fresh.  This feeling of being misunderstood and hurried is something that I've only heard one other "group" of people truly relate to, and that's combat veterans.  I've found that in many aspects the emotional struggles of sexual assault survivors and combat veterans are very similar (there are also some stark differences, granted), both groups go through experiences that can only be understood by going through them yourself.  I know survivors and veterans, and I have heard their stories and shared mine in turn.  Most everyone has people close to them who tried to be supportive, patient, and understanding, but at some point those people one by one eventually get frustrated or forget to be patient- they can't understand why it is taking so long for you to get over it, "man up", "toughen up", "the world keeps spinning", "life goes on": these are all direct quotes of things said to BOTH rape survivors and our combat veterans.  

What so many blessed people don't understand is that in many ways a survivors life was paused in that horrific moment.  The images, the smells, the sounds, every tiny detail your senses registered in that real life nightmare come back to haunt you at different, and often inopportune, moments throughout your happy day to day life.  Maybe you're out to dinner with friends and you smell a cologne that sends you reeling into a fog of fear and panic, or on a wonderful date and your significant other says a word or makes an expression that shoots ice through your veins.  For me, those have both happened, and lots of other similar situations too.  Over the years I have learned to ground myself by focusing on the moment, asking for help from those close to me, breathing exercises, a million little techniques that have become almost second nature by now; but there are still moments that I am caught of guard and I spiral out of control into a muddled cloud of nightmarish images and am full of fear and pain.  I make it a point to know as much about a movie as I can before I watch it (I can watch Law and Order: SVU and that kind of show, but something showing a rape or domestic violence will at best make me sick), but I was caught off guard when I watched Safe Haven; I loved the movie, but when the full scene of domestic violence plays out it was as though someone had filmed the most terrifying minutes of my life and put them on a Blu-ray.  I sat in a corner of my room with a bat next to me and called a friend to help me calm down because I kept being sent back to the moments that I thought were going to be my last moments ever.  

People who have been lucky enough to go through their life without experiencing rape, sexual assault, or thinking they have had their last breath, simply cannot relate to what survivors and veterans go through.  They cannot truly understand the feeling like you are constantly running from your own memories, that sometimes when you are looking at something in the present you might actually be seeing something in the past, that it's not a matter of "manning up" or "not being dramatic", but that doesn't mean they shouldn't try.  The lack of experience required for empathy doesn't mean a lack of sympathy should be excused.  Both survivors and veterans have gone through experiences that leave deep wounds that, even if treated, will still leave deep, life-long scars.  

So I challenge those of you who are the lucky and blessed to take a look at those around you who are struggling and double check your interactions with them; make sure you aren't pushing their healing to fit your schedule.  I don't know or know of any survivors or veterans who are wanting pity, so when I say be sympathetic I don't mean throw them a pity party- I mean try to understand, even if all that means is acknowledging that you can't understand.  I also challenge the survivors and veterans out there to not let yourself dictate your healing by what others around you say.  Yes, the world does keep spinning and life does go on, but by simply making it through your traumatic experience(s) you have proven that you are "tough enough" and "man enough": YOU ARE A DAMN SURVIVOR.  So ignore the voices putting you down and hurrying you on, do what you need to do at your own pace, and speak up for yourself when you need to- don't be afraid of telling people to stop preaching about what they don't know.  (I feel obligated to say that you catch more flies with honey, but I'll admit that isn't always my approach)

NOTE: There are very distinct differences in what a rape survivor goes through and what a combat veteran deals with, and in some close personal relationships throughout the last decade I have learned so much about both the similarities and differences.  I would not ever dare to say I know what it is like to have been in our deployed soldiers' combat boots, but I do know a lot about their experiences and struggles once they come home.  I have tremendous respect, admiration, and appreciation for the men and women who serve our country, and as much as I hope sexual assault awareness will help bring about a change in our "rape culture" and greater support for survivors, I also hope that our troops coming home can be better supported.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Be Back Soon

I was injured in a car accident last week and am still recovering.  When I am a bit better I have a lot to share, I have had some great conversations in the last week or so and I can't wait to share them.  Hopefully I'll be back to writing in a few days!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

How Do You Survive Rape?

Lately my blog posts have been driven by conversations I have with other survivors who are reaching out to me.  Whether its a common struggle or a question they ask of me, it's all so pertinent to the story of a survivor.  Tonight as I was settling in for one last episode of The Mentalist with my Dutchie before crashing, my phone buzzed about an alert for the From Victim to Survivor FB page about a message.  After a really rough week emotionally I learned that I have to make the conscious choice to put my phone down for chunks of time, because after the first 5-6 days of the blog (aka 24/7 rape) I was overwhelmed and had night terrors for the first time in ages.  All that is unimportant except that it puts an emphasis on why I broke my rule about late night rape discussions to answer this woman; her message was short, her question simple, but it rocked me.  It comes down to one of the most core points of my recovery and my message I'm sharing with all of you.  She asked, "how do I survive rape?"

Below is part of my response to her, I hope it helps some of you.

For me, it took me acknowledging both to myself and to my therapist that I had been assaulted and raped.  Over the years I have gone through different levels of surviving.  At first, the focus was getting over the more extreme symptoms of my PTSD (high startle reflex, nightmares, fear, etc)- the kind of things that most anyone could easily see and were obviously disruptive to my ability to function on any basic level.  Then I started dealing with the more underlying issues, sometimes it would be 1 step forward and 2 steps back type times but the overall trend was always moving forward.  I found my motivation to keep going in my determination to not let my attackers take more of my life from me than they already had.  In a sense, I got angry; instead of internalizing my anger and falling into the deep depressions as I had done in the past, I let myself be angry.  Now, by no means am I saying turn into a cynical or bitter angry woman, but you have a right to be angry about what you have been through, so let yourself be angry!  The key for me was having a therapist, I have had the privilege to work with some great ones, and they have each contributed to different parts of my recovery.  Some helped me find peace in times where I was so scared and angry and upset that I was falling apart into massive panic attacks for seemingly no reason, others helped me remember that I am a strong woman, and sometimes they were just there to listen to me.  Every so often I'll hit a plateau in my recovery, sometimes it lasts for a couple months, other times a year or more, but at some point during that leveling out period, I start to see the things that I need to tackle next, and when I feel like I'm ready then my therapist is there to walk down the rough road with me.  The first step is to look at the situation as something that sucks but making the conscious choice to fight it and overcome it, rather than focusing on a more victim mindset.  Yes, legally and in every other sense you are a "victim", but don't let yourself become one mentally.  IT IS HARD.  I won't deny it or sugarcoat it, but it is so very worth it.  Now, I'm not ashamed of what has been done to me, I'm open about it, and I know when my boyfriend says "I love you" I know he loves the "real" me and not the "completely perfect illusion" me.  He knows about my "rough" past, and he knows how it can periodically interfere with our lives, and I know he still loves me.  The greatest thing about making yourself a survivor is that you stop feeling like you're hiding who you are, you may not want to announce it on Facebook, but those close to you will love you regardless of night terrors, anxiety attacks, strange little triggers, etc.  And then you will find your relationships are more meaningful because they are based on more than just surface issues, and you know they aren't going to leave.  I guess that's a silver lining in a way.  Alright well, now my dog is attempting to finish this blog for me so I think it's time to call it a night.  

Survivors, Supporters, feel free to reach out to me anytime day or night :) If I'm awake I'm usually available.  

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Easy Ways to Show Support

Well the easiest way to to hit "Share" and post it on your wall- takes like 3 seconds.  But there are others ways too, and below are some fun and or simple items that you could wear as a sign of support to survivors, remind yourself that you are a SURVIVOR and not a victim, whatever you want.  Ran across these and thought I would share!

Theres some beautiful jewelry out there for quiet support or to keep as a reminder that you are a SURVIVOR and not a victim!

(some of their products below)

(Designs below are found on numerous products, not just buttons; and are also not the only designs available for awareness!)

Friday, April 25, 2014

My Fellow Survivors

I thank you all for your support and sharing your experiences both on and off the blog. It tears me up that there are so many of us, but I'm finding that what they say about finding strength in numbers is true.  I encourage those out there who are going at this alone to reach out to someone- friend, family member, therapist, support group, email me, whatever you feel comfortable with.  It will ease the burden you're carrying.  Keeping all of you in my prayers.  

Hang in there!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thanks and More

I want to again thank everyone for all of the support. So many of you have asked how you can help, and I haven't really had a good answer aside from "share the blog and accept the challenges."  I wasn't expecting so much response so soon, so I hadn't really come up with "phase 2."  I welcome any ideas anyone has for promoting this campaign for sexual assault awareness, so please shoot me a message!  I would love to get involved with schools, churches, organizations, etc to increase awareness and encourage change. 

Thank you again everyone!

Danger on Aisle 2?

Sorry for the delay in posts, I have to admit that it has been an overwhelming experience- I needed some time to recover from so many days of 24/7 rape talk.  

A couple days ago I was talking to a close friend, and she told me about an experience she had at the grocery.  THE GROCERY.  She was looking for a box of cereal and a man on the aisle hit on her, asked for her number, and when she tried to walk away, he grabbed her.  

At first, I was outraged and astonished, but then I thought about it and realized that I have been harassed in varying degrees in so many normal places, like the cereal aisle at the grocery.  Upon that realization, I became disgusted.  I know I'm not alone when I say that most every woman regularly has to deal with something like that, and we always play it off like its completely acceptable behavior- boys will be boys, etc.  It is NOT acceptable!  A huge step in the direction of change will be women drawing that line and not acting like its ok; nip it in the bud.  I encourage everyone to fight against this behavior: ladies, instead of laughing it off, give your hecklers and ass-grabbers a death stare and, if you are up to it, tell them its not okay in no uncertain terms; men, restrain from heckling, and speak up on behalf of women if you see them being heckled or grabbed at.

Another lesson that came from the cereal aisle of the grocery is that it is okay to freeze.  SO many people have all kinds of things to say about how someone being assaulted or raped should act- scream, scratch, punch, kick, run, scream some more.  Everyone has thought on some level about how they think they will react in those situations, very rarely does anything go like you plan.  Everyone responds in one of three ways: fight, flight, or freeze.  Freeze is so common, once you realize what's about to happen many people just shut down.  THAT IS OKAY!  There is no right or wrong way to react to being assaulted or raped, however you react is the right way for you.  These times are traumatic, and our brains each cope with trauma in its own way.  I have reacted differently in each situation.  I have frozen, dissociated, fought, tried to run, etc.  About 6 months after starting treatment for PTSD, I was home in Memphis visiting my family and some friends, and a man grabbed me and almost threw me down on the ground, and I vividly remember what went through my head in that moment: "NO MORE TRAUMA!"  I swung my purse at the guys head with all my strength and ended up knocking him out (courtesy of my friend having secretly put a beer in my purse for reasons that remain unknown).  Then I ran like hell.  When my friend picked me up I suddenly realized what had happened and I dove back out of the car and threw up.  But other times, I would initially struggle then go numb, check out of my body until it was over.  There's simply no telling how you will react in the moment.

I have started learning self defense, and so much of it is just pure repetition to build muscle memory.  I highly recommend taking some kind of self defense class, especially to the survivors reading this.  It gives you a sense of power and empowerment, which combats the feelings of helplessness and victimhood.  It has helped tremendously.

So just to recap- I challenge everyone to not shrug off the creepy catcall or the unwanted gropings, its called sexual harassment, molestation, sexual assault, and more.  So much of that is illegal, too.  We need to stop laughing off these encounters.  Men, tell those harassers to shut up and act right, but more importantly set an example for the other men you know.  Finally, there is no right way to respond before, during, or after an attack.  You can freeze, dissociate, scream and claw, or cluck like a chicken- it does not matter!  And how you act and react in no way diminishes what you went through.  It is horrible and traumatic no matter what, so don't ever be ashamed or confused by however you acted in order to SURVIVE.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

My Story, Part 1: The Beginning

I have shared much of my experience with all of you, the struggle with guilt and shame that led me to keep quiet for over a decade, but I haven't shared my specific stories as the anonymous women have.  I simply cannot relive every assault in one night, and because I am not anonymous I also need to be careful about how much I share, for my own sake as much as anything.  I do want to share as much as I can, and many of you have reached out to me astonished that I had been hurt and never spoke up.  So I am going to begin my story tonight.  I will be vague, due to privacy as well as fuzzy memories; over the years I have discovered that when I am dealing with a trauma I don't store memories very well.  I often remember very specific, random details of an event while others are completely lost, and I often struggle with the timeline, for example.  I'm also not going to give all the "gory details."  They serve no purpose; I am sharing with the world that I am a survivor of rape, attempted rape, and sexual assaults, and I am even going to share some of the basic stories, but I will not delve into details or specifics of what was done to me.  I am sharing because I don't think I should be ashamed of what was done to me, but I still deserve what little privacy I am asking for, and I request that you respect that.

The summer before my freshman year of high school, I had a terrifying close call; despite the fact that this was the only time no one actually laid a hand on me, it haunts me the most in my nightmares.  I was in a safe environment (or what should have been a safe environment) and was walking alone in the evening back to where everyone was (again, sorry to be so vague) when a few older guys that I knew saw me.  They were obviously drunk and high on God only knows what, and at first they just cat called and whistled at me so I half waved and kept on walking.  Suddenly their voices and demeanor shifted, apparently my dismissive wave and complete lack of interest had pissed them off.  Their calls changed to angry yells to stop and come back, when I didn't they came after me.  Fast.  I was about a mile away from anyone but them, on a dark road lit by these beautiful old fashioned lamp posts that created small halos of light in the midst of the ever darkening night, I was in flip flops but I knew I had to run.  I don't think I have ever run faster or harder in my life, but I couldn't escape them.  I fell several times but had to keep going, I was searching for anyone who could help or anything I could use to defend myself, but mostly I just ran trying to escape their angry voices and cruel laughter.  I finally saw a crossing guard about a quarter mile from my goal.  I stumbled to him, begging him to help me.  I'll never forget his apathetic response as he shrugged me off, "What am I supposed to do?"  I didn't think I could make it the last quarter mile, I was hurt and losing speed; I remember praying for God to help me.  Suddenly, as I rounded a bend with the pack of wolves only yards behind me, I ran smack into one of my guy friends.  When the guys rounded the turn and saw me walking with him, they faded back; he knew something had happened, but I played it off that I had just been spooked by the dark road and had tripped.  I don't know why, but even then I couldn't bring myself to admit what had almost happened to me.  It wasn't until years later, I told him the story and thanked him for what he had unknowingly saved me from.  That night I learned that the monsters aren't always strangers in masks lurking in the night, but are often the people you know and trust.  The world stopped being a safe place, and I became determined to not be seen as a target; I was going to be strong enough to take care of myself and show the world I didn't need any help.

I was first assaulted the following summer when I was 15.  I was once again in a "safe place."  I was with friends, our families were all around, it was a very fun summer night.  In hindsight, I think I was probably drugged, albeit unsuccessfully, but towards the end of the night I wasn't acting like myself, I felt weird, I was foggy, and parts of the night are just blank; perhaps it is just my brain protecting me from too many bad memories or perhaps it was some sort of drug, I will never know for certain.  I was in a room with a group of friends as we were figuring out how we were going to spend the rest of the night, and as we left the guy in front of me blocked my way so we were the only two people in the room.  He backed me into a corner, at first I was just angry.  I tried shoving past him but I couldn't escape; as strong as I was, he had size on his side; he was saying things like "you're just so damn hot, I have to have you" and similar bullshit.  Things quickly escalated from bad to worse, then the door suddenly swung open and one of our friends came back in looking for me, worried I had had an ADD moment and wandered off.  The monster was startled and I was able to rush out of the room.  I was clearly disheveled and upset, so my friend could tell something was very wrong but, yet again, I played it off as no big deal.  Inside, I was dying.  It had happened again.  I had failed again.  It was my fault because I was too attractive to resist; that message was repeatedly drilled into me, and left me torn between feeling like all of my self-worth lay in my appearance and so I needed to always look nice, and wanting to hide in sweats and no make-up.  

That is simply all I can handle talking about tonight, and frankly it's more than I've told most people in the last 12 years.  I am greatly over simplifying, and I will continue to in my accounts, because between reading other survivors stories and writing this, it is exhausting and overwhelming.  Even when just sitting down to have a private conversation with a close friend about this topic I have to take it slow, if I open up too many old wounds its like opening the flood gates- there gets to be too many bad images flashing through my mind, at times almost erasing the present completely and sucking me back into those horrible moments.  It's like an intricate dominos design, as long as I take it slow and easy, it's manageable; but if I rush then it will all fall apart before the design is finished.

I hope that this beginning of my story encourages survivors and helps others begin to understand that sexual assault and rape aren't always some stranger in a mask breaking into your house at 2 am; in fact, the majority of rapes are committed by people known to the victim.  And I hope that the men who saved me know how grateful I am, for their faces are 2 I will never forget.  Survivors, please keep sending in your stories and comments, they are more of an encouragement to other survivors than you may ever realize.  Everyone else, support the survivors around you, be patient and encouraging because you can't begin to understand the extent of the impact of their assault(s).  Good night and God bless!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

10 Top Tips to End Rape - Hilarious Solutions

Elsa and Jane Doe Provide a Reality Check

I have been completely blown away by the experiences of so many other survivors; so many are like Elsa's on the Speaking Out page.  Reading her account just now I found myself having to fight to stay in the present and not flashback to my own traumatic nights.  Jane Doe's description of what the aftermath of a rape was like for her is something I'm confident all survivors experience- being seen as "weak" or "difficult" rather than strong, for example.  I'd like to draw attention to what Elsa said at the end of her story, because it hits the nail on the head.  These are unfortunately true more often that not, and these are the things that need to start to change.

"If you've ever been raped, and are raped a second time, your rapist will go free.
If you've ever had a mental illness, and are raped, your rapist will go free.
If you don't have a witness IN the room that you are being raped in, your rapist will go free.
If you know your rapists name, address, and phone number, your rapist will go free.
If you don't scream and fight back, but freeze in fear, your rapist will go free.
If you are asleep when your rapist starts to rape you, your rapist will go free.
If you had been kissing the rapist earlier in the night, but he later rapes you, your rapist will go free.
If you had had any alcohol prior to being raped, your rapist will go free.
If you don't murder your rapist when he is sleeping comfortably after having raped you, your rapist will forever go free."

Thank you Elsa, Jane Doe, Susie Q, and the others who are still writing their stories.  I have been encouraged and amazed by you through your stories as well as our conversations.  Thank you for joining me!  

Finding Your Truths After Being Taught Such Lies

I am extremely proud of the fabulous women who are adding their stories and experiences to my own, they are showing a strength that I greatly admire.  For every anonymous story that I post, there are dozens more you aren't reading, and I pray that fact isn't lost on you.  Rape is a lot like the cockroach of crimes, if you see one the odds are that there are hundreds of survivors you aren't seeing.  So as you see me standing alone here in the light, just know that I am not a rarity.  I am one of millions.  As alone as I have felt since I was 14, I now know that I am actually a member of one of the largest "clubs" in the country (and world).  It is important that we as survivors find a way to reach out to one another so that we may share our stories, our struggles in order to stop feeling alone in this great big world.  We are far from being alone, we have all been there, hell- many of us are still there.  We have all felt the same way: dirty, ashamed, guilty, lonely, isolated, misunderstood, a failure, worthless.  Even years later, I often still feel those lies are true, and I have to search to find my truth in the midst of the fog of lies.  I know that not one of those horrific experiences was my fault, yet often I still feel ashamed and guilty.  I know I did nothing wrong, yet I still feel shame.  I know I am loved and respected, yet I still feel like a worthless failure.  

It's that constant internal struggle between what you KNOW and what you FEEL, and so often that is where our supporters get lost.  They don't understand why you feel worthless and unloved and alone when they are right in front of you showering you with love and affection and support; it's very difficult for them to accept that the horrible experiences we have been through didn't just violate our bodies, but also our souls.  During our assaults, our minds were ingrained with all of the above lies, so while we can shower for days and eventually feel physically clean again, ridding ourselves of those lies is much harder.

Some have told me how brave I am to speak up, and while I appreciate the encouragement and compliments, I have to admit I'm not sure if it was courage that drove me so much as sheer pig headed determination.  I have been trying to get back to a "normal life" while keeping a huge part of me a secret, and that just is impossible.  I was trying to follow some very bad advice and keep who I was from the world because the news of my having been raped would have upset them, made them uncomfortable.  MY RAPE would have been difficult for THEM to handle.  The past few weeks I knew I needed to speak up, I was fed up with living in the shadows of secrecy, and I was absolutely sick and tired of pretending I was someone that I was not in order to make a few people feel better about themselves.  I was tired of seeing others cowering in the dark afraid for people to know they had been raped.  

If the general public's view of rape was to find and stop a rapist rather than blame the victim, this world would already start to see some real change.  So, again, I challenge you to click "Share" and not "Like", help me to break the silence and shed some light on the issues!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Forget Politically Correct, Click "Share" instead of "Like"

I have been reaching out to various friends and acquaintances to help me reach more people, and it was during one of these conversations that I was smacked in the face with the reality of just how screwed up our society's view of rape and sexual assault is.  In response to me asking this particular young woman if she would be willing to help me, she said "I will send it privately though bc I have to be extremely PC on my facebook." Let that sink in, she could not publicly post a link to a blog about supporting rape survivors and sexual assault awareness because it isn't politically correct. Saying "rape is unacceptable" is not PC. Saying "stop victim-blaming" is not PC. I went from shock to anger to outrage, and I wasn't angry at this woman but at the society that set the rules. I know that rape is an uncomfortable topic, but it is one that needs to be addressed. In case you didn't read my first post (Rape in a Rape Culture: Victim or Victor?), let me lay out some of the statistics for you.

In the US, someone is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes.

1 in 5 American women and 1 in 71 American men have survived either an attempted or completed rape in their life, thats more than 23.6 million survivors.

1 in 4 college women will survive a rape or attempted rape by the time they graduate.

And given that only ~39% of rapes are reported, it is safe to assume the odds are probably even worse than the grim statistics above.

In the time it has taken you to read what I have written above, at least one person has been sexually assaulted.  The fact of the matter is that odds are you know at least one survivor (probably more), you may never know who they are but someone you know and care about has been hurt and violated.  So although it might be "uncomfortable" to have something about rape on your Facebook wall or Twitter feed, I want to challenge everyone to set aside their discomfort and choose to show support of the millions of unnamed survivors by passing along this message, because in doing so you are acknowledging their pain and supporting their struggles.   I want to challenge the men out there to show your support by spreading the message and encouraging others to take a stand for change.  I want to challenge everyone to click "Share" instead of "Like", because in comparison to the pain and "discomfort" a survivor experiences, your discomfort at having the word "rape" on your wall doesn't even begin to compare.  I don't say this as a guilt trip or for pity or sympathy but as a very blunt wake up call.  Because although they aren't telling you how much it means to them, they are telling me--and believe me when I say there are a lot of them out there.  So support you friends, girlfriends, sisters, mothers, aunts, cousins, brothers (etc) and click "Share".

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Into the Light

As I am sitting here at the end of my second day since announcing to all who will listen that I am a survivor of multiple sexual assaults, I must admit I feel drained.  So far it has been an incredible experience, I have received so much encouragement and support it has been unreal-- I wish I could share it with the other survivors who I know need it as much as I have the last decade!  I also feel more convicted than ever that there are some serious flaws in our society that need to be addressed, I don't think half of the readers would believe how many survivors there are out there- which makes me even more excited to share the stories my fellow survivors are writing!  The sheer number of stories I have been told in the last 36 hours has been overwhelming, I was completely caught off guard by the surge of responses.  Don't get me wrong, it has been exceedingly encouraging!  

This experience has been incredibly freeing and empowering.  I am no longer standing in the shadows, but in the light.  I am standing before each of you readers as the real me, flaws and all (figuratively, since I'm actually laying on my couch).  There have been a few moments where I have thought "what the hell was I thinking?!  now thousands of people know you aren't invincible, way to make yourself a target!"  and had my anxiety start to kick in, but they have been few and short lived.  To calm down and fight the shame from creeping back in, I only have to look at the messages and comments I have received over flowing with support and encouragement, and remember that thousands of people have read my story and as of yet I have not had to deal with any "ignorant" people making "ignorant" comments.  Like I said, it has been an incredible experience so far.

By request (from an incredible young woman I have been privileged to get to know more the last couple days), I am going to work on setting up a private group for other survivors to communicate privately with each other for support and encouragement.  I would love any feedback or ideas (etc) on this!!

I want to encourage other survivors who are trying to deal with their trauma alone to reach out to someone you trust- a friend, therapist, sister, brother, significant other, parent...this is a burden you should not have to share alone!  I have been blessed to have not only great support from my sisters and brother, but also an extremely supportive boyfriend who has probably helped me through more crazy moments than anyone.  I kept my secrets for years and it nearly killed me, the relief I felt by telling just one person was indescribable.  I have so much more of my journey to share, but it will have to wait until I have gotten some sleep :)  Thank you for the continued support!  Let's keep spreading the word and bringing these issues into the light!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Infinite Thanks simply can't cut it

I can't begin to count the number of times I have said "thank you" today, but I'm going to say it a couple more times...I want to thank my sisters and my brother for their support, without them I'm not sure I could had done this.  I want to send a big thank you out to everyone for the astounding amount of support and encouragement, "thank you" does not begin to describe the gratitude I am feeling.  I also want to thank the survivors who have reached out to me, it is your words that have meant the most and are giving me the courage and motivation to keep pushing my message.  Your words of encouragement and gratitude and the stories you shared all touched me deeply, and I can only hope that I can continue to encourage you and the many others out there.  I truly believe it is time to start breaking the silence and sharing our stories (anonymously is equally fine), because it is when we are truly united that we become a force to be reckoned with.

I go to bed tonight grateful and empowered, and hoping that the next day will only continue spreading more and more, in schools,in classes, everywhere! It has the potential to grow exponentially.

For supporters, please continue sharing this message, there are many survivors out there waiting for support and validation and encouragement and hope.  Think creatively about university programs, sports teams, any activist groups....

thank you! thank you! thank you!


I wasn't planning on posting anything more today, but because of the huge number of calls, texts, messages, emails (etc), I wanted to add one last thing.  Throughout the day I have had so many other survivors reaching out to me, it has been an incredible experience to hear these amazing women's stories.  None of us are alone in our struggles, that is for sure!  I'd like to invite my fellow survivors to write something about their experience(s) and send it to me to be posted anonymously with other stories and thoughts.  It can be anything you want to say, short or long, angry or at peace, anything.  

I am repeatedly hearing from both survivors and their loved ones that they are encouraged by the blog, so I encourage everyone to continue sharing the message.  As one of my friends said, let's break the silence! 

My Inspiration: SOC 222 Deviant Behavior

I first want to address something, I worry that some might see my blog as a rant against men.  It is not, it is merely that 9 of 10 rape victims are women.  I know many men who are strong examples of a good man, and it is those men who I pray will help effect a change both by example and by word.  I also want to acknowledge and reach out to men who are victims, because I understand that their struggle is in some ways even greater than that of a female victim.  The new definition of rape according to the FBI's UCR has finally addressed the fact that men can also be raped, in addition to removing a lot of the loopholes in past definitions.  

I also want to thank everyone for the ever increasing support, it has touched me deeply and been a much needed encouragement. 

For the last few years I have been avoiding classes about criminology and criminal psychology because I didn't think I could handle being in a room full of strangers and discuss rape or domestic violence in a clinical/academic context- at least not without a complete freak out. But this past fall, I decided I was tired of missing out on the classes/subjects that I love and decided to take Deviant Behavior as a litmus test.  If I could handle it, then I would get back to criminology; if not then I'd have to change to history. As the day for the rape lecture/discussion approached, I thought of more and more ways the class could go badly, running the gamut from re-traumatizing me and me running out of class like a hot mess never able to return to campus to making national headlines for beating up a male classmate for his ignorant opinions. The class before we started covering rape, the teacher played a film (Tough Guise 2) as part of our class on assault/homicide.  I was prepared emotionally for hearing some about domestic violence (another trigger for my PTSD), but not rape.  The film covered research that addressed the increase in male violence in recent years, and suddenly I found myself in a dark room surrounded by strangers watching footage of the football players-turned-rapists in Ohio talking about how they had just raped a girl and laughing about it as though they were reminiscing about a really great game from last season.  I froze, my pulse sky rocketed, my breathing was uncontrollably fast, and my hands were shaking; I wanted to tough it out because I knew making a mad dash out of the room would be identifying myself as a survivor to everyone in the room, I didn't want to be seen as weak and pitiful.  I finally had to give in and bolt.  I sat on the floor in the hallway and tried to calm myself down, but I knew the smiling faces of the rapists would be in my head for a while.  I emailed my teacher to explain my sudden exit and to give her a heads up that I had PTSD from rape and domestic violence (I felt she should know what was going on should things go poorly and I started throwing punches, seemed like the decent thing to do--HA!), so I was a bit concerned about being in the class for the discussions.  She could not have been more understanding, and she told me to not come to either rape class because there was no telling what comments would be made and it could be very upsetting to a survivor.  But something she said struck a chord in me, "Hopefully, one day, we will be able to talk openly about it without the victim-blaming and fear of not being believed.  What an empowering day that will be!"  I read that and I knew that seemingly far off day was actually going to be my next day of class; I was going to not only be in the classroom, I was going to participate in the discussion as a survivor.  Though I did decide to not go for a film (The Bro Code) that included a reenactment of a rape and other similar visuals, I was not only there for the 75 minute discussion on rape but also an active participant in the discussion.  Thankfully, I was not re-traumatized, nor did I beat up anyone :)  Giving the teacher a heads up on my past helped keep the discussion civil, we were able to put our strong opinions out there but were kept just short of it turning into a heated debate; I have never felt stronger than when that class was over, I was elated! I had faced my biggest fear and not only survived but thrived.  

I'd love to pretend that I was completely unaffected by the class, but that'd be a lie.  I did struggle for a couple days after that class, but as long as I kept busy working in the yard or diving into half a season of The Mentalist I was able to keep the flashbacks and anxiety at bay.  I had some strong supporters to turn to when things got overwhelming, and to them I cannot begin to express my gratitude for all their patience, understanding, and support.  I know there are times that I have been frantic and desperate, grasping for anything to numb the pain and fear, and that it has probably been insanely difficult for them at times.  But they have stood by me despite my middle of the night texts, out of nowhere freak outs, my periodic depression, my at times debilitating social anxiety, and all the other ups and downs, and for that I am eternally grateful. 

One Last Thought

As I was getting ready to roll over and sleep, I received a couple encouraging messages.  Thank you for the encouragement, I'm now going to sleep with hope for this world yet... :)

What Am I Thinking?

I have always known I wanted to help people who had been through sexual assaults and rape, but slowly over the last year I have started really finding my way.  It started with me getting my beautiful Dutch Shepherd, Kira.  She functions as my personal PTSD service dog, but mostly she's a beloved member of our family.  After getting her I stabilized and began to improve and grew stronger.  I knew almost immediately that I wanted to be able to pass on the incredible gift I got in Kira to others, so I am in training to become a service dog trainer.  But that just wasn't quite enough.  I have had so much of my life dictated by my traumas, either hiding them or playing them off as no big deal.  I decided its time for me to share my story, my struggles, my journey to recovery.  There is a tremendous need for change in our society, victim blaming being one of the first things that needs to stop immediately.  It is preposterous, ignorant, and just plain stupid to say it is a victim's fault she was raped, how on earth does a woman MAKE a man rape her?  Is there a specific article of clothing that is only worn when one is looking to be raped?  Just because she may have slept with 25 other guys doesn't mean you automatically get to be #26 just because she smiled at you.  I mean honestly, its just plain ridiculous.

Forgive my rant, its just one of those issues that boils my blood.  

As I was saying, I decided it was time to share my story, in the hopes that it will not only help jumpstart the necessary dialogue, but also give hope and courage to other victims out there.  Before I go any further, I must say this: I do not like the word "victim", it implies the victim is helpless, hopeless, and powerless--and a rape survivor is none of those things.  A rape survivor is someone who has been to hell and back and is still fighting for their life and sanity back.  So instead of calling yourself or others "rape victims", try calling them "rape survivors".  Its a subtle change, but it gives the survivor empowering hope.

My assaults began when I was in my early teens, I was raped my freshman year in college, a few weeks later there was an attempted rape.  I hit rock bottom.  Apparently the statistics about revictimization are spot on.  I felt like it was my fault, that I had not done everything that I was taught right because if I had then I wouldn't have been a victim.  I kept these traumatic moments locked away for fear if anyone knew I was vulnerable then even worse things might happen.  People who have met me since I left Memphis know much more about my past, but those who knew me prior to my HS graduation know very little if anything.  I was so full of shame, I couldn't stand the idea of all those people judging me, too.  

I'll write more about my past at a later date, but for now just know that I am done blaming myself for the crimes of others and feeling shame for the violent acts perpetrated on me.  I.  Am.  DONE.  I hope that other survivors will read this blog of my journey as a survivor and find courage and hope, and that bystanders reading will join in and help promote awareness and the much needed change.

This is nerve wracking to be opening up to the unknown masses about my dark secret struggle, I can't deny that it makes me anxious- talking about this stuff to anyone make me anxious.  But this is a struggle I'm choosing and that is empowering.

Any survivors who read this, please feel free to email me if you want to talk, share, comment.  I know how much it helped me to be able to talk to other survivors.  Well, really anyone, survivor or not, is welcome to contact me with comments, questions, concerns, stories, etc.

Rape in a Rape Culture: Victim or Victor?

My name is Mary.  I am a victim of rape, attempted rape, and sexual assault.
 Feeling uncomfortable yet?  

Rape.  It's an uncomfortable topic to discuss on a serious level; just thinking about it can create an awkward silence, and yet rape is a predominant issue in our world today, as evidenced by the sensationalized headlines and the amount of attention they draw. The discussion of the "rape culture" in which we find ourselves living is slowly rising to the forefront of today's hot button issues in society.  The statistics on rape here in the US are staggering: every 2 minutes someone in the US is sexually assaulted, an estimated 1 in 6 American women has survived either an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, in reality the odds are probably far greater since rape is the most under reported crime, with only around 39% of rapes being reported, and 1 in 4 college women will survive a rape or attempted rape by the time they graduate.  (Get The Facts, KnowYourIX, NIJ & CDCP)  Growing up, girls are taught how to not get raped: don’t walk alone at night, don’t leave your cup sitting unwatched at a party, don’t talk to strangers, scream “fire” not “rape”, the list goes on and on.  So rather than teaching men to respect women and not to rape, our society teaches women how to avoid the monsters that are inevitably out there hunting for prey.  This mindset leads to the grossest injustice in our society: victim blaming.  

As a victim, I can confidently attest to the stigma society places on rape survivors.  I was one of the majority of survivors who both knew their rapist and chose not to report, and it was because at the time I thought I was to blame; after all, I’d been taught how to be “smart” and “safe”, so I must have failed.   Everyone knows of a rape case, whether personally or from mass media, where a woman reports a rape and then is publicly crucified and criticized.  In our society, those labeled as a rape survivor are typically viewed as being responsible for their rape because of what they were wearing, how much they had to drink, pre-rape intimacy, flirtation with their rapist, their sexual history, and many other preposterous reasons. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR) as of 2013, rape is defined as “a penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”  Somehow, our world seems to forget that in order for a rape to occur, there has to be a rapist--someone who made the conscious choice to sexually violate someone.  

Rape survivors are burdened with blame and shame, rather than being given support, and rapists are very rarely given any real negative consequences--only about 6% of rapists ever serve a day in jail. (Get The Facts)  This is a core issue at not only the low reporting rate of rape, but also why the statistics for being raped are so high.  Rapists know their victims are unlikely to report and that they are unlikely to face any consequences.  For example, there are fraternity houses known as “rape factories,” often jokingly; so if you get raped by one of the fraternity brothers there, it’s the victims fault because they chose to go there knowing it would happen.  This is something that needs to change in our society.  While I’m an advocate for being able to protect oneself, I also don’t think it should be the job of potential victims to avoid rapists.  Rather, it should be our society’s job to crack down on rape.  Instead of teaching women how to avoid getting raped, we need to send a message that rape is not ok and will be punished.

Survivors face more than just a stigma, rape leaves lasting and painful effects.  Victims are three times more likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, thirteen times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and four times more likely to contemplate suicide. (NIJ & CDCP)  Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often seen in rape survivors to varying degrees and lasting for different lengths of time from weeks to years; its symptoms are grouped into three categories according to the National Institute of Mental Health: re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyper-arousal.  (RAINN)  Some more specific symptoms include flashbacks, night terrors, avoiding people, places, and situations that remind the victim of the attack, depression, inability to remember parts of the trauma, difficulty sleeping, and being easily startled.  In short, the attack isn’t just one bad moment that is easily forgotten and moved past; survivors often relive the attack in night terrors or flashbacks, suffer from depression and anxiety, and struggle with just functioning day to day.  Rape survivors, much like combat veterans and others with PTSD, need support and understanding, but our society is one that enjoys dark sensational headlines in the media but not the reality of the long term effects of the crimes inspiring those headlines.  

Personally, my PTSD has lasted for years but, although there are still things that will trigger panic attacks and other symptoms, I have finally reached a point where I can function and live my life without a constant struggle.  It’s the general public’s reaction to these lasting effects that really burdens survivors; often people are understanding in the beginning, but soon grow frustrated because they think you should have moved on.  Over time, I quit letting people get close to me because I knew my anxiety over new and unknown people and situations would frustrate my friends.  Many people that I’ve known for most of my life have no idea about why I fell out of touch or what I have been through.  It only took a couple of people not being able to understand for the message to become completely ingrained: “It’s in the past, it’s time to move on.  All of this upset and drama is completely unnecessary.”  My shame increased exponentially with every passing day that I struggled, I had not only allowed myself to be raped but I couldn’t suck it up and move on fast enough either.  This message to victims is absolutely unacceptable, and is something that I hope will change as awareness of rape and PTSD is spread; I can only hope that it is sheer ignorance that leads people to treat victims poorly.  Victims should be able to stop being victims and allowed to be survivors, to own their past and be open about their struggles, and to be accepted and supported.  I’ve spent nearly a decade keeping quiet because I feared the blame and judgment of those who were once close to me, but it is time for this to end.  For any change to ever occur, people have to speak up about their story, to not only spread awareness and get people talking and thinking, but also to give other victims the courage to take back their lives.

My name is Mary.  I am a victim of rape, attempted rape, and sexual assault.  I have PTSD.  I am choosing to stop being a victim, and to start being a survivor.

Will you join me?