It destroys peace of mind and can trigger PTSD, long-term anxiety and depression. It can ruin future relationships, and destroy self-esteem, health and body image. It’s shaming, demoralizing, and shakes the very core of feeling safe and protected in this world. Sexual trauma. Though it happens to men, too, women are more at risk and more often victims. Statistics show that this kind of stress starts in high school, and continues to be a potential threat as girls become women. Though the locations may be different, the situation is always the same: a male superior uses his power to degrade, control and abuse women, and bully them into submission with fear and intimidation. Sometimes, the victim is persecuted and the abuser protected by a bigger institution that isn’t being proactive or upholding consequences for this devastating hate crime.
Middle and High School. Nearly half of students have reported being sexually harassed either in person or on social media, yet schools – both private and public – are downplaying the severity of this problem. 87% of students admit this harassment has had a detrimental effect on them. Some are too fearful to tell anyone they’re being abused, and some victims resort to self-mutilation, eating disorders or suicide.
College. 1 in 5 girls will be sexually assaulted in college. The numbers are most likely higher because many girls aren’t reporting the crimes, or the schools aren’t acknowledging them.
Workplace. 1 in 4 women has reported sexual harassment at their workplace. Threatened with not being believed and/or losing their job, many won’t report the abuse.
The Military. According to a 2011 Newsweek report, women are more likely to be assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat. More than half of women who have been assaulted don’t report it out of fear of retaliation, instead they choose to silently live with the trauma. Thousands of female veterans are now researching ways to heal PTSD as a result.
The Church. 40% of nuns have been raped, sexually harassed or assaulted by priests. Many do not come forward when it’s their own superiors who are violating them, so the statistics are most likely higher. It’s been reported that when priests have impregnated nuns, the babies have been aborted, killed after birth or adopted out. The Vatican has acknowledged that priests in at least 23 different countries are guilty of violating the nuns they work with, most notoriously in Africa where corrupted priests fear contracting HIV and virgin nuns become their prey.
I’m one of these statistics. I experienced violations starting in my early teens when on two separate occasions, older boys groped me. Once was when I was sitting in a crowded backseat with a bunch of kids, and the other was at a Halloween party, a drunk masked senior grabbed me as I walked by him. Their advances were shocking, not welcomed, and very disturbing to me.
A few years later, when I was fifteen, I was raped by a pedophile who was a colleague of my fathers. He was a famous photographer turned agent. I was one of his many young victims. He once told me with pride how Bill Cosby was into the same thing, pretty young girls. He told me Cosby hit on his young co-star, Lisa Bonet, who played his teenager daughter on The Cosby Show. He took pleasure sharing that she may have felt coerced to give in because of his position. Like Cosby, this wealthy and well-known photographer/predator continued on with his successful career, continued to abuse women, and got away with it.
When I was in college, I was riding a crowded subway home from school one evening. Five men, who seemed part of a gang, surrounded me and started groping me. I can still feel the heat of their breath on my neck, and see their dark eyes staring at me mockingly, the smirks on their faces. Thankfully, a fellow female passenger read the horror on my face and shimmied her way through the crowd, reached out for my hand and pulled me away from them. She gave me her seat where I was safe.
The next violation occurred in my twenties, at one of my first “real” jobs. I was a reporter and my male editor made daily comments about what he thought of my body, and his intentions to have sex with me. He went so far as to grab my hand and place it on his groin. I reported this sexual harassment to the publishers. It was handled insensitively, their investigation leaning on me needing to deliver proof, and they refused to transfer me to another office. I felt I had no choice: I quit. About two weeks later, the company tried to hire me back when they had their proof this employee had a problem: he racked up thousands of company debt watching online porn in his office. He was fired, and went to work for a wrestling media company, where I cringe to think who his next victim was.
Breaking The Silence, Healing The Trauma
When I talk to friends and clients, I hear more and more stories of violations that have been swept deep into the mind, stored away in a shameful place inside of people. It’s hard to know who to trust with this secret, so many people will say insensitive remarks that I’ve heard myself like, “you have to get over it” or “we all make mistakes.” Half of all women I’ve met in my lifetime have been sexually harassed, assaulted or violated in some way. This isn’t something most people talk about, which is why I’m breaking the silence today. Sometimes it takes decades for the emotional shock to fade and for people to realize, and be honest, about the negative effects of sexual abuse. Healing begins when we start to talk about it, and start taking back our power.
Hope and Healing
Ignoring this is a real problem, resulting in millions of women suffering from PTSD, is not working. We need to demand that schools and workplaces require preventative sexual assault education programs that include on-site and hotline options that protect girls and women 24/7. Boys and men need to know that there will be a zero tolerance policy for this kind of abuse. Any man who thinks he has a right to bully, abuse or assault a woman has a deep-seated problem that needs treatment via the right therapist. These corrupted men are like rabid animals in the world, they need to be rehabilitated otherwise they’re just thrown back into the wild repeating the same behavior with a different victim. For us women, a bad guy may be potentially lurking when we’re in public, and unescorted, so we always need to be aware of our surroundings. Adding to that stress with an unsafe learning or work environment is simply unacceptable. We can implement change with the appropriate education, prevention programs and health-care.
My approach providing healing support for victims of sexual trauma is through yoga therapy, compassionate spiritual counseling and nutritional supplementation. This is what personally helped me heal, and what I have seen continually help the brave souls I work with. You don’t need to suffer alone. If you would like to work with me, email: YogaforHeroes@gmail.com.
Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek but a means by which we arrive at that goal. -Martin Luther King, Jr.