Tag Archives: sexual abuse

Awareness Games: Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence

Every October, when Domestic Violence Month rolls around, before it even begins I get very, very tired. That’s because every October, gaining awareness for domestic violence seems to be an uphill battle against the pink army that is the other October cause, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

That sounds really bitter, right? Like I hate people who support breast cancer or something? Wrong. Breast cancer is obviously a worthy cause that deserves attention. But does it have to steal all of the attention?

It is frustrating for those of us trying to gain support for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, trying to get our purple ribbons seen when we’re staring at an ocean of pink. An enormous part of the problem is stigma. A few decades ago, breast cancer was very stigmatized. Awareness campaigns brought out the subject and made it okay for people to talk about. Everyone understands now. Cancer is a disease; it’s not a person’s fault. The women who have it and are fighting it and living with it are considered brave, strong, even heroic. It’s a cause everyone can get behind without question; what kind of jerk doesn’t support cancer? People feel good about themselves when they buy a product that has a pink ribbon on it; it’s armchair philanthropy.

Listen, I’m not saying these things are bad. It’s amazing that the stigma on breast cancer has lifted, because millions of lives have been saved. It’s simply that, in comparison, domestic and sexual violence are still largely crimes that live in the dark. There’s a stigma attached to them that’s so severe, that one third of victims of domestic violence and two-thirds of sexual assault victims are not reporting to law enforcement. Of those victims, 41% of male and 34% of female stated victimization being a private/personal matter as reason for not reporting, 15% of women feared reprisal, 12% of all victims wished to protect the offender, and 6% of all victims believed police would do nothing.

Unfortunately, they are right about that.

Nationally, in the last 10 years the number of arrests for domestic violence have dropped from over 120,000 per year to around 85,000 per year. If a person in that one-third that comes forward to report a rape actually endures the re-traumatizing and invasive post-rape medical exam and is interviewed by police, it is highly unlikely that his or her efforts will result in justice, seeing as the conviction rate for sexual assault is only 3%— meaning  97% of rapists walk free.

How in the hell is that possible? It’s called rape culture. It’s just like how it used to be for breast cancer: unmentionable in public, the person who had it was marked somehow and there were sympathies to her face and gossip behind her back. In our culture, when a person is raped— especially a woman— she is the one with the burden of proof. She is considered a slut until proven virginal. We spend so much time focusing on what she was wearing, where she was walking, what she was drinking, and if she said no that we forget who the criminal actually is. It’s the same way with domestic violence. It is complicated and messy. There’s often substance abuse involved and children who are witnesses and fights that could go both ways. Emotional and verbal abuse are hard to pin down, though I assure you, it happens all the time. But come on: there is absolutely no fucking excuse for ignoring physical violence. And yet people do, constantly. No one wants to talk about domestic and sexual violence the way they are willing to openly discuss breast cancer. Why? Because it’s ugly; it’s painful; it’s shameful. People are afraid of it. And for reasons beyond my comprehension, people really love to blame the victims. While cancer patients are considered brave, victims of domestic and sexual violence are called stupid, lazy, slutty, and deserving of their abuse.

Every October, I feel burned out by the 2nd. I stare at the ocean of pink and wonder how in the world I’m going to gain attention for a cause that no one wants to speak or hear about. A cause that makes people uncomfortable, that triggers a flicker of shock across their faces as soon as the word “violence” comes out of my mouth. The only ones who are not shocked are the ones who have a personal connection to domestic violence. That’s when I hear the stories: “My sister had a boyfriend who hit her.” “I was married to a guy like that.” “My dad abused me as a kid.”

When I hear those stories, I have a bit of hope; these are people who will help spread the word. Perhaps they will understand, perhaps I can explain to them and make them realize how much we need to educate the public about domestic and sexual violence. I’m doing everything within my power. But when I look at all the major corporations and foundations that are sponsoring breast cancer, I think, I want those same resources for this. How do I make them realize that domestic and sexual violence are at an all-time high? 1 in 3 women worldwide will experience violence in her lifetime. How do I get them to hear that and maybe give their support towards another cause this October?

The thing is, breast cancer is no longer a crisis the way it was a decade ago. Female breast cancer incidence rates began decreasing in 2000, then dropping by about 7% from 2002 to 2003.  Death rates from breast cancer have been declining since about 1990, with larger decreases in women younger than 50. These decreases are believed to be the result of earlier detection through screening and increased awareness, as well as improved treatment. Think about it; that pink ribbon has become synonymous with breast cancer, and you can find it on every product imaginable. The Susan G. Komen Foundation in particular has done an incredible job with this. Another big part of the decrease is due to the fact that pharmaceutical companies and companies that sell medical and surgical equipment will invest in awareness campaigns, the pink ribbon branding, and fund-raising for research, which brings in millions of dollars every year for the cause. Domestic violence does not have this resource because so far, there’s no surgery that can prevent a man from beating his wife, and chemotherapy can’t cure incest. Those companies have no interest in sponsoring a cause that will give them nothing back. With breast cancer, there are patients that use their products so they recoup that money. Until we figure out what part of the brain makes a person violent toward their loved ones, or find a medicine that can erase the effects of sexual trauma, those companies have no incentive to spread purple ribbons the way they do pink, or try to raise funds for victims’ services. Meanwhile, the statistics show a 42-percent increase in reported domestic violence and a 25-percent increase in the reported incidence of rape and sexual assault. Does this mean that I think we should ignore breast cancer? That breast cancer is no longer a problem and we should focus solely on domestic violence? Of course not. Breast cancer is still a killer, the second deadliest cancer after lung cancer, and obviously, we need to keep seeking a cure. But do I think it’s currently at the crisis level that domestic violence is?

No.

Saying that is going to upset people, possibly offend people, particularly those who have loves ones affected by breast cancer. I understand your feeling that way. But when you take a look at these numbers, you might begin to understand where I’m coming from when I say that.

–       About 1 in 8 U.S. women (just under 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.

–       Twice as many, 1 in 4 U.S. women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.

–       In 2011, an estimated 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 57,650 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer (288,130 cases total).

–       Twenty times as many, an estimated 6 million women are victims of domestic violence each year

–       On average, more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day. Intimate partner homicides accounted for 30% of the murders of women and 5% percent of the murders of men. Homicide is the number 1 cause of death in pregnant women. Most intimate partner homicides occur between spouses, though boyfriends/girlfriends have committed about the same number of homicides in recent years.

–       One in five (21%) women in the U.S. reports she has been raped or physically or sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Three in four women (76%) who reported they had been raped and/or physically assaulted since age 18 said that an intimate partner (current or former husband, cohabiting partner, or date) committed the assault.

–       Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. 30% of Americans say they know a woman who has been physically abused by her husband or boyfriend in the past year.

–       There are only 1,500 shelters for battered women in the United States; there are 5,000 animal shelters.

This is beyond unacceptable. When we have more resources for stray animals than

abuse victims, something is seriously fucked up.

This whole thing may sound like I’m trying to make the month of October some giant competition between breast cancer and domestic violence, like I think one cause is better than the other. That’s not the case. What I really want is just some more air time, a little more space, and more financial resources to do as wonderful a job of eradicating the stigma around domestic and sexual violence as the breast cancer camp has done. Seriously, we need some of the breast cancer publicists over in the domestic violence camp! Those people get shit done.

Another suggestion that has been made is to move Domestic Violence Awareness Month to May, so it won’t be drowned out. That could work. As long as there is some time dedicated to fighting for this cause. As many of you know— if you’ve read any other part of WfR— I’ve got my own (long and intense) history with both domestic and sexual violence. Whenever someone takes up a cause, it’s not a coincidence; they do it because it affects them somehow. That’s why this is such an emotional topic, and why, when I bring it up, people who are affected by breast cancer tend to get pissed off at me. That’s okay. As long as it’s being discussed, as long as it’s out in the open, perhaps things will begin to change.

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2012

P.S.— In the interest of fairness I feel I must add that there are two other October causes that get even less attention that either breast cancer or domestic violence: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and National Bullying Prevention Month. Both of these are really important and deserve attention too, please take a look at their websites for more information!

National Bullying Prevention Center

Remembering Our Babies

FirstCandle.org

Statistical Resources Included:

Bureau of Justice Statistics

Domestic Violence Resource Center

BreastCancer.org

Susan G. Komen Foundation

Human Rights Watch

ASPCA

Clark County Prosecutor, Domestic Violence Office

Centers for Disease Control

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Post-traumatic Growth: Cynthia’s Story

Hello everyone!

This April is has been my goal to feature stories about post-traumatic growth as opposed to post-traumatic stress. Sometimes, the two happen simultaneously, one helping heal the other; this is such a story.

Cynthia Bland was a victim of childhood sexual abuse. Like many victims, she held onto this horrible secret for years, where it caused all sorts of chaos in her life and relationships. Finally, at 42 years old she revealed it to a therapist, and her recovery journey began. The pieces of her shattered life began to fall into place, and there was a name for what was happening to her: PTSD. As she worked in therapy, an idea began to form about how to help other survivors of childhood sexual abuse. What if there was a way to help society understand the effects of childhood sexual abuse on its adult survivors?  she asked herself. What if people understood that the often the root cause of drug abuse, promiscuity, teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, perfectionism is a result of childhood sexual abuse?  The more Cynthia looked at the problem, the more she realized that we need to be teaching adults how to prevent sexual abuse in the first place. One of the best ways to do this is through the Stewards of Children prevention workshop, created by the organization Darkness2Light.  Putting all of this together, Cynthia created Voice Found, a national non-profit organization that is committed to the PREVENTION of Childhood Sexual Abuse and the support of adult survivors. Voice Found is an important way for Cynthia to deal with PTSD…it gives the ‘ugliness’ some positive purpose. She never wants to be seen as a victim – instead, she wants to be victorious over what happened to her.

I believe you are Cynthia!

Voice Found is now a registered non profit and their charitable status is pending. Cynthia’s blog is http://voicefound.wordpress.com/. Their new website is  www.voicefound.ca and will be launching very soon!


Positive Outlooks: Posttraumatic Growth

 

This year for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and Child Abuse Awareness Month I really wasn’t sure what I was going to focus on, until my dear friend Shannon turned me onto this article from the New York Times. This article happens to be about veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder, but the main concept that caught my eye was one I have not explored much: the concept of posttraumatic growth.

Posttraumatic growth is defined as “the positive changes individuals may experience following a traumatic event. For example, following a traumatic event, some people report positive changes in their goals, priorities, relationships with others, and spirituality as a result of re-evaluating or modifying their assumptions about the world and their life.”  This actually happens more commonly than you might think. Much more commonly than PTSD; often in tandem with it. In all the treatment centers and group therapy I’ve been through, I’m honored to have been witness to this over and over and over again. The women (and some men) that I’ve been in treatment with—my fellow travelers, as I call them—are all remarkably brave, at the same time that they are extremely vulnerable. It’s part of the process, to hear each other’s stories and learn from them; we grow with each other through the bonding of that deep communication. Sharing personal experiences of early childhood neglect and violence, sexual and physical abuse, the shame and rage and pain and guilt; one must open and raw. Yet, in the telling, there is so much power. We begin to feel the helplessness lift as we realize that speaking and naming our experiences is the start of transforming them. I have watched women who came into treatment quiet as a church mouse and trying to make themselves just as small, find their voices and stand up straight and realize they deserve to take up space and ask for what they need and have those needs met. I have seen women who believed the abuse they went through was pointless suffering and were in the darkest of places, transform those experiences to something meaningful and find a foothold in spirituality. These are examples of posttraumatic growth.

For me, posttraumatic growth happened at the same time I was processing my PTSD. I believe I grew and developed positive changes more from some traumas than from others. I know that the trauma of nearly dying at 22 from pneumonia, having part of my lung removed, being in a coma, my heart stopping in surgery, and everything that went with that, changed me for the better. I think about that experience every day. It taught me to value my body more, to respect the amazing resilience and capacity it has to heal after such a traumatic surgery and deadly illness. During my eating disorder recovery I remembered the feeling of just wanting to live. It taught me that I can handle more physical pain that I ever imagined. It also taught me that my mom would walk through fire for me- she never left my side the entire time, she fought for me, helped with my treatment (as a nurse), and I would not have made it through without her. Other traumas were not so clearly beneficial. Like being raped when I was 16; I do not see how that helped me change or grow. But as a child, surviving the chronic and severe sexual violence inflicted on me by my father, some skills developed that were helpful. A vivid imagination; places I would go in my head during the abuse. The ability to assess people’s moods and psychological states; I used this with my mom too, who had her share of depression and anxiety and my sister who had her own issues. A thick skin; nothing could get to me and I never cried as a child. A large intellect and vocabulary; to escape, I read every book I could get my hands on, even my parents’ medical texts (my father was a surgeon). These things were and are useful. I also always had a relationship with God, which has grown and changed over time. It’s a personal relationship, solitary and maintained through meditation and prayer; I never really needed a church or other group setting to feel in touch with the divine.

What I’d really like to know in this month that’s dedicated to awareness of child abuse and sexual assault, is how any other survivors feel they have grown through their trauma. Do you feel you have experienced posttraumatic growth? If so, in what way? Did it happen through therapy or on its own? I think this is a very hopeful part of post-trauma life, and I’d love to hear about it! Please feel free to share your story here or e-mail me at write4recovery@aol.com.

Also, click here to take an assessment by the American Psychological Association on Posttraumatic Growth!


Project Unbreakable: Pictures Worth a Thousand Words

Hello Recovery Writers! It’s been a little while since I’ve posted here on the blog, but a couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to stumble across an amazing project I just had to share with you.

A young photographer named Grace Brown has begun a web site called Project Unbreakable, where she uses her camera skills to help survivors of sexual violence reclaim their voices. Survivors write the words that their attackers said to them on posters, and Grace photographs them holding those posters. Yvonne Moss, a survivor and advocate who works with the project, describes it as “a way for victims to take the power back of the words that were once used against them.” As soon as I saw Project Unbreakable, I knew I wanted to feature it on WfR. What Grace is doing with her photography is exactly what Writing for Recovery is all about: Using words to heal, empower, educate, and give other survivors hope.

I am honored to participate in this wonderful project; the photo you see above is my contribution. When I was 16 I was raped by a stranger. These are the words he said to me: Shhh….I won’t hurt you if you shut up and don’t move. I’m pretty sure that up until now my therapist is the only one who knew that. Now it’s going public, and that is just fine with me. It was a pretty horrible thing to hear, and I’m hoping that other people will be horrified by those words too. Perhaps horrified enough to do something.

If you are reading this and have been a victim of sexual violence, please consider submitting a photo to Project Unbreakable at grace@50extraordinarywomen.com.

Update: To view my contribution on the Project Unbreakable website, please click here.


We Should Have Heard You: Ashley Billasano’s Final Words Uncut

Ashley Billasano was a girl just like me. So much like me, that this story has affected me in a deeper way than perhaps it would have otherwise. Ashley and I both grew up in the Austin area. We both were sexually abused by our fathers, raped other times, and used eating disorders and self-harm to cope with this. Both of us were failed by Travis County Child Protective Services, who neither served nor protected us. We both attempted suicide more than once. 

The difference is, I survived.

Eventually, someone heard me. Eventually, I received the help I so desperately needed. Tragically, no one heard Ashley or was able to help her before she succeeded in taking her own life. I can’t explain why I was spared and Ashley wasn’t. I can’t explain why someone intervened on my behalf and no one got to her in time. And I can’t imagine how Ashley’s friends and family are feeling right now.

But I can imagine what Ashley was feeling. I remember vividly what it felt like to think that no one believed me and no one was going to help me and I was all alone with my hellish pain. Ashley left us with a record of her pain, a record of her experiences and reasons for taking her life. She made it public for a reason. And when I heard that Twitter took those messages down I was angry, because she wasn’t heard when she was alive. She deserves to be heard now. So I am publishing her tweets just as she wrote them, unedited and uncut. Ashley wanted the world to know what she went through and she wrote it rather eloquently. Perhaps her writing will encourage other survivors to come forward with their own stories. There have been far too many deaths due to silence. Let us remember Ashley Billasano and how the system did not work for her. Let us do better the next time a victim has the courage to report. Please, let us  do better. 

A website and foundation have been set up in Ashley’s honor, their mission to help victims of abuse deal with the effects and prevent more tragic suicides. www.ashleymariejustbreathe.com

 

10:50PM Nov 6th: “I fuckked up my own suicide” yeah tell me about it…

6:44AM Nov 7th: Staying home today. Can I reach 1000 tweets??? I’m thinking yes!

9:45AM Nov 7th: just woke up

9:45AM Nov 7th: Don’t feel too well

9:45AM Nov 7th: There is somebody in my dreams

9:46AM Nov 7th: I want them gone

9:46AM Nov 7th: How can we control our dreams?

9:46AM Nov 7th: Hummm wish somebody would text me

9:47AM Nov 7th: Kinda lonely right now

9:47AM Nov 7th: There was so much more I wanted to do

9:48AM Nov 7th: Ahhh well time to move on

9:48AM Nov 7th: My thought process is too crazy

9:48AM Nov 7th: I totally think I’m bipolar

9:49AM Nov 7th: Or just crazy

9:49AM Nov 7th: Idk.

9:49AM Nov 7th: Humm I remember why we broke up

9:50AM Nov 7th: I shall do it again

9:50AM Nov 7th: Because this time I don’t have a bf

9:50AM Nov 7th: And I really don’t care anymore

9:51AM Nov 7th: I should get ready then

9:51AM Nov 7th: Should have gotten everything last night

9:52AM Nov 7th: Still just trying to raise my numbers

9:52AM Nov 7th: So I met this boy

9:52AM Nov 7th: He was very cute you see

9:52AM Nov 7th: Quite popular too

9:53AM Nov 7th: Me and this boy started talking

9:53AM Nov 7th: Then we talked a lil more

9:53AM Nov 7th: Then he let me in his front door

9:54AM Nov 7th: We walked up the stairs where everything was quite

9:54AM Nov 7th: And he whispered ‘you look beautiful’ into my ear

9:55AM Nov 7th: Shivers moved down my spine

9:55AM Nov 7th: And then he began to kiss my neck

9:56AM Nov 7th: I know you’re thinking ‘why did she go’

9:57AM Nov 7th: And all I can say is my father told me so

9:57AM Nov 7th: So he kissed me sweet and laid me down on his bed

9:58AM Nov 7th: I started to shake he said ‘give me head’

9:58AM Nov 7th: I laughed at him and said ‘I’m a vegetarian’

9:59AM Nov 7th: Then I wondered why I had really come to him.

9:59AM Nov 7th: See I’ve been in this situation before

10:00AM Nov 7th: When a boy I loved said he would leave if I didn’t give it up

10:00AM Nov 7th: And I told my friends I had done it even though it wasn’t true

10:01AM Nov 7th: Because he was telling everybody the same things too

10:01AM Nov 7th: But here is the honest truth

10:01AM Nov 7th: I never did it till I was sixteen

10:02AM Nov 7th: I did not know the boy

10:02AM Nov 7th: And I never got to know him

10:02AM Nov 7th: He was older stronger and high at the time

10:03AM Nov 7th: He probably will never admit I was a crime

10:03AM Nov 7th: His breath smelt sour like smoke and his kisses became rough

10:04AM Nov 7th: Then I tried to sit up and say ‘I’ve had enough’

10:04AM Nov 7th: My attempt of getting free were feeble

10:05AM Nov 7th: I decided to scream ‘please stop’

10:05AM Nov 7th: but he just took a pillow to my face and put me in the dark

10:06AM Nov 7th: First to go were my shoes. I feel my feet go cold

10:06AM Nov 7th: Next my pants, he was so bold.

10:07AM Nov 7th: It hurt so much as he entered me

10:07AM Nov 7th: Guys I’m telling you my first time was taken from me

10:08AM Nov 7th: He noticed and said ‘are you a virgin?’

10:08AM Nov 7th: I nodded through tears as he kept barging in

10:09AM Nov 7th: He finished and was done with me

10:09AM Nov 7th: I lay on his bed lifeless

10:10AM Nov 7th: He let me stay there and sleep

10:10AM Nov 7th: Then he offered me some weed

10:10AM Nov 7th: I said ‘no thank you I don’t do that either’

10:11AM Nov 7th: He said ‘girl you’re no fun. See you later’

10:12AM Nov 7th: I started to get dressed and he came back in

10:12AM Nov 7th: He came close; i tried to get away from him

10:12AM Nov 7th: He told me ‘dont be scared’

10:13AM Nov 7th: and like an idiot I believed him

10:13AM Nov 7th: He asked if I liked it

10:14AM Nov 7th: I shrugged my shoulders

10:14AM Nov 7th: He leaned in for a kiss, and I let him

10:15AM Nov 7th: He laid me down and rubbed my back

10:15AM Nov 7th: I cried in his pillow. He cried back

10:15AM Nov 7th: He said he was sorry

10:16AM Nov 7th: I said ‘it’s okay’

10:16AM Nov 7th: we laid there together just bathing in our fears

10:17AM Nov 7th: I don’t know why. But I saw the human in him.

10:17AM Nov 7th: He was probably just as broken as me

10:18AM Nov 7th: He drove me to my park

10:18AM Nov 7th: I got on the swirly slide. I just laid there and cried

10:19AM Nov 7th: I finally walked home

10:19AM Nov 7th: My father opened the door

10:19AM Nov 7th: Asked me ‘how was it’

10:20AM Nov 7th: I said ‘i’ll never forget it…’

10:20AM Nov 7th: as he pressed for questions. I grew impatient

10:20AM Nov 7th: Said ‘dad in so tired can I just go to bed’

10:21AM Nov 7th: he dismissed me and I trudged up the stairs.

10:21AM Nov 7th: My legs hurt. And my heart was filled with despair

10:21AM Nov 7th: I went to the bathroom and locked the door

10:22AM Nov 7th: I took apart a razor I had just gotten from the store

10:22AM Nov 7th: I did what I had to do to forget.

10:23AM Nov 7th: It seems it’s been my only way since sixth grade

10:24AM Nov 7th: When the kids called me fat even though I was a double zero

10:24AM Nov 7th: And I began to watch my weight like it was a MTV show.

10:25AM Nov 7th: I cried as I remembered how I’d starve for days

10:25AM Nov 7th: And my parents never noticed

10:26AM Nov 7th: So I laid there and watched the blood gather on the floor

10:26AM Nov 7th: Then my weak hands reached for the door

10:27AM Nov 7th: I ran into my little sister she saw and shook her head.

10:27AM Nov 7th: Then she looked at me and said. ‘Just don’t let them see sissy.’

10:27AM Nov 7th: she kissed my head and walked away

10:28AM Nov 7th: I swear after that night I was never the same

10:28AM Nov 7th: My dad became to want ‘favors’ from me too

10:29AM Nov 7th: He would use it to bribe me if I wanted to hang out after school

10:30AM Nov 7th: I didn’t know that I should have told somebody what he was doing to me

10:30AM Nov 7th: Sex just became second nature to me

10:31AM Nov 7th: My father let me as long as he got details sometimes I’d even have to let him see

10:32AM Nov 7th: I was just a young girl. Who quickly became afraid of men.

10:32AM Nov 7th: Then years past and it never stopped.

10:32AM Nov 7th: Finally on day I began to pop

10:33AM Nov 7th: I sent a boy away

10:33AM Nov 7th: And told my father enough was enough

10:33AM Nov 7th: He cried and said ‘I’m just so weak’

10:34AM Nov 7th: I looked at him and saw the brokenness too

10:34AM Nov 7th: I took pity on him and became the fool

10:35AM Nov 7th: Things never changed they just got worse

10:35AM Nov 7th: Till one day I met a boy who in the end hurt my heart worst

10:36AM Nov 7th: We met in my typical situation

10:36AM Nov 7th: We were both undressed within a matter of seconds.

10:37AM Nov 7th: But I could tell he was different.

10:37AM Nov 7th: I pledged myself by not hooking up with complete strangers.

10:38AM Nov 7th: But for him I was eager

10:38AM Nov 7th: But there was something different about this guy

10:39AM Nov 7th: He returned the favor and actually said goodbye

10:40AM Nov 7th: On the bus ride home we sat next to each other. Talked for hours on end

10:40PM Nov 7th: We held each other’s hands and told each other our favorite bands

10:41PM Nov 7th: He looked me dead in the eyes and asked if I would please consider seeing him again

10:42PM Nov 7th: I went home filled with smiles and cheer

1:01PM Nov 7th: Annyways. The guy eventually asked me to be his girl

1:02PM Nov 7th: And things were great for a while

1:04PM Nov 7th: But my dad got in the way. And ruined everything. One day I just couldn’t do it. So I told my boyfriend my secret

1:06PM Nov 7th: What happened next was a blur. I told him not to tell. We tried to act normal. We had been dating for over a month when I took his virginity

1:07PM Nov 7th: I fell in love for the first time. But my secret was too much for him. He needed time to think. I thought I was going to lose him.

1:09PM Nov 7th: A lot happened. But all that matters is that my secret was about to become puplic. Him & my friends made me tell

1:10PM Nov 7th: All my efforts to keep a normal life were crumbling right before my eyes.

1:11PM Nov 7th: I remember telling my closest teacher and CPS and the police and dectectives. I remember having to tell them everything about my dad

1:35PM Nov 7th: It was my boyfriend who told my mom. And she came to get me.

1:37PM Nov 7th: Weeks passed then I got the call. They said. ‘Sorry but there isn’t enough evidence’ I hung up.

1:38PM Nov 7th: That’s when I changed. I didn’t care anymore. And the people I was meeting gave me no reason to.

1:39PM Nov 7th: The guys I’ve been with, ha none of them care. They just look at me like I’m just some other hoe.

1:40PM Nov 7th: To that I say. I guess I am. I don’t know how else to be. It’s not my fault. Somebody else chose that for me.

1:47PM Nov 7th: Well that’s. The story of how I came to be who I am. Well the condensed version. I’d love to hear what you have to say. But I won’t be around

2:08PM Nov 7th: Take two. Hope I get this right

 


Declaration of Independence from Stigma

I have something important to share with you all. Earlier a friend of mine gave a very brave statement when she said: “I have PTSD!! I’m not ashamed to talk about it!” Taking her example, I want to say this:

I have bipolar. I had eating disorders and PTSD, I cut myself and attempted suicide. I was a victim of childhood physical and sexual abuse. I grew up in domestic violence. I was raped.

And I am not ashamed.

I have done nothing wrong. I am not to blame for the abuse I suffered or the psychiatric disorders I am diagnosed with. I got therapy and take medication and that does not mean I’m crazy. I will not be silenced or shamed by stigma or societal pressure to keep these things hidden. They are part of my story, and I know they are part of your stories too. Join me in declaring that you will not be silenced by stigma!!! ♥


Domestic Violence Story Project: My Story- Sarah

Hi everyone, thanks for joining me once again for the final story in this series. Everyone who has contributed to this project has done a wonderful job and I am grateful to all of you, but each story has been from the perspective of a survivor in a violent relationship. I really wanted to include at least one story from the perspective of a child who had grown up in an environment of domestic violence, but unfortunately I didn’t receive any stories like that, so because I believe it is such an important perspective to include, I thought I would volunteer my own.  I will caution you, this story may be triggering and is not easy to read. But I decided not to pull any punches, and to really lay out the truth about what went on in my home growing up. Even people who know me may be surprised at the extent of the violence; I just want to be clear that I am not ashamed of anything that happened. I did nothing wrong. My mother and sister did nothing wrong. We were the victims, we are the survivors. And I am ready for the world to hear our story. 

Thank you to everyone who has written, commented, and read these stories. Just by witnessing these words, you are making a difference. 

Growing up in a violent household isn’t easy to explain. It isn’t all like what you see in Lifetime movies; it isn’t all as obvious as black eyes and screaming fights. Sometimes- many times- violence is much quieter than that, much more insidious. It was that way in my house

I think the number one word that comes to mind when describing my childhood home is this: confusing. Damn, was it confusing.  It’s not just that it was chaotic, though it certainly was. It’s that no one had a clearly defined role in the family. Mother, daughter, wife, big sister, little sister, friend, adult, child, lover, whore, caretaker, confessor, victim, savior, and others were all interchangeable roles for the three females in the family; that is my mom, my older sister, and me. We shifted personalities at the whim of my father, who also had his own little cast of characters that he played: father, husband, surgeon, family man, abuser, pedophile, rapist, philanderer, and general, all-around sociopath. We spent our days and especially our nights in a mixture of terror and exhaustion, wondering who was going to be what next.

As a child, I got extremely mixed messages from both parents, but especially my mom. On the one hand, she was very careful to make sure that she raised me to be a feminist, equal to a boy in all the opportunities I was given and the things she said to me. She gave me trucks along with my Barbies, made sure I admired Cinderella and Sally Ride, and said I was so smart I could be anything I wanted to when I grew up- no one could stop me.

Except while she was telling me all of this, I was watching her wither away in an abusive marriage. My father stopped her from seeing friends and her family, from taking a job outside the house or even working from home, from using any of the degrees she had earned. My mother is a brilliant, talented, educated woman, and he convinced her that she was worthless and stupid and couldn’t even do housework correctly. I watched him treat her like less than shit you wipe off your shoe my entire life. He slowly took away every little bit of control and happiness and sanity from her. I watched him screw other women behind her back. I dealt with him abusing my sister and me behind her back, which he knew was the worst way possible to hurt her.

When you grow up with a tyrant who rules your home like this, things are never safe. You don’t even know what that word means. Stable and secure are pretty meaningless too. Because one night your father might come home, get pissed off, and threaten to kill your cats. Or, just because he thinks it’s funny, he’ll hold an empty handgun to your six-year-old head and pretend to fire. Or while you’re doing your homework he’ll walk into your room completely naked and act like it’s no big deal. He’ll make dinner for himself and forget to feed you and your sister. He’ll pinch your ass. Pull your hair. Shove you into a wall. Molest you. Rape you.

And that’s just the stuff he did to me. He pretty much did the same to my sister. I don’t even know everything that he did to my mom, and I don’t want to. I know he abused her verbally, emotionally, physically, sexually, financially, and even reproductively, by forcing her to have her tubes tied which ended up in a hysterectomy after a post-op infection. It was horrifying.

It’s hard to really make someone understand what it is to live under the constant threat of violence unless they literally have. It’s terrifying, but it is also exhausting; physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Because you’re not only having to live with it, you have to keep it secret. You’re all living in this silent warzone, this strange compromise gets struck where you can be fucked up inside the house, but once outside it’s all pretend. It’s like a bomb in a Tiffany box; it may look pretty on the outside, but when you open it up, the contents will still kill you.

For those of you who have children who have lived in violent homes and are concerned about how they will be affected, I can tell you one thing: they are aware of so much more than you think. You think you are hiding the stress and trauma from them but you are not. They understand what’s happening and they want to help. They want to protect their parents and themselves and make it all ok. They think it is their fault that things are falling apart. They think this so they can have some control over a situation in which they have no control. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT try to “stay together for the kids’ sake.” The kids do not want two miserable parents together. They would so much rather have two separate, functional, happy parents, BELIEVE ME. They would rather have a struggling single mom in a safe home than a rich, extravagant home that is filled with chaos and violence. Do whatever you have to do, but make your kids feel safe. That’s all they really want.

As far as how I was affected by growing up like this, it’s hard to tell. I ended up with severe anorexia and bulimia, a dissociative disorder, self-harm issues (mostly cutting), a prescription pill habit, and horrifying posttraumatic stress disorder. But how much of that was due to witnessing domestic violence, and how much of that was being a direct victim of sexual violence myself? There’s really no way to know.  Both affected me in deep and profound ways, ways that I still deal with to this day.

So how, you’re probably wondering, did my family’s violent situation end? Well, it sort of ended because of me. I finally went off the deep end at 15. I couldn’t take it anymore and I tried to commit suicide, which landed me in a psych ward, which began the process of family therapy with the therapist who recommended my parents get divorced, which finally began when I was 17 and ended when I was 19. It took many, many years of therapy for all of us and a lot of moving around and of course, cutting my father out of our lives completely to be where we are today, my mother my sister, and me. And where we are is a pretty good place: moving forward, looking to the future, hopeful, peaceful, and free.

Finally, gratefully, free.

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2011