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When sex is not consensual

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When sex is not consensual

Why talking about sexual abuse can help you heal.

By Emmeline Peaches

We live in an age where #MeToo is synonymous with the permissible approach to sexual assault and harassment that has been fostered and allowed in the Western world for far too long (saying nothing of further injustices in developing countries and other cultures as well).

For some people the revelation that a large number of the Western population has to navigate and come to terms with sexual harassment, assault, or violation came as a complete surprise. Sadly, the #MeToo movement is much less of an initial rallying cry for a new phenomenon and more the final straw on a very weary (and very angry) camel’s back.

When those who were unaware of the abuse that some people faced turned to those around them, their perplexity and disgusted disbelief showing, most were met with typically (but not exclusively) female or queer individuals that they knew staring back grimly. The response was usually even more sobering: ‘Me Too’.


Sexual Assault in the Western World

The sad reality of the matter is that, as of most recent reports, up to 80% of American women have been sexually assaulted in some manner and 43% of men.

Even more troubling, a previous study found that, of those surveyed, over 72% of people were assaulted by those they already knew the individual. 33% had an intimate relationship with them with the rest being acquaintances.

77% of the assaults documented went unreported.

Silence is the great spear of Sexual Assault’s collective armoury. It pierces right in to the core of those it touches and twists and turns its agonising grip so tightly that to utter a single word seems like an impossible task, and it is modern society that has so readily armed this horrific act.

If the trial and ultimately light conviction of Brock Turner (which he’s also trying to appeal) or the harrowing early release of John Worboys (who was planned also getting 24/7 protection after his release) tells us anything it’s that justice rarely seems like it’s on the victim’s side.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The early release was quashed: A legal challenge by two victims was upheld by the High Court, and the Parole Board praised the "bravery" of the women who brought the action.

#MeToo is showing many individuals that there’s power in numbers. More so than this, though, it also shows the immense importance of every individual out there speaking out and making their assault known. A collective can only be formed by the contributions of many voices, and it is so important that, if you find yourself subject to sexual assault, you allow yourself to be one of them.

It’s never easy, but it is essential for so many reasons.


What To Do If You’re Assaulted (The Power of Your Voice)

Sexual assault and abuse is horrible. Often the result of a desire for power, an individual takes it upon themselves to force themselves and their desires on to someone else. Such horrifically brutal power exchanges can be paralysing. They are, without a doubt, an attack and are never acceptable.

But, here’s the thing: As someone who has experienced sexual assault you hold more power, courage, and personal ownership than your perpetrator ever will.

This power lies in your voice.

Speaking out against abuse is hard. You may not even have the words at first, as your brain processes what has happened to you. Sometimes this loss of words can last for days, other times years, but it will eventually return and, in that moment, it is vital to find a way to speak out that works for you.

Going to the authorities with your sexual assault case is the most obvious way of using your voice. Many people do not like to do this, but getting the authorities involved is important if you want to see your assailant come to justice and, significantly, to prevent them from being able to harm others too.

The processes involved in this will vary from country-to-country so it is important that you identify the best ways to report the incident you’ve faced and to locate any National assault charities that can assist you in this process.


Speak to Heal

Alongside this, though, it’s important to acknowledge that the most important aspect of speaking out is often to self-validate what has happened to you in a way that feels tangible. When we acknowledge something out loud it feels more concrete.

This can be why speaking out is so hard but it can also help with healing: It is far harder to deal with an abstract hurt than it is to tackle one that we have given full-form and acknowledge as a clearly identified act that needs to be addressed.

Speaking out also allows us to seek vital assistance from our friends, family, and other support systems (such as counselling or support groups) which can also help in the recovery process.

Recovery from sexual assault will depend on the kind encountered, alongside your own unique sensibilities and coping mechanisms, but authenticity and the vocalisations of your needs during your recovery is always important.

If you find yourself tackling a particularly painful aspect of the incident, catch yourself ruminating over what happened (and if you could have stopped it), and potentially falling victim to self-blame then, please, let people around you know.

You are never at fault for what happened to you but at times you may feel like you were and it is so powerful to acknowledge that and to have someone validate that this is not the case, alongside self-validation, of course. In fact, if ever you catch yourself being self-critical about sexual assault then try, with love and sincerity, to simply say out loud ‘I did not deserve that’ and move on from there.

To talk will allow you not just to heal but also to celebrate those moments of healing and how far you’ve come along the way. There may, inevitably, be days in your recovery when you feel like shit but there will also be days where you feel fantastic, carefree, and…you.

At times like those allow yourself to smile, soak in the moment, and declare proudly ‘I feel great today’ because that is something that you do deserve.


Existing in a Movement

#MeToo has been a largely positive movement but it is still in its early days and sexual assault is still occurring on a large scale, happening every single moment.

By the time you’ve finished reading this article, someone in the world will have already fallen victim to it (likely more than just one person).

If a situation happens where you sadly find that you can say #MeToo then please, never feel just like an insignificant part of a wider problem. Instead, see yourself as a powerful and capable individual in a larger solution.

That being said, the world does not have to be on your shoulders and neither does the entire future of sexual assault cases. Instead, focus your energy first on finding acceptance of what has happened and the best way to recover from that incident for you.

If, in time, you find your words getting stronger then that will help many individuals but as long as it has enough strength for you then you already have all the power you need to move forward and to heal.


Emmeline Peaches 

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