No means no

No means no

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Are you a supporter?

Around the world on 14 February, women and men of all nationalities came together to celebrate V-Day, Eve Ensler’s vision of One Billion Rising to raise awareness of sexual violence against women and children.  I watched many heartwarming videos from all around the globe, but one moment in one video, for me, stood out above all else.
OBR participants at Bryon Bay
In Bryon Bay, several hundred men, women and children gathered on the beach to dance to “Break the Chain”, the signature theme written last year for V-Day. The organiser asked those present to raise their hand if they had been, or knew someone who had been, raped or sexually abused. The response was stunning. As the camera panned the crowd there were very few people who did not have a hand up. Even a chap watching from up the hill raised his hand.

While this response might have been predicted from an event for which sexual assault awareness was the aim, it was still confronting to see so many hands up. Whether this means that sexual assault is becoming less of a taboo subject, or whether events like V-Day are empowering survivors to come forward, the result is the same – awareness of a huge problem that spans the globe.

Until very recently, many rape survivors would not have had the courage to raise their hands in public like that. Many will have blocked the trauma from their accessible memory, and simply don’t want to remember.  But for those of us who do remember, who can’t block it any more, being heard, being believed, is an essential part of healing and moving forward.

It is common for survivors of rape and sexual assault to go into a stage of denial after the trauma. They may become agitated when the subject is raised, they may lose their self-esteem, their moods may swing alarmingly, and ultimately they stabilize themselves by denying the event ever happened. Some manage to completely blank out the trauma, and have no recall. Until another traumatic event, often not connected, stirs the memory.

The three stages of RTS are very well described in an article by Healing Our Past Experiences (HOPE), a British website developed by a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Rape Trauma Syndrome or rape-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may not be apparent for years after the event, and often not until the survivor reaches the third stage of RTS, the Resolution Stage. 

HOPE is a survivor site, but a more detailed article entitled “The psychological adjustment of the rape victim” can be found on the South Eastern Center Against Sexual Assault (SECASA) of Victoria website. 

Most survivors of sexual assault and rape which happened years ago will never see justice. Their lives may have been affected in ways that they could never verbalise, because they can’t talk of something that might have happened if their trauma didn’t. Who can ever predict what our alternative future might have been? So we find different ways to feel that we are getting a form of justice. We become vocal advocates for events like One Billion Rising, we put ourselves out there on stage in plays like the
Article about 2013 Brisbane performance of TVM

Vagina Monologues, we spread awareness, we call out sexism which degrades women and girls when we hear it, we become feminists. And all while we are dealing with our own RTS and on-going healing.

RTS can affect a survivor for their entire life. Some may trigger at certain sights, sounds, smells. Some may become increasingly jealous of their personal space. Some may choose to live as much as possible of their lives in a world without men. No-one can say if they are right or wrong in their approach to managing their own RTS. There is no one uniform way of dealing with it, no magic “formula” to get over such a major trauma. But time and again, the one thing that shines through all the stories, for me at least, is that success comes from being with people who are aware and who care. Support networks, whether family, friends or simply acquaintances who will listen and empathise, are essential for recovery. Too many people don’t have a support network, and they’re the ones who fall through the cracks – both of government assistance and society in general.

There are many wonderful organisations in every major city and most regional towns providing support services, but sometimes it needs encouragement from someone in your own network to help you take that first step.

Are you prepared to be that “someone”?

No comments: