Being a survivor of sexual violence does not make you inherently damaged. While we continue to reduce the shame and stigma around sexual violence, it’s still a personal story.Sure, it’s a trauma, but with proper, professional help, survivors can live and thrive in the world. It’s not to announce to your friends and families, or to gossip about online or in person.And like I now tell my husband when we go away for the weekend: I may have a lot of baggage, but I’m strong enough to carry it myself. Even if this person is at the beginning of the process, you do not need to save or fix the person. Hold and honor this story with respect and confidence. Now that I’m married, I don’t have to share my story on romantic dates, but I still meet new friends and colleagues all the time.Sure, sometimes the person sharing might be doing so because they need some help, in which case you can refer them to a professional. And even if you are, you are on a date, not in a therapy session. But stunned, open-mouthed silence was something I encountered far too often. And while I don’t have to tell them about my history of sexual violence, I often do because I think it’s an important way to make the issue more accessible and personal.Ultimately, I learned to open the door to my history a little bit at a time, in ways that tracked with the developing intimacy with the relationship.For example, I referred to “darker times,” or mentioned that I saw a therapist regularly.
Abuse taught me that a relationship meant losing all of my agency and performing sexual acts I didn’t want to — “no” wasn’t an option.
If you want to fix something, try fixing the issue of sexual violence by talking about it more openly, volunteering with an anti-sexual violence organization, or attending an awareness or prevention workshop or event. You might be afraid of saying the wrong thing, but say something, anything. Whether it’s the first time or the 50 time sharing a story of sexual assault, it’s a hard thing to do. —enough to tell you, so be grateful—and pumped—that you are that kind of person. By doing so, I hope to make it easier for friends, dates, and regular people to talk openly about the things that make them who they are.