Life after sexual violence: truth, tenacity and tenderness

9 February 2018
  • “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” 

― Maya AngelouI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Trigger warning: this story discusses sexual violence

I am a survivor of sexual violence. I am choosing to share my story because I want to speak up about the sheer scale of the epidemic that is violence against women. It is everywhere, reported on daily in the media, and with this, we cannot hide from the negative impact that this has on women's mental health

Sixty-one percent of women reported having experienced sexual violence during adulthood, and 10% reported having experienced sexual violence in the past year, our new report says.

The scars that I carry from these incidents of sexual violence are delicate and exposing. I did not choose to have them, and they are with me for life. Slowly through time, they have grown from a thing of disgust to a thing of beauty - a new philosophy, deepened relationships, renewed strength and a new level of empathy and compassion.

There won't be a day that these incidents have left me completely - but now, through therapy, support services and my own growth, I know I will be okay.

Through sharing my story, I hope to add another narrative to those already shared by brave women all around the world. To extend past "I was raped", to "this is the impact it has had on my life". I want to show the impact sexual violence has on a survivors life to those who don't have an awareness or understanding, and to show women who do that they are not alone.

Beyond words

A common feeling after rape and sexual violence is shame, and, I, and no other woman that has experienced this, should ever have to carry shame on their shoulders.

Shame made me so heavy that I lost my ability to communicate. For the first time I was beyond talking. I was numb yet rattling with confusion and the extremes of switching emotions. So for me, the only answer was to put pen to paper. I began to write, and draw, and sing and create - that was my way of expressing feelings that were too traumatic and scary to connect to.

I am going to share my story of recovery with truth, tenacity and tenderness, and through sharing the doodles, poems and thoughts that came out of mind and burst onto paper. 

The pain and violation of the incident

Sitting duck

No Means No

Broken

No Exit

 

I just want to sleep. A coma would be nice. Or amnesia. Anything, just to get rid of this, these thoughts, whispers in my mind.

― Laurie Halse AndersonSpeak

Silence, numbness and desire to escape in the immediate aftermath

The Night Sky - poem about the craving for freedom and escapism

Silencing and oppressive nature of sexual violence

Feelings of displacement and running for grounding after trauma

The shift in your world view and trust in others

Broken defences - poem about seeing a society filled with damaging narratives. Living in the same world, but now feeling like a stranger.

Moving towards healing

Imagine a woman who believes it is right and good she is a woman.
A woman who honors her experience and tells her stories.
Who refuses to carry the sins of others within her body and life.

Patricia Lynn Reilly  ― Imagine A Woman

The women in the support services that held my pain when I couldn't

 

My family that gently built my trust and faith in love again

Moving into post-traumatic growth through vulnerability and compassion

“There is a moment in our healing journey when our denial crumbles; we realize our experience and it's continued effects on us won't "just go away". That's our breakthrough moment. It's the sun coming out to warm the seeds of hope so they can grow our personal garden of empowerment.”

Jeanne McElvaney ― Healing Insights

A story board - letting vulnerability out and letting joy and others back in

Finding hope and strength

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

― Maya Angelou, Still I Rise

Moving to a place where I can find hope, and the inner confidence to take up space without fear of being knocked down 

Some days, and some moments are still really tough, but, i've learnt to accept and not fear this, and to be kind and self compassionate when it does happen. Knowing that I am now okay and that there is hope and beauty in the future ... I have gone from feeling:

  • Hopeless, betrayed, scared, angry and numb to seeing hope, trusting again and learning to sit with and connect to my emotions
  • Disgusting, rejecting of my body to connecting with my body and feeling the most naturally beautiful I have inside and out 
  • Lost, displaced, frantic and panicked to a new philosophy where I can be 'still' and 'be' with myself 
  • Disempowered and silenced to empowered and ready to share my story without shame

More information

Read Bethan's story of covert emotional abuse

If you've experienced rape or sexual violence and want to talk to someone, Rape Crisis are on hand every day of the year. You can call them on 0808 802 9999 from 12 noon-2.30pm and 7-9.30pm.

If you are worried that your relationship, or that of a friend or family member, is controlling or unsafe, visit Women's Aid or call the Freephone 24/7 National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Women’s Aid in partnership with Refuge, on 0808 2000 247.

Further resources and advice: