Monday, February 29, 2016

When It Happened To Me By: C.P. Stringham

Internet search meme from Justice for Jane Doe in
Steubenville with link. 

According to statistics compiled by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, known as RAINN, one out of every six women in the United States will be the victim of sexual assault in their lifetime. Let that sink in for a moment. Even if you are male, consider the likelihood that your grandmother, mother, aunt, sister, cousin, daughter, or granddaughter, one of them has been or will be the victim of sexual assault in their lifetime. If this statistic doesn’t make you angry, it should. If you aren’t angry, it also means YOU are part of the problem. This so-called “rape culture” you keep hearing about is real. The same research by RAINN also states that one in thirty-three men have been the victim of sexual assault. You see, sexual assault isn’t gender bias. As for the perpetrators, some are serial offenders who prey upon strangers when opportunity avails itself. They get off on the violence and control of the act. Others are authority figures; church leaders, coaches, counselors, neighbors, and family members who take advantage of those with whom they are entrusted with. And then there is the final group; those who seem to have a lack of understanding over what constitutes as sexual consent, so here's a video that pretty much dumbs it down for even the most obtuse person:

The tide is slowly turning for victims of sexual assault. They are stepping forward and sharing their stories in the hopes of helping other victims know they are not alone. Our society is being called upon to change this antiquated mindset of victim blaming. It is also time to hold the assailants responsible for their own behaviors. There are no acceptable excuses for their actions. None. "He had too much to drink." "He wasn't raised better." "He was a victim himself." Bullshit. Lady Gaga movingly performed Till It Happens To You during the 2016 Oscar’s last night. She, herself, the victim of sexual assault, had the courage to co-write and perform this song as her proclamation to the world. The lyrics are so true: Till it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels.  

This blog post has been a long time in the making for me. I’ve started writing it in my head many times over and, each time, I lose my nerve. Allow me some levity as I do what I feel compelled to do. In my Ellis Springs Series, the subject of rape is an ever-present theme in each volume, from the date rape of teen Kori Marshall to the marital rape of adult Grace Werner, readers follow along with how these victims cope in the aftermath of sexual assault. Grace’s affects her in such a way that she pursues a career as a county victim/witness advocate to help others find, not only the satisfaction of seeing their assailant pay for their crime, but to also assist the victim in finding the psychological help they need to work through their assault. Moving forward, I know authors are supposed to take the high road when it comes to negative reviews about their books. And I have. I truly look at each and every one of my reviews, good and bad, and use them to grow as an author. I appreciate when readers tell me what they liked and what they didn’t like. With that said, here I go with addressing one of my reviewers for my eBook A Moment’s Rest.  The female reviewer said, and I quote, “The author clearly has a political agenda to pursue, which I found distasteful and overbearing…Rape was covered in the first book, don't think we needed to do that so graphically again.” Well, she’s absolutely right. I do have a political agenda. However, did I overstep with the subject matter? No. No. And no. Let’s look at that statistic from RAINN again. One in six women will be the victim of a sexual assault in their lifetime. ONE IN SIX!!! I’m using my blog to tell our Broads of a Feather readers that I am one of those females who was the victim of sexual assault.
Internet search from Psychology Today with link to article.

So, you see, I have personal experience with this particular subject matter. I have carried the emotional baggage of shame, guilt, and fear for most of my life. Now, the chorus of our misguided rape culture will read this and comments like “you must have been asking for it” or “you had to be dressed promiscuously” will be said. For the record, I was a child victim of sexual assault. Just ten years old. My assailant was an adult male over thirty years old and the uncle of a boy I rode the school bus with every day. I’m forty-five years old now. Thirty-five years have passed and I can still close my eyes and recall, in vivid detail, what he was wearing (right down to the Italian horn pendant he wore on a thick gold chain around his neck), I can hear the words he said to me to gain my trust, and even how his clothing smelled of fried foods and perspiration. My sexual assault, while not nearly as bad as what others have endured, is ingrained in my sensory memory as if it happened yesterday. I suffered in silence. I have never told my parents. I’ve never told a single family member because I thought what happened to me was my fault. I felt dirty and ashamed because I let it happen.  
Internet search from Unsafe at Home with link.

The first person I ever confided in was my husband and that didn’t come about until we were well into our first year of living together. I was twenty-one years old. Even now, thirty-five years later and I have only shared my story with a select few. While working in retail management over the course of eighteen years, the majority of my part-time employees were high school and college students. To some of them, I became the adult they could talk to about everything. Even their most horrid personal experiences. One teen told me how their grandfather had recently molested them. This high school girl’s family didn’t believe her. Not only did she endure being sexually assaulted by a trusted and loved family member, she was betrayed by the rest of her family and called a liar. Another told me about the savage rape they’d experienced at the hands of a complete stranger. This same employee wrote poetry and asked me to read the poem she wrote about her experience—a poem in which she compared rape to death and how it had robbed her of who she used to be. I remember driving home that night and crying for her. Crying for myself. So much she had written hit home with my own feelings. The entire time these young people came to trust me with their secrets, I questioned my own inability to talk about my experience. I was no longer the scared little girl. Enough time had passed and I wasn’t in any danger of meeting my assailant again. As the years passed and I encountered others who had similar experiences to mine, I finally talked about what I went through. But, still, it was only to a handful of people. For some reason, I couldn’t openly talk about it. It’s only been since the whole Jerry Sandusky thing that I have addressed it and again, to a select few. The Penn State cover-up angered me when I had friends defending the actions of the university’s administration. I grew tired hearing how the victims came from broken homes and their parents should have known and how they didn’t protect their children. Even some blamed the victims because they kept quiet for so long. They accused the victims of coming forward solely based on monetary reasons with the opportunity of upcoming lawsuits that were bound to happen. I didn’t come from a broken home. My parents did care, they never knew, and they did protect me. I grew up when the world was different and naive. Sexual assault simply wasn’t talked about. People were trusted because no one realized how prolific it was. I told my oldest daughter about my experience three years ago. I felt it my duty to let her know that I was a victim. She was dating age and I wanted her to be able to see a face with the national statistic. I think it is prudent of victims of sexual assault to make others see faces with the statistic. This epidemic needs to have a face, a familiar face, in order for members of our society to feel a personal stake in it. Only then can the stigma attached to victims go away and our rampant rape culture be dealt with.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Due to what happened to me at ten years old, it shaped me into the parent I am today. Some may call it paranoia, but I prefer to think of myself as a vigilant parent. It takes a lot of time before I trust anyone with my children. I have to know that family members aren’t going to be lax while my children are in their care. I have to know the people who my children may come into contact with while they are in their company. I’m always on guard when we are out in public. There is a difference between a male admiring your cute teen daughter from afar and another who seems to be lurking and fixated. I’ve learned to trust my gut. If someone seems a little off, then it is with good reason to avoid that person at all costs because it only takes a second for something to happen. 
**As an Addendum to my original post, I wanted to mention the outpouring of support, encouragement, and love I have received since going public with my story. Not only have readers posted comments to this blog post, my personal Facebook page, and my author Facebook page, I have also received private messages from other victims/survivors--some who have already publicly shared the burden of their experience and some who have not yet reached the point of being able to really talk about it all. I wanted to post one of the comments on the actual blog portion for others to more easily see. 
  Jill Marie: Thank you for your bravery. The darkness of abuse cannot flourish in the light of brave and compassionate people. There is much work that needs to be done to improve outcomes and support for victims, but few are willing to do it. Awareness is key. I would encourage parents of young children to teach body safety. I didn't do this nearly early enough. If anyone discloses abuse to you, don't ask 'are you sure?'. It may be the last time they utter a word of it and there may then be countless other victims. Do not trust that the legal system will fix this problem. We need many, many, concerned, educated, and passionate society members so that we can have a safe, healthy, and productive society. There is no one to blame for any type of abuse on another person than the perpetrator, those who hide the truth, or those that attack the victim. C.P. Stringham, thank you for sharing. 
My name is C.P. Stringham. I am a wife, a mother, an author, and the victim survivor of sexual assault. To our blog readers who suffer in silence,  please know that you are not alone.  

   Resources for Statistics & Help:





90% of cases are never reported

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Which means the majority of sexual offenders are walking the streets free and unknown to society.

Why? It often takes a long time for the child to tell someone, and even though they may disclose to a friend, therapist, or family member - it's not being reported. The child & family may not want to face the difficulty of having to go through the investigation & possibly a trial. The person may not believe the child. And often, since it takes so long for children to finally tell - many are often adults by the time they disclose their abuse. - From The Mama Bear Effect Website.
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www.rainn.org with link 
Women:
1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape).1
17.7 million American women have been victims of attempted or completed rape.1
9 of every 10 rape victims were female in 2003.2
                                       Men:

                                                              About 3% of American men — or 1 in 33 — have                                                       experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.1

  • From 1995-2010, 9% of rape and sexual assault victims were male.10
  • 2.78 million men in the U.S. have been victims of sexual assault or rape.1

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www.nomore.org with link

Listen without judgement

If someone you know discloses that they are experiencing abuse now or have in the past, remember this could be the first time they’re telling someone. Listening without judgment or blame and letting the person know they’re not alone can make a huge difference. If the victim/survivor you care about or you are in need of support, ask them if they’d like to talk to a professional counselor, and offer to sit with them while they call the 24-hour national hotlines. While you may have a strong reaction to what happened, it’s important to focus and fully listen to the survivor’s words. 
Tip (via the Joyful Heart Foundation’s 6 Steps to Supporting a Survivor) → Sometimes you don’t even need words (or at least, many words), to be there for someone. Many people share that just being able to tell their story to someone else lessens the weight of isolation, secrecy and self-blame. Remember, listening alone can make a huge difference in someone’s life.
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1. Listen. 

Sometimes you don’t even need words (or at least, a lot of words), to be there for someone. Many people share that just being able to tell their story to someone else lessens the weight of isolation, secrecy and self-blame. Remember, listening in and of itself is an act of love. 

2. Validate. 

Think about a time when you felt vulnerable or faced a crisis, and think of what helped you the most. Chances are that it was not a specific conversation that you had, but it was the knowledge and comfort the person or people you told were there for you, believed in you, were on your side and were committed to supporting you through a hard time. 
“I’m so sorry this happened to you.” 
“I believe you.”
“This is not your fault.” 
“You’re not alone. I’m here for you and I’m glad you told me.”
Often times, a survivor may feel like what happened to them is their fault. We are bombarded with victim-blaming myths and attitudes in our society, and they can sink in…deeply. But no action excuses a person hurting someone else. Violence and abuse is never the victim’s fault. That responsibility and shame lies with the perpetrator. It can be helpful to communicate that gently and repeatedly.
“Nothing you did or could’ve done differently makes this your fault.”
“The responsibility is on the person who hurt you.”
“No one ever has the right to hurt you.”
“I promise, you didn’t ask for this.”
“I know that it can feel like you did something wrong, but you didn’t.”
“It doesn’t matter if you did or didn’t _______. No one asks to be hurt in this way.”

3. Ask what more you can do to help. 

Violence and abuse is about power and control. It is vital for survivors to regain their sense of personal power and agency. Instead of pushing someone into taking actions for which they are not ready, ask how you can support them. 

4. Know where to point someone to for more help. 

You can best help the survivor by offering options and leaving space for them to decide where to go from there. Here are some national resources—services that can point someone to local resources in your area. 

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network Sexual Assault Helpline

1.800.656.4673 | www.rainn.org

National Child Abuse Hotline

1.800.422.4453 | www.childhelp.org

National Domestic Violence Hotline

1.800.799.7233 | www.ndvh.org

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline

1.866.331.9474 | www.loveisrespect.org

5. Keep an open heart. 

Remind them that you are available should they like to talk about their experiences further. The healing journey can be a long one, full of many challenging—but sometimes joyful and liberating—conversations. Knowing that you are there to support along the way can make a big difference for someone. 
“If we are able to communicate only one thing about your role in a survivor’s journey, it is this: never ever underestimate your power to affect its course.”  
- Maile Zambuto, Joyful Heart CEO

 6. Finally, care for yourself. 

There is a limit to what we are able to take in and process. The stories of someone else’s hardships related to a traumatic event can impact or become a part of us. This experience of second-hand trauma—often called vicarious trauma—is a human response to coming face-to-face with the reality of trauma and the difficulties of the human experience. 
It’s important to care for yourself as you support another person. You cannot be your best self in your supportive role if you find yourself too tired to listen with care and compassion, or overfilled with your own emotions in response to another’s trauma. These feelings are totally valid. Take some time after a conversation to enjoy the outdoors, or do a healthy activity that makes you feel good as a way of re-centering yourself. We have more ideas on how to mitigate vicarious trauma here.
Remember, you can be your best self for someone else when you give yourself the space to honor your own needs.
- See more at: http://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org/blog/6-steps-supporting-survivor#sthash.N7xDVihW.dpuf

8 comments:

  1. To an amazing, brave woman who will never see the full effect of your post. If one person is helped, your outstretched arms & open heart will be worth it! - JAM

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  2. Thank you for this article. Cruel life hurts us and some of us get over it and some do not. I was one of the lucky ones, and I think you are as well, Carol. Tears for those who have never recovered. Please tell us, ladies, if you are still struggling. We are not immune and we remember.

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  4. You are a wonderful woman, mother, wife and friend. I'm so greatful for knowing you and I love you for the support you give to all vulnerable children and adults. (((Big hugs))

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  5. As a victim of child abuse, my experiences are different from yours, but the shame, guilt and disbelief that this could be part of who we are, that we must have deserved it or done something to justify it, are surely similar. Thank you for sharing this, for reaching out to those still suffering, thinking they are alone. So much respect for you, my friend.

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  6. Thank you for your bravery. Only the light can drive out the darkness. People have had their heads in the sand long enough. It is time for everyone to support all victims. I strongly encourage all parents to teach body safety to their children and start young. I didn't. Empower your children to say 'no' to any unwanted contact from anyone. If a child discloses abuse, believe them immediately, and don't ask 'are you sure?'. For the adults that have endured abuse, I am so sorry. I would love to see a world that supports victims. Not only immediately after the abuse but long after. Currently abusers (if parents) can seek custody of children and assets from the children's home. There is much work to be done and very few willing to do it. Thank you for this post.

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  7. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for your kind words of encouragement and love. I cannot even begin to tell you how hard--the extreme effort it took for me to put this whirlwind of clutter that has been inside my head for so long into a cohesive blog posting. I found my fingers tapping out letters on the keyboard in an almost violent way as that old anger resurfaced and pushed me to tell the world my secret. And, then, in the next moment, tears welling up as fear, guilt, and shame attempted to convince me to stay quiet. A day has passed. I'm still a raw jumble of nerves, but I've made it through to the other side. Thank you for taking the time to read my story.

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  8. It was not long after reading through your draft, C.P., that a family abuse case popped up in conversation where I was at. I won't name names, but one person was complaining about another and how she holds grudges...specifically against a couple of men in her past, one blood relation the other not. While I know this person has known abuse in her life, whether it was sexual I don't know. But I know the 'grudgeholder' was raped, multiple times, but the blood relation she 'holds a grudge against' although he is nearly 40 years in the grave. Angered, my only comment was that she is under absolutely no obligation to forgive her rapist. It 'might' aide with her healing, but it's her healing, not ours to dictate. It's no one's business where we are in our healing process, except maybe our sexual partner if we have one but even that is discretionary. And forgiveness...I can't even begin to express how that truly makes me feel. This woman's abuser never asked for forgiveness, never so much as admitted he did anything wrong; neither did my abuser. In my opinion, 'requiring' forgiveness is just another way religion perpetuates the abuse.

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