When Will We Start Advocating for Survivors

This our weekly article from the team at PROSAF – Positive Reactions Over Secrets & Fears. PROSAF is a nonprofit organisation that seeks to bring awareness & education to surviving sexual assault in the Caribbean and creating a safe space for discussion on sexual assault. We are advocates and supporters for survivors and provide counselling and advocacy services to persons dealing with primary and secondary trauma associated with sexual violence.

In last week’s article we discussed how to learn to be ok with needing to take time for yourself. We discussed not feeling guilty for needing to take time for yourself. Our current climate has many of us stretched thin, we are trying to do more and be more and pretend that we are ok through it all. Pretending will only last for so long, eventually your mind and body will require that you acknowledge what you are feeling and dedicate some time to yourself.

I understand that right now you may feel that you have to do more and be more for those in your life, I understand that right now you may feel that you can’t allow yourself to feel or think about what is going on in your life, in your country, in the world at large. While I understand the need to not want to tap into your feelings, I want to also point out that ignoring your feelings is a temporary solution to an existing problem. Your mind and body will only allow you reprieve for so long.

For this week, I thought we would discuss what is needed for us to advocate for survivors of sexual violence.

As we continue on in the article, please pay attention to how your body responds, should you feel anxious, light headed, should your palms start to sweat or heart start to race, stop, take a moment and ground yourself, remind yourself of where you are and what is happening right now. Remind yourself in this moment that. You are safe. What we are practicing is listening and acknowledging what your mind says it can handle and honoring your body when it says it has reached its limits.  There is no rush to finish the article of more importance is learning to listen to yourself and honoring where you are and what you need to feel safe and secure.

Over the past few years we have seen an increase in the number of survivors sharing their stories via our televisions, radio stations, newspapers and social media feeds. With each case, it has been more evident that perpetrators don’t discrimination when it comes to who falls victim to sexual violence. Society says it happens to women who dress or behave a certain way but the stories that are shared show that is not the case. We are reminded on a daily basis that survivors of sexual violence are males and females, young and old, that their clothing has nothing to do with the violence perpetrated against them.

We know that someone being coherent versus someone being intoxicated has not stopped them from falling victim to sexual violence. We know that we live in a world where men are made to feel ashamed and weak should they indicate that they were sexually assaulted and that women are classified as being the reason they have been violated. We know that we live in a world where women are vilified for wanting to decide what happens to their bodies, they are vilified for being assertive, they are vilified for wanting to be safe and secure in what they choose to do with their bodies.

We will not excuse the behavior of people by saying that it is more difficult for them to accept that people they know are perpetrators of sexual violence because those same perpetrators aren’t hiding the truths of who they are and what they do.

So the question then becomes more personal, why do you find it so difficult to act when you know someone has perpetrated a crime of sexual violence? Why is it so hard for you to acknowledge that a woman did nothing to deserve the unwanted advances, that then led to unwanted touches and unwanted comments and finally the violent act of rape, or attempted rape. Why is it so difficult to acknowledge that across the globe women and men find themselves  in situations where they are told that in order to get this promotion or this job or this scholarship, etc that they need to give a part of their bodies as payment?

Many us of have been on the receiving end of that kind of situation, many more of us have had a friend confide in us about it. So What is it within you that makes it difficult to accept and acknowledge the reality of sexual violence? What within you makes it difficult to acknowledge sexual violence is not brought on by the victim but is instead thrust on the individual by the power hungry, tiny, no self-esteem individual seeking to make themselves feel powerful, important and in charge? 

What would you need to see, hear, smell, feel, touch for you to want to stand with a survivor and not only empathize with their pain and suffering but demand that change happens? What would you need to see to make you believe that advocating for more for survivors of sexual violence is needed? What would you need to happen before you decided that sexual violence isn’t a crime that a victim/survivor/thriver brought on themselves? When would you want more clear and decisive punishments put in place so that perpetrators did walk around feeling invincible to commit crimes and get away with it? When would you decide that advocating for better mental health care for survivors of sexual violence was necessary and needed? When would you decide that educating our youth on  the various aspects of sexual violence is important, educating them on their rights where they turn when should they victimized is a necessary part of caring for them?

What would it take for you to stop blaming survivors of sexual violence for causing their abuse? How do you excuse the individual who sexually assaults a 11 month  old baby, an 85 year old woman/man? How do you vilify that individual but excuse the perpetrator who sexually assaults an 18, 22, 35, 45,  55, year old? Are the too young and too old innocent but those in between caused the crime perpetrated against them? If that is the case explain to me the difference in the perpetrator?

My guess is you can’t because they are one and the same. The problem then lies with you and who you think is innocent and who you think caused someone else to violate their body. Does that statement make sense? Causing someone else to violate your body, how would that go, hey sir/ma’am excuse me, would it be possible to sexually violate me against my will?

Think about it, the problem with sexual violence and how it is treated lies with us,  the people in society who have created these ridiculous excuses for who is deemed a perpetrator of sexual violence and who is deemed an asking for it victim/survivor. 

I will end off by pointing out that we live in a world that is based on prejudice and bias, there are different boxes that we place people in based on who they are, what they do, what they can do for us.  Which means that those in power get to continue to take what they want regardless of what anyone else says and get away with it.

We live in a world that right now is going through a dramatic shift yet we still find the time to hate and hurt each other. Rape was born out of a need to exert power and dominance, sexual violence became the tool with which many were able to exert that power and dominance. We can continue to ignore the many cases of men, women and children who are being taken advantage of, who are big used and abused, who are being sold into sexual slavery, who are being pushed into saving their lives and their families by having their bodies abused.

Remember none of us is immune to falling victim to this crime. You get to decide how much longer we continue to pull the wool over our eyes and ignore what is happening or when the time comes to say enough is enough. Our bodies are our bodies and you don’t get to tell me what I can do with it, nor do you get to get away with abusing it.

Sexual violence results in survivors suffering from PTSD and with our limited resources it means many don’t get the care they need. Don’t continue to perpetuate the cycle of abuse, it is time to stand up and say that sexual violence is an issue, victims are not to blame, our governments should be held accountable for having proper laws, for better care with rape kits, for more comprehensive laws, for better reform for criminals, for better support for NGOS’ and governmental agencies addressing the issue. 

I ask that with all the changes we are demanding that happen this year that we ask for changes regarding sexual violence. There is strength in numbers. As Survivors we need to come together, share our stories, and start moving towards ensuring that we get a center, counselors, programs all dedicated to dealing with sexual assault.

To the survivors reading this article, I know that you may be even more triggered than usual, it is ok.  You have not fallen off the healing journey, you have not slipped back, you are going through a period in time that is pushing many of the buttons that remind you of your assault. There are periods on the journey where you take a step to the side because going forward seems to much, that is ok.

The journey is not a ridge uphill climb but a feeling through of what is the best next course of action for your current position. Imagine rock climbing; it’s not a straight climb up but a feeling through of what spots are ahead, what’s spots are to the side and sometimes what’s spots are behind that will help as you advance on your journey. Don’t get disheartened, you are doing what is best for you right now.

Work on listening to your inner you, work on acknowledging what you need and being ok with not judging yourself for it. Should you feel triggered and feel like you may be a danger to yourself or others please reach out. You survived a traumatic experience, it doesn’t define you, it is not your entire story. You are on a path to healing, it takes time and patience. Be gentle with yourself. You deserve peace and happiness. 

Always remember, call if you need to vent, if you need company to just be on the phone. We are here to help. Text, email, call, you are not alone. You don’t have anything to be ashamed of, you were violated. You don’t have to keep secrets you don ’t want to keep to protect anyone. You don’t have to let anyone into your life who doesn’t understand or support you. Should you want to discuss or ask a specific question don’t hesitate to send it in. Please don’t give up.

To us all, we have to be the difference we want to see in our country. We have to be willing to start to make changes. We, at PROSAF, have acknowledged that violence against women is a problem in Saint Lucia and the wider Caribbean. We are here to begin the metamorphosis that is desperately needed. If you are interested in finding out more information about sexual violence and what you can do as part of this community, please feel free to contact us.

Yours Sincerely,

Souyenne Dathorne, Velika Lawrence, Miguelle James & Jayde Jean

Email: ssaitco@hotmail.comthepowerofone_v@hotmail.com – prosfasaintlucia@gmail.com

Facebook: SURVIVING SEXUAL ABUSE IN THE CARIBBEAN: https://www.facebook.com/pages/PROSAF-Surviving-Sexual-Abuse-in-the-Caribbean/165341356853908

Webpage: http://www.prosaf.org

Telephone: 1-758-724-9991(Sue)   1-758-723-6466(Vel)

The Things I Hope Won’t Go Back to “Normal”

Just about everywhere the conversation of how to come out of lockdown, how to resume our routines and get back to “normal” is happening, and whilst we are all figuring out what that looks like for each of us, here are my hopes for what we leave in “pre COVID”

#1 – Not Making Time for the Ones We Love

There is always time to spend with loved ones and appreciate their presence in our lives. If there is one thing this period has taught us is that life is indeed short, that we can experience unexpected and sudden loss of the ones we love and that we can be separated from those we cherish most. So now and going forward, when prioritising our schedules and our lives, let’s remember the time that we wished we could get back and put making memories first, and sharing laughs at the top of the list, and reaching out, connecting and saying what we need them to hear a regular and prominent feature in our daily plans.

#2 – Old Definitions of What It Means to be Productive

Definitely throwing the old and outdated “pre COVID” definition of productive out with the trash. Yes! Being at home has taught us to reframe productivity, that being busy and accomplishing it all is not the measure of time well spent, our worth or value, nor is it the measure of our capabilities or our resilience or competence. What this period has shown us is that we can be productive at being whole, at self care and validation and being well, that we can be effective and industrious at attending to all aspects of ourselves. We can be productive at accepting, honouring and being ourselves!

#3 – Ignoring What Our Bodies Need

There have been a lot of “pre COVID” neglected bodies. And no I am not talking about fitness and whether you were working out before or during this time. I am talking about ignoring what our bodies need and what they are telling us. Our bodies speak to us and for many of us, we did not have the space or time to listen before now. Spending this extended period with ourselves, has brought to the fore these needs. Many of us experienced an awareness of our physical reactions to our circumstances and where and how we have been carrying our thoughts, feelings, anxiety and fears throughout. For some that looked like fatigue, tension or aches and for others a need to exert energy and find release. Whatever it looked and felt like to you, your body spoke to you and I am looking forward to continuing to listen and leaving the neglect in the past.

#4 – Not Honouring Rest & Downtime

We have been conditioned that being on the go and constantly trying to get ahead, is the norm. That the more busy we are the more we have going on, is the more meaningful our lives and place therein is. I am happy to bust that myth going forward, that working hard is a badge of honour to carry around and those who don’t work to exhaustion and at the cost of their health and happiness are slackers. No thanks! This period has taught us the important of rest, the whole world took a pause and some downtime. And while it was “forced” many of us had to learn the lesson of slowing down and to honour the space that created. It helped us get the physical rest we needed, for our bodies to catch up with us and charge. But more importantly it afforded us the space to give our minds a rest and set a pace that could process and cope, and beyond that then hope and create, dream and inspire.

#5 – Not Stopping to Smell the ….

Related to rest, but not quite the same, so giving it its own space in this article. In addition to slowing down and giving ourselves the space to rest and recharge, we also had the opportunity to appreciate the things and people in our lives that we rush past on our way to “productivityville” (yes I made that up). There are many things and experiences in our lives the we take for granted and don’t take the time to really see, or smell or…feel. Our quest to progress and success (at whatever) can have a numbing effect on our senses when it comes to the life we are living now, moment to moment and these can then “pass us by”. Adopting a pace and an ease to my daily life that allows me to take in and appreciate the abundance of experiences and interactions and gifts that this life has to offer is definitely how I wish to model the way for myself and for my children going forward.

What are the things that YOU hope won’t go back to “normal”? I’d love to know.

Thank you for letting me share mine with you and I hope that this is helpful to you today and that something in here resonates with you.

Look out for next week’s post and remember to like or comment below so I will know if this article reached you.