|My survivor symbol: a wounded but soaring heart|
I don't feel like I can legitimately call myself an activist if I don't acknowledge the "awareness month" for an issue that has profoundly affected my life. But can I still refer to myself as one if the word "awareness" in this context makes me cringe a little?
I mean, the word is overused, probably misused and frankly, it sounds dumb. Who's not aware of sexual assault?
But then . . . maybe that's not what a month like this is about. Maybe it's not for providing the definition of the cause du jour, but maybe it's a platform for sharing statistics, techniques for avoidance, organizations that are doing the best work (and perhaps could use a donation).
Maybe this month, being sexual assault awareness month, is the perfect time for me, as a survivor, to let you know what I would like you to be aware of:
1. The first one is about the statistics: the number of people affected sounds exaggerated. I know, I didn't believe them either. But once I began speaking out, countless people began confiding in me. Now sometimes I wonder if the statistics are actually high enough. Either way, one thing I can say with confidence is that every one of us is surrounded by survivors of sexual assault even if we don't realize it.
2. The next three are about language. Seeing as how survivors are everywhere and language is powerful, please don't tolerate any sort of joke that normalizes or promotes rape culture. This should be obvious. It's not.
3. Perhaps less obvious? I, personally, don't like being referred to as a victim. I prefer survivor. This won't be true for everyone but it's something to be cognizant of, just in case.
4. I loathe the casual use of the word rape. (However, I will use it as a Scrabble word while my primary opponent, my husband, refuses to.)
5. Many of you read along with me as I dealt with my rapist's release from prison last year but many of you may not realize this: I will never know when he is actually free.
Let's just take a minute on that one: the man who had a previous assault on a child, who raped me at knife point and repeatedly threatened to come back and kill me, who was arrested and imprisoned may or may not be on the streets. When the sentence was up, he was sent to the facility for sex offenders for a mental health evaluation. They may have decided to release him or they may have decided to treat him. The required residential treatment may have been for weeks, months . . . or the rest of his life. Because this is not a criminal sentence but a mental health issue, I am not privy to this information.
In spite of that, I still consider myself the luckiest survivor I know . . . but the reasons why are a Five on Friday list for next week.