This is the third in a series of articles that I wrote for a Feature Writing class at Kennesaw State University in the Fall 2002 semester. The link where the article was originally published can be found at the bottom of this entry. Feel free to comment. (Also keep in mind that any links at this point may or may not be accurate.)

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS ARTICLE IS ABOUT SEXUAL ABUSE AND RAPE. I’M MAKING THIS A TRIGGER WARNING. PLEASE KEEP THAT IN MIND AND READ WITH CARE.

From victim to survivor

By Brekke Ferguson

It amazes me some days how I was able to pull myself back from the brink of self-annihilation and get myself the help I needed to survive. As a child, I was the victim of sexual abuse – today, I am a survivor.

The journey to surviving is never easy, but there is hope and help out there, and there are many things that can make that road easier. My journey began with the telling of the story, and then it moved to music, and through someone’s music, I found a support group. From there, I was on the road to survival one baby step at a time.

How did I get there?  Through educating myself, through supportive friends and family, and through the help of organizations that said, “We can help.”

The U.S. Department of Justice issues a National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) each year detailing the statistics of the violent crime and property victimizations along with trends of previous years. In 2001, there were 248,000 rape and sexual assault cases reported. Of this 248,000, around 225,000 were women over the age of 12.

The actual number of reported cases was down from 261,000 in the year 2000, however, this drop does not make the ordeal these women faced any less significant. Sexual abuse is occurring every day in our society, and even with statistical drops, the women affected must continue to live on. At the same time, all women need not be afraid of walking out of their door and finding themselves becoming a victim.

While there are no definite measures that can be taken to completely prevent an assault, there are some simple measures that one can take to help prevent an assault. Here are some suggestions compiled from RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) and Fronske Health Center at Northern Arizona University.

  • Consistently be aware of one’s surroundings:  Do not walk down a dark alley alone.

  • Go to parties or clubs with friends

  • Avoid the possibility of date rape drugs such as Gamma Hydroxy Butyrate (more commonly known as GHB), Rohypnol and Ketamine by making sure that a drink is kept with one at all times – never set it down unattended. If that happens, get a new drink. “The drug can be slipped into a drink – any drink, whether a glass of beer or a glass of water. Many of the drugs are colorless, odorless, and tasteless; victims may not know they have been drugged until it is too late, which is what makes this crime particularly heinous,” according to Drug Enforcement Agency Director Asa Hutchinson in an interview with RAINN.

  • In a relationship, define limits. No matter how long a relationship has lasted, the right to say “No!” should always be there.

  • Make sure parking areas are well lit; use the buddy system when leaving places such as work, school, or clubs.

A fact that is very unsettling is that most women who are raped know their attackers. In fact, according the NCVS, 147,420 women knew their attackers as intimates, relatives, friends or acquaintances. In these cases, it can be doubly hard to seek help for fear of people not believing the report of the incident; however, it is always important to report the incident.

If an attack occurs, there are procedures that should be followed immediately after the incident. According to the Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault (GNESA), a non-profit coalition of sexual assault agencies and concerned individuals, the most important thing to remember is that “Whatever you did to survive was the right thing. Second, understand that you did nothing to deserve to be raped. It was not your fault!”

Here are steps that should be taken if an assault occurs:

  • Go to a safe place.

  • Consider reporting the attack to police.

  • Seek medical attention.

  • DO NOT SHOWER OR WASH-UP IN ANY WAY.

  • Contact a local rape crisis center, or call RAINN’s national hotline – 1-800-656- HOPE

  • For more detailed information, go to http//www.gnesa.org or http//www.RAINN.org

After a sexual assault, it is common to feel many emotions. GNESA reports that the most common are fear, guilt, loss of control or powerlessness, embarrassment, anxiety, concern for the rapist, wonder — “Why me?”, shame, anger, emotional shock, disbelief, depression, disorientation, and denial. Other common reactions after an assault can be insomnia, eating disorders, flashbacks and panic attacks.

What happens if you don’t immediately report the attack? If, like me, the memories are repressed, then the memories can one day be unlocked by some triggering event. In this event, many of the procedures above can still be followed. First, find someone to talk to that you can trust. If you fell as though you can’t trust anyone, then call RAINN’s toll-free number. Never be afraid to seek help, because there is nothing to be ashamed of. As GNESA states, “You did nothing to deserve to be raped. It’s not your fault!”

From my own personal experience, I know that finding people to talk to can definitely help. Over and over, I recommend the victim should go to someone they trust for help and support, but how exactly does one give support if someone should turn to you? GNESA gives answers to this often-difficult question as well. First, the experts say it is important to “understand that every survivor of sexual assault reacts differently.” Next, the organization says, this is how one can help:

  • Believe what the survivor is telling you; accept what you hear without judgment. Offering judgment can turn the survivor away from you and anyone else they may have considered talking to. The worst thing for a survivor is to not get help.

  • Listen actively and openly.

  • Reinforce that the rape was not the survivor’s fault.

  • Do not suggest that you know how the survivor feels. Everyone reacts differently to trauma and you want to avoid saying anything that may appear that you are minimizing a survivor’s own experience.

  • Be sincere.

  • Attempt to establish trust and rapport; be available.

  • Look for opportunities to point out the survivor’s strengths and positive aspects.

  • Ask open-ended questions to elicit a full response.

  • Present alternatives so the survivor can make a choice; suggest calling an advocate to locate the rape crisis center nearest you. Find a Rape Crisis Center. http://www.gnesa.org/about_GNESA/rcc.html

  • Accept the survivor’s decisions in dealing with the rape.

  • Be aware of your limitations.

  • Be careful not to play a role that is not natural to you.

  • Try not to tell the survivor what to do.

  • Silence is okay. I often found that sometimes sitting in silence with someone was much more beneficial than trying to force out words that won’t come. Struggling to find the words is often very difficult, so allowing for silences is extremely important.

  • Don’t take it personally should the survivor direct negative feelings toward you. In their hearts, they know you did not do this to them, but often survivors need to lash out at someone, and if you’re listening, you may find yourself the target.

  • Do not argue with the survivor or engage in a power struggle.

  • Know that you cannot “cure” anyone.

  • Be patient. Allow a survivor to talk when she ready, at her own pace, including whatever details are comfortable to disclose. I remember trying to tell people specific details of what happened only to find myself in tears, or worse, having a panic attack. Each memory is often relived at the telling, so if your survivor is not specific at first, give them time.

  • Offer support but be careful not to be overprotective.

  • Do not suggest that a survivor simply put the rape in the past and move on with life.

  • Respect the survivor’s need for privacy and time alone.

  • Be careful not to trivialize the rape in an effort to ease tension.

  • Do not threaten to take the law into your own hands. The survivor ultimately must decide if they are going to press charges or even report the assault to police. To do this means that your survivor will have to lay their entire lives out in court (if the case should get that far), and for many that thought is just too daunting.

  • Be conscious of expressing anger if a survivor waited to tell you about the rape or is reluctant to talk.

  • Constantly repeat that the survivor did nothing to cause the rape, and that she is in no way responsible for what has happened.

  • Just be there. Be their shoulder, their anchor.

Sometimes, the scope of the abuse goes beyond the ability of a family member or a friend’s ability to help, and at that point it is important for the survivor to seek help elsewhere, but it is also equally important for supporters to know when they are out of their limits, and that they should help their loved one find assistance. However, even if the survivor does seek professional help, continue to be there for them. Friends and family will always be important on the road to survival.

Surviving sexual abuse is more than just surviving the assault itself. Surviving is coming away from the experience being able to find help, and then helping yourself incorporate the memories into your life, as opposed to letting the memories and the event control your life and shadow it forever. Beyond that, it is placing the event in context by being more aware that these assaults take place everyday; all over the country, and that you are never alone.

For over five years, the memories of my own abuse lay dormant in my head. When they surfaced, I was filled with so much emotional turbulence that I feared I would never be free of it. I was terrified; I was angry; but most of all, I was hurting. Thankfully, I had a counselor who helped me through the beginning, and a mother, who is a sexual abuse survivor herself, along with very dear friends, helped me through the rest.

Life has to happen day-by-day after a trauma on this scale. My mom – when I would be in the midst of a panic attack, or wondering when life would ever return to normal — would always say, “You have to take it day by day. You can’t do anything about the future, only about tomorrow.”

The road from being a victim to being a survivor is a long one, and the steps are rarely covered in great leaps and bounds. However, have faith in yourself that you can be strong and survive, and you will.

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Some useful Internet web sites:

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network

http://www.rainn.org

Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault

http://www.gnesa.org

AWARE — Arming Women Against Rape & Endangerment

http://www.aware.org

Pandora’s Box — The Secrecy of Child Abuse

http://www.prevent-abuse-now.com/

The Male Survivor Connection of South Florida

http://www.malesurvivor.com

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Brekke Ferguson is a survivor of child sexual abuse. She is a full-time student at Kennesaw State University and a full-time mother.

Copyright © 2002 by Brekke Ferguson.  All rights reserved.

http://www.kennesaw.edu/themagazine/Ferguson3.htm

 

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