Consent

So I began reading a book, that took me a couple years to start called “Yes means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World without Rape.”

images

I like this book because it is one where I can jump chapters. So I focused on Consent mainly because I am starting a local campaign to promote education around consent.

So Yes means yes. Just because you say yes to one thing, does not mean yes to all……but this goes much deeper than I even realized. Yes, “Consent is sexy,” but this is about gender equality. it is about empowering women’s sexuality where yes and no are equally valid and moral decisions. In history, women are/were told to be submissive. That basically women were used for the pleasure of men, to keep house, and raise children. No wonder when a girl grows up it is hard for her to be commanding in a sexual situation because if she did, she might come off as slut, or “too experienced.” And if your a woman that has been sharing what you want sexual and aren’t being listened to, it’s a problem. And I am not saying that this is only women, I am sure there are men out there that go through this as well. But it goes back to gender relations…..as I said women are raised to be submissive, that their prince will come and carry them off into the sunset to their castle, to clean house and raise children. Fast forward to 2016, women are now breaking barriers and soaring through glass ceilings. So consent comes up. Being a powerful female an dictating what you want can still be difficult.

I’m not saying that before you go on that hook up, you need to sign a release waiver to consent to sexual activity, but know what is considered consent and what isn’t. Some ways that are suggested to women to not get into situations is to protect themselves. Don’t go to parties alone, don’t put yourselves in a dangerous situation…..I know it, I say some of these things in my presentation because I should have not left alone with someone I barely knew. But this sends a false message that you can prevent rape. Certainly on an individual basis, self-defense and other forms of protection help women protect themselves. While helping these women protect themselves are invaluable for the women they assist, they place responsibility on the individual, on the women who use them. In other words, they are not the answer to dismantling rape. (Yes mean yes, pg 23)

Consent goes even deeper than sexual violence(even though that’s my focus.) Consent is about respect for people. It’s about equality and just being nice to each other.

 

So my project. The “Consent Coaster Campaign” is to spread awareness on consent. Although very briefly, I hope it sparks a conversation around consent and sexual violence.  Because by having more conversation we can empower each other and change a culture.

 

 

Advertisements

Brock Turner – The Rapist

I have read countless blogs and news articles about the Brock Turner Trial. The “Standford Swimmer” whose father says that 6 months of jail time and three years probation are “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.”

For once, I feel that a story, in a sense, relates to mine. For the past 11 years, I have had countless nights and days of tears and arguing with myself that my RAPIST just made a mistake. This was all a huge mistake.  He didn’t mean it. I shouldn’t have drank so much. Even after numerous conversations with my husband where he reassures me that my rapist is the bad person here, especially because HE LEFT ME ON THE SIDE OF ROAD WITHOUT MY UNDERWEAR and SOCKS, I had a hard time finally accepting this piece of my assault. I was found covered in leaves and dirt and wasn’t conscious until I woke up in the hospital…and here I am still debating with myself because the of the stigma of rape culture.

Now because yet another RAPIST has taken advantage of yet another woman and is getting away with a sentence similar to that my own RAPIST received, I find that a hard chord has really been struck inside my soul. Looking at the incident from the outside, I wish that he would get a much worse sentence than six months in jail and three years of probation. No matter what, raping that girl was a decision that he alone made. He took a piece of someone’s life that they will never get back. It will always be something in the back of her mind, poking and prodding to find a way out into her subconscious and overtake her life. It will be something she will be depressed over, something that will cause anxiety, intimacy and relationship issues. It will keep her up at night. It will have her so scared to go to another party only to fear that something like this could happen again. It will not allow her to trust people. It will make her feel like she is worthless and unlovable. It may make her want to die.

All because of a choice which was not hers. She never said “yes” to any of this.

We all know what is right from wrong. There is no way that she would have been able to give consent, so why the hell does that give someone else the right to get “20 minutes of action”? Those exact words from Brock Turner’s father give me the chills. He doesn’t seem to even care about the victim, her struggles or her family…because in sexual assault cases, there is never just one victim. Family and friends of the victim often face their own struggles in the aftermath. I know that mine struggled tremendously. My rape was a hard thing for all of us to overcome.

Stories like these are the reason why sexual violence needs to come to an end. They are also a call to action for our legal system to reevaluate and enforce harsher punishments. Turner’s sentencing only helps the argument that other victims should stay silent.

Well you know what, Brock Turner, you may only be in prison for 6 months, but welcome to your own social media hell.

My final thought is about an important lesson which I learned throughout my own healing process. While it may seem simple, it’s incredibly important. No one’s story about sexual assault is inferior to any other survivor’s. I cannot stand that media only picks up on certain stories regarding this topic. I am not asking that every rape case be covered by the media, simply because there are far too many to do so. However, if someone isn’t raped at an Ivy League school by an Ivy League athlete, the media tends to turn a blind eye, making victims question what’s the point of coming forward to authorities. Also, what’s point of coming forward as highly publicized cases such as this one only results in the rapist getting 6 months in jail? My story has no connection to an Ivy League university or an Ivy League athlete, so to much of the mainstream media, my story is not “important.” But I disagree. My story is important. It’s important to know if you have sex offenders in your hometown. It is extremely important to realize and acknowledge that these things are happening in both small towns and large cities so that you can teach your kids the importance of consent. Sexual violence is not going to go away until we decide to make a change and teach the next generation of children about consent, sexual violence, and how to prevent it.

Rape Trauma Sydrome

I know I have been talking about Lady Gaga, alot, and yes, I know she is one of my favorite artists of all time…..but that is besides the point. I am bringing this up because she recently came out in an interview that she suffer from chronic pain and has been ever since her assault.

Did you know that after someone is raped or sexual assault that there are stages to their recovery? Every suffers from trauma differently. Depending upon the person, the stages that they go through can be different.

I am going to walk through the symptoms of Rape Trauma Syndrome. We will go through the Physical symptoms, the Behavioral symptoms and the psychological symptoms.

PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS OF RAPE TRAUMA SYNDROME

Physical symptoms are those things which manifest in or upon the survivor’s body that are evident to her and under physical examination by a nurse or doctor. Some of these are only present immediately after the rape while others only appear at a later stage.

  • Immediately after a rape, survivors often experience shock. They are likely to feel cold, faint, become mentally confused (disorientated), tremble, feel nauseous and sometimes vomit
  • Pregnancy
  • Gynaecological problems. Irregular, heavier and/or painful periods. Vaginal discharges, bladder infections. Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Bleeding and/or infections from tears or cuts in the vagina or rectum
  • A soreness of the body. There may also be bruising, grazes, cuts or other injuries
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Throat irritations and/or soreness due to forced oral sex
  • Tension headaches
  • Pain in the lower back and/or in the stomach
  • Sleep disturbances. This may be difficulty in sleeping or feeling exhausted and needing to sleep more than usual
  • Eating disturbances. This may be not eating or eating less or needing to eat more than usual

BEHAVIOURAL SYMPTOMS OF RAPE TRAUMA SYNDROME

Behavioural symptoms are those things the survivor does, expresses or feels that are generally visible to others. This includes observable reactions, patterns of behaviour, lifestyle changes and changes in relationships.

  • Crying more than usual
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Being restless, agitated and unable to relax or feeling listless and unmotivated
  • Not wanting to socialise or see anybody or socializing more than usual, so as to fill up every minute of the day
  • Not wanting to be alone
  • Stuttering or stammering
  • Avoiding anything that reminds the survivor of the rape
  • Being more easily frightened or startled than usual
  • Being very alert and watchful
  • Becoming easily upset by small things
  • Relationship problems, with family, friends, lovers and spouses
  • Fear of sex, loss of interest in sex or loss of sexual pleasure
  • Changes in lifestyle such as moving house, changing jobs, not functioning at work or at school or changes to appearance
  • Drop in school, occupational or work performance
  • Increased substance abuse
  • Increased washing or bathing
  • Behaving as if the rape didn’t occur, trying to live life as it was before the rape, this is called denial
  • Suicide attempts and other self-destructive behaviour such as substance abuse or self- mutilation

PSYCHOLOGICAL SYMPTOMS OF RAPE TRAUMA SYNDROME

Psychological symptoms are much less visible and can in fact be completely hidden to others so survivors need to offer this information or be carefully and sensitively questioned in order to elicit them. They generally refer to inner thoughts, ideas and emotions.

  • Increased fear and anxiety
  • Self-blame and guilt
  • Helplessness, no longer feeling in control of your life
  • Humiliation and shame
  • Lowering of self esteem
  • Feeling dirty or contaminated by the rape
  • Anger
  • Feeling alone and that no one understands
  • Losing hope in the future
  • Emotional numbness
  • Confusion
  • Loss of memory
  • Constantly thinking about the rape
  • Having flashbacks to the rape, feeling like it is happening again
  • Nightmares
  • Depression
  • Becoming suicidal

As for me personally, I will say that I went through some of these symptoms. For the physically recovery, I had soreness all through my body and their were bruises that I saw in the mirror for about a week after. I also had sleep disturbances, and eating disturbances. As for sleeping, all I wanted to do was sleep, all the time. I remember one day in particular a few weeks after everything, my roommate and I slept for 14 hours straight. And at the time, I also had bulimia. So eating was not an issue, it was more purging. I would eat so much food and purge it all back up. I did this to suppress my feelings. It was a way for me to not fully confront them.

As for behavioral, there were many. I had difficulty concentrating in class, some days, and others I would concentrate too much. I had relationship problems with family, some friends and with guys(intimate relationships). One top of that, I was in denial. One of my best friends recalls my telling them of what happen to about 6 months after everything. I told her so nonchalantly. Like it happen to someone else, or we were talking about the weather. I also feel that when I did eventually share with some other friends, I did the same thing. Some of my friends were also angry with me. Because I put myself in a bad situation. Which I did……so I can totally understand their anger. But it was a very trying time with being in denial and not wanting to talk about. After the event, I tried to go back to how life was before the rape. I still had a crush on the guy that I had before it happened, but I knew nothing would ever come of it. I still partied quite a bit, more so to forget what had happen. But I eventually hit a breaking point where I knew I couldn’t turn back. I also made the choice to go back to school after it happen. I knew I needed to be out of my hometown because all it would do is remind me of what happen. Lastly, I hated the way fall smelt. When the season fall came around every year it would disgust me, and I would get depressed. When I visited new places that technically didn’t go through “Fall” I thought about moving there. It wasn’t until 2011, I learned to love fall again. There were also some instances where I thought I had some form of flashbacks, like pieces that I don’t have any recollection came back to me. I would have visions of being in the woods. I also knew that the morning I woke up in the hospital I had a dream of the sun coming up over a field. Well, where I was left on the side of the road, there was a field a across from me. And the sun was coming up. So I can understand where that dream came from.

As for psychological, there was quite a few. Humiliation, shame, no longer in control of my life, depression, anxiety especially when I thought I saw the abuser, lower self-esteem, feeling dirty, and feeling alone. I became very good at suppressing these feelings unfortunately. I remember there were days that I would just cry, and cry because I couldn’t understand why someone I thought I knew would let this happen. Someone I thought I could trust.

Sometimes I think that I actually was assaulted more than once. Because I turned to alcohol to help me forget what was going on in my daily life, there have been a few other questionable times. But I never pursued them due to the fact that I felt like I was damaged goods so this must be something that should happen to me.

So regardless if the person remembers the attack or not, if a person has been raped, they not only go through a traumatic experience, the assault itself, but they also go through a lengthy heart wrenching experience afterwards.

If I can give you one piece of advice, don’t push a survivor/victim to talk until they are ready. And don’t judge a person because you never know what they might be going through.

http://www.elle.com/culture/celebrities/news/a34701/lady-gaga-sexual-assault-kesha/?utm_content=buffera2888&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

http://rapecrisis.org.za/rape-trauma-syndrome/

Being aware doesn’t mean you understand.

While recently scrolling through my news feed on Facebook, I came across a post which stated, “Why didn’t this happen when we were in school, and who were the ungrateful f**** that reported it.”

The above comment was attached to a news article about a math teacher that was being charged with sexual assault. In the article, which was attached to the post, it stated that “the students all claim one time in class she gave them all repeated Bl😵w Jobs & let them take turns hitting it in different positions.”

The post had some comments underneath, all by men, with comment such as, “Lucky Bastards”, or “I would have kept that to myself.”

I get that we all have a need for sexual intimacy in our lives. It’s in our nature. It’s the way that we procreate, but I found the post incredibly disturbing.

First off, the legal age for consent is 16 in most states. If two people that are 16 years and older engage in any sexual activity, they are fully capable of giving consent. However, if someone is under the age of 18 and a figure of authority has sex with them, even if the person under the age of 18 consents, it is still illegal.

Second, the reason this post on my news feed bothered me is the pure fact that the comments made it sound as if all of the men were okay with this happening! What if these students did not consent to these act?. Even if they did, the law states that it still illegal. As a woman who is an advocate for sexual violence, I find this whole situation bothersome. There are so many survivors of both sexual and domestic violence attempting to make a change and meanwhile there are people out there who condone sexual acts between teachers and their students.

Maybe I am just being too critical or picky, but when people throw around the term rape such as “that team got raped on the field.” I might still be in the conversation, but I don’t think rape is the appropriate term to use.

About 10 years ago, I attended a frat party, during my college days. I went alone, which was entirely my own fault, but I left without barely touching a drink. I left because I overheard a conversation between two guys discussing how they wanted to see who they could get the most drunk and sleep with. Why can’t you just go up to the girl you like, court her for a bit and then get to that level? Why do you have to get her drunk?

I also get upset when fans of sports teams create signs or t-shirts that joke about a particular scandal. For example, at a Penn State game, a recent sign that some Rutger’s fans used during tailgating of a child performing a sex act on an adult. Seriously?!

Now I am not saying that all frats are like that, and just because men commented on the article that was posted on Facebook doesn’t mean that it is just men saying things like this. It’s simply about being a little more understanding and aware.

However, being aware doesn’t always mean you understand.

You can sit there and say you are aware that sexual violence is an issue in our society, in our culture. But do you know why? Do you understand why? Do you know why so many victims choose to stay silent? Because of comments and images that I just stated above.

If people had a little more decency, maybe we would be able to move more progressively to a better culture.

SAAM 2016/Redmylips

Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2016.

This was  a very busy month. We had two challenges this month.

  • To provide some form of content on the Voice’s of Hope facebook page, every single day, and we accomplished it.
  • To wear red lipstick everyday for the month of April.

Challenge was accepted and achieved. On top of that challenge, Voices of Hope had 4 speaking engagements. So it was a VERY busy month besides working a full time job and being a wife, and a mother. Surprisingly, I still went to bed each night almost shortly after my son, at 9PM.

All my red lips!

REd My Lips 2016

The first week of April, I had the opportunity to travel to WVU. It was very inspiring to see what the Peer Advocates there organized. The day I went to speak was pretty intense. My mom was driving down to meet me and go with me. I was going to being speaking front of a play the students had organized called “Hush.” I ended up sharing resources with the students prior to the play. I hope what I shared was beneficial and made an impact. I can’t begin to put into words how inspiring these students are and the effort they put forth to bring sexual assault awareness to their campus.

The second week, I was heading back to the University of Pitt for the 3rd time. THE 3RD TIME!! I really have enjoyed every time I have spoken at Pitt. They had a beautiful event the evening of of the 14th. I was so excited that one of my best friends, Julie Miller, was able to come and hear me speak. This was the first time she was able to. So it made the event even more special. They started with an introduction and then had three individuals read poems they wrote about sexual assault. Afterwards, they had a dance team performance a piece called “1 in 5.” I have to say that it was very triggering for me, the dance piece. It was a first time, in a long time that I had some anxiety. It felt like a huge stone was one top of my chest so that I couldn’t expand my lungs to breath. Next the Vice President, James, of the new group called “Students engaging in Conversations about Consent and Sexuality,” introduced me. I spoke about what happen to me, the struggles I dealt with during recovery, and how I turned a negative into a positive. I thanked them for inviting me back, and then was able to meet with an individual that works in the Title IX office.

The third week of April, I did not have any speaking engagements but that did not stop me from spreading the word. I received a teal ribbon from Pitt and began wearing it. When I went to an appointment at the doctor’s, a girl asked me what the teal ribbon meant. I told her that it was sexual assault awareness month, and the ribbon did exactly what it was suppose to do, spark a conversation.

The last week of the month was a fun one. I was interviewed by the one and only Melanie Taylor from 100.7 Star Pittsburgh! It was so great to have a conversation with around sexual assault awareness month, and what some of the universities have been doing. I was also able to share my site, facebook and twitter page!!! Listen to the first part  Listen to the 2nd part The Tuesday, on the 26th, I help my first webinar called: The Silent Crime: what your workplace needs to know about sexual and domestic violence. I thought it went really well! I hope the participants enjoyed what they learned and I hope to get to present and other organizations!

Throughout the entire month, I was able to wear red lipstick everyday. It was a challenge, because it gets everywhere! And it made it hard to kiss my son or my husband lol! But it truly made an impact because I was able to start some conversations online in regards to SAAM, Sexual violence awareness month.

The newest thing I was able to participate in was some twitter chats for survivors. There was a Solidarity chat every Monday, and Survivors steps chat every Wednesday. This opened me up to a whole new world that I never new existed and enabled me to talk to other survivors. Something I used to be uncomfortable with. So not only did I help in my healing process, but I was able to spread awareness through out the entire month!!!

 

Lastly, I had some great supporters this month who came out and was able to spread awareness too……a huge thanks goes out not only to them but also my husband and my son for putting up with my red lips alllllll month long!!! (If you liked the color I used, it was from the Dollar Store, go figure!!)

 

 

Crossroads Conference

I cannot express how overjoyed I was to be a part of this conference. But I will give you a warning, I did not expect to get the experience I received.

When I got the call to be a part of the crossroads conference, I was so excited! I was just excited to share my story with others in hopes of helping one person. It didn’t matter that I only had 5 minutes to speak. I began to prepare my presentation with the help of a board member from the Women and Girls foundation. I had it down to a T.

The night before the conference, they had a semi-dress rehearsal. I went down to the Sheraton at Station Square. When I got there, I was able to hear the empowering story of one mother and how she discovered her son was addicted to Herione. Her story brought tears to my eyes and I made sure to give a great big hug after she was done. (This truly makes me think, that you never know what is going on in a persons life EVER. So take the time to be kind.) I didn’t even know her name and I told her how empowering she was and I was so proud of her son to be where he is today. I found out her name was Kathy.

On my way out, I was heading to pay my parking lot ticket, when I went to try to grab the door for a women in a wheelchair. I just missed it and she said, “I’m tough on these things.” I laughed and said have a good night. Little did I know that was the amazing Madonna Long, whom I would meet the next day.

As I walked to my car, I ran into Kathy, and I told her I hoped she had a good night and that she would do great tomorrow! She mentioned she had received some emotional news and it was a rough week, and she hoped she could get through her speech. I gave her my condolences and reassured her that she would do fabulous.

The next day came. I headed down to Station Square and was greeted by the wonderful greeters from the conference. They pointed me in the right direction. There I ran into Shirley, who helped me prepare my speech. She handed me a box and inside was a gift. It was a bracelet that read, “Well-Behaved women never make history.” Then I was able to meet Christine Mohammed, Connie Capiotis, and Emma Sandoval. Kathy came in shortly after. It was great to meet and see everyone. But soon enough everything was underway.

The conference was set up in chunks. The first part was introductions by the Women’s and Girl’s foundation president which included Senator Jay Costa, and the Emcee for the day, Latasha Wilson Batch, Charlie Batch’s wife. Afterwards, the first part of speakers went. This included Christine, Connie, and Emma, all whom I met. They were so inspiring. Here is a little about what each of them spoke about:

Christine: In a post 9/11 world, being a Muslim in America forces you to face many crossroads of unfair stereotypes and prejudices. So, imagine converting to Islam in this world and what you may face from family, friends and co-workers. Christine made this bold decision in 2008, and for her, religious freedom is a right that she is grateful for and one that has given her a new appreciation for diversity in America.

Connie: Her fiancee was arrested a few days before their wedding.  He had a mental breakdown and committed a robbery and was incarcerated.  She had to deal with both the emotional aftermath and the business repercussions since they had been partners in business, as well.  Her fiancee’s story is still undecided, but they’re doing everything they can to rebuild their lives.  She found strength she didn’t know she had, and is currently back in business and moving forward to be strong for their family.

Emma: Growing up in a low-income, Latino community, Emma thought being poor was normal, that drug addictions were common, and being smart meant she was an outsider. It wasn’t until high school, when she was homeless and ready to drop out of school, that Emma realized the problems impacting her family and community where much bigger than those closest to her. She learned that institutionalized racism, classism, and internalized oppression where barriers that didn’t have to hold her or her community back. Emma realized that communities like hers had a long history of resistance and fighting back against oppression, and that if they united and organized, they could reclaim their communities. Now as a mother Emma has dedicated her life to leading that vision, not just for her own family but for entire communities, families, and for future generations.

They all have such amazing spirits and hearts and I was so glad that I was able to hear their stories. One that I also was able to hear in that first “chunk” was Madonna Long.

Madonna Long: Madonna is a survivor with a positive attitude and has refused to allow herself to be considered a “victim.”  She is a wife, mother of three, entrepreneur and activist, who at 18 was in an accident that killed her best friend and left her wheelchair bound.  She hasn’t allowed set backs to define or destroy her.  Instead she chose to seize opportunities and where there were none she created them.

Madonna story was also so inspiring. After hearing her story, it made me even want to make a bigger change and help our world to be free of sexual violence. I ran into Madonna in the hallway after the first set of speakers and spoke with her for a few minutes. I heard more about her story and she gave me some insight on how to get more involved. She mentioned about learning what our State is doing to prevent sexual violence and what bills are attempting to be passed.

Senator Jay Acosta was at the event, so I took the opportunity to reach out to him afterwards to learn what was going in Pennsylvania.

I have to say, that I was beginning to get nervous once we had a break, before the next set of speakers came forward, which included me. After I spoke with Madonna, I was trying to run somewhere to pump. (I have a 10 month old son at home, whom I breastfeed and it was past my pumping time, so I was starting to have a little bit of pain). Oh, mommy life. Anyway, while finding somewhere to pump, I ran into my MOTHER! She was trying to hide from me but she didn’t do a good job. She and her friend had bought tickets and came to the conference to surprise. It was so great to have her there!!! This would be the first time that she heard me speak.

I then went and got my mic on and waited for the other speakers to begin. Kathy was a few speakers ahead of me, and her story is so powerful. I hope we are able to connect again and help each other for both of our fights.

My husband also was able to sneak in. He stopped by my table and gave me a quick kiss before I went on stage. I honestly do not know what I would do with out his support.

And then it was my turn. This was the largest audience I have ever spoke in front of. Probably around 300+ people maybe? But to get up there, and hear the audience reactions while a spoke. People cheered when  I told them that I finally was able to kick my eating disorder, and they reacted when I told them I was raped and left on the side of the road. I have people that I don’t even know reacting to my story, and cheering me on. IT was truly a powerful moment.

I excited the stage, and gave a hug to Madonna. I also was stopped by a few other people including my mom and my husband and received BIG hugs.

I had to leave shortly after lunch but before I did, I had a couple of individuals come up to me and share their story. This is what really gets to me. When someone comes up to me and says “It happen to me.” They don’t have to tell me the details, they have to say those 4 words, and I immediately give them hug. They are such a huge inspiration to me because they came forward and shared with someone. I usually don’t know if this is their first time sharing it or not, and I don’t ask because that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they shared it with someone and they trusted me enough to do so.

I have always wanted to inspire people. But I know now that if if I help or encourage one person, my existence is justified.

 

The Process of Healing

After being sexually assaulted, the largest struggles anyone faces are healing and gaining the ability to trust again. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have been asked the question, “How did you learn to trust again?” Usually, I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know how to say that I learned to trust again, but when I was asked that question, I was still trying to figure it out.

Trust can be very hard to gain, but also can be very easy given when one is naive.

That was the case for me when I was raped almost 12 years ago. I thought that I could trust the acquaintance that I was with, and as I unfortunately learned, I could not…because he left my underwear and socks in a garbage bag and then left me on the side of the road.  I have no recollection of these events.

The day after my assault, I looked at the world in a whole new light, or lack thereof. What was once bright was now dark and depressing. Honestly, before I was raped, I don’t even know if I knew what the term rape even meant. I will say that the year afterward, I went into denial. I turned to alcohol and went in search of a man I could trust. Years later, however, I realized that I was not searching for that man, but rather, searching for myself. I had to find the ability to love myself after what I had endured. For an entire year, I just twirled around in my non-existant world pretending that nothing had ever happened…But it did…and when it hit me, I knew that I needed to move forward from this. So here are some of my steps in my healing process.

a. Speak to someone about what has happened to you. I started by telling some friends that didn’t know. This led me to realize that talking about my experience made me feel better. You might choose to only tell one person. I will admit that when I first began telling people that I was sexually assaulted, I tried to minimize what had happened. Rape seemed like an even worse word for what had happened to me.
b. Eat healthy food and exercise. For me, this was essential as I was also working on healing from an eating disorder. It took about four years after the rape but I finally quit purging and have been relapse free since 2008. Eating disorder or not, you need to nourish your body to recover from trauma.
c. Go to your local Rape Crisis Center. For me that was PAAR, Pittsburgh’s Action Against Rape. Sitting in a recovery group was and can be scary at first. When I left that first time, I felt my story was inferior to the ones which I had heard that evening. Maybe this is a common reaction to minimize what happened, but it is so important to remember that no story is ever inferior. My eyes were opened to the real issue of rape and sexual violence. What PAAR does for the victims in the community is truly amazing. They have a variety of services to fit a variety of personalities and needs.
d. Learn to love and forgive yourself. When you have been violated in such a profoundly personal way, it’s natural to struggle with shame and poor self-esteem. It’s natural to struggle with intimacy. I felt no one would want me and I could only to be intimate if I was bolstered by a few drinks.

In the early stages of recovery I thought I was searching for a man I could trust enough to eventually call my husband. Now I realize that I was searching to learn that I was loveable and could love myself. I needed—as we all need—to accept myself, bruises, brokenness and all. No one else can make us loveable or love-worthy. We have to believe it ourselves and love ourselves. Only then does intimacy become a healthy possibility.

I went through some serious relationships, 3 big ones that at the time either helped me heal or helped me digress. With my first real “boyfriend” after the incident, I felt like I could only be intimate with him after a few drinks. I became engaged to the 2nd boyfriend, but he was not supportive of my initiative of speaking publicly about my rape. He felt I should be silent. My 3rd relationship was with a girl, because after the last two, a same sex relationship made me feel safe, and non-threatened. Finally, I met my husband. I was up front with him about everything. The rape, my eating disorder, and my previous relationships. He accepted me for who I was at the time that we met and who I am today. That is how I knew he was not only going to be my husband, but my best friend, my soulmate.

e. Allow your relationship with family and friends to change throughout the years. To start, I didn’t talk about what happened except to explain it once to each person I told. That was the end of each discussion about my experience. In the last two years, what has been therapeutic for me has been talking with my family and friends and asking what they went through after they found out what had happened to me. It was only a year ago that I began to openly talk to my own mother about the situation. She has given me a lot of insight into parts of the story that I don’t remember because I wanted to move on as quickly as possible. I give her and my father so much credit for everything that went through regarding the rape. Not everyone, of course, has supportive parents.

Allow your relationships to change in ways that make sense for your own healing. I actually turned my conversations with family and friends into a project called Voices of Hope. Currently it is a blog and a social media page on Facebook. Right now, I am using them to create awareness, educate and empower. Eventually, it will turn into an extended memoir in hopes of helping those that know someone who has gone through this. If you’re interested in hearing more about my project, please feel free to stay afterwards to chat.
f. Find hobbies and interests. When Lady Gaga initially entered the music scene, I immersed myself in her music. She arrived at a time in my life when my relationship with the girl was ending and I was just starting out my first full year of being completely on my own. I saw Lady Gaga 7 times within a year and half and made a costume for every show. Yes, I know it’s a little quirky, but it was a form of healing for me…and I will say that when I went to those shows, no one could read my poker face. The message Lady Gaga sent out at the shows helped me to learn to love myself again.
g. Open yourself to spiritual healing. It took me time, but my husband truly helped me find God. I know my dad struggles with this question: If there is God, how could he let this happen to me? From Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, saving of many lives.” I feel this happened to me for a reason. As my husband always says, God chose me because he knew I was strong enough to endure the pain and come out a better person.
h. Make your own choice about prosecution. The choice is yours. I had to start the process because the police were immediately involved and it was a long, hard process.

Everyone has their own way of healing, and must take their own steps, but these worked for me. I have come to the conclusion that healing will always be a part of who I am. I won’t let the rape define me because there are so many positive attributes in my life that define me,  but being an advocate still heals me  and defines a part of who I am.

In the past 8 months, I have had the opportunity to speak at the University of Pittsburgh twice, and will speak again at their Candle Light Vigil on April 14th. I have spoken at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and will attend an event at West Virginia University in April as well. I must say that these schools and students are making huge steps to change the culture of sexual violence on their campuses and as a survivor, I commend them for that. While my rape did not happen on campus, nor was it perpetrated by another student, I know this is an extremely pressing issue for universities and students are the ones that can lead the charge for change.

So when it comes to trust, trust is earned and each person’s trust is different. When it comes to being in a relationship, there are ways that trust is earned. When it comes to acquaintances that you are out with for an evening, surround yourself with the friends you trust most.

I would say that for me it was hard to trust any man after the assault because I didn’t know who would take advantage of me. When it came to my friends, I was more open to trusting as our relationship grew. So when my friends and I went out to a party or to bar, we stayed together. By having our circle of trust, we were able to protect each other.

Another instance of trust would be jogging alone on a trail and running into a suspicious person. This happened once, and I became guarded. But since then, I ensure I carry some form of protection such as mace.

The healing process can be very long and incredibly trying. And while no one ever fully recovers, the only thing that I can hope for anyone that has gone through this, is that they find the courage inside of them to stand up and work through their steps so they can get to a better place.