By Ashley Eovaldi
Sexual assault is something that is sadly very prevalent in our society today. As a student at Wayne State University I have met all different types of people each having their own unique story and experiences. Unfortunately, many of the people who I have met in my life are survivors of sexual assault.
Although this is a hard topic to talk about, there are three women who have shared their stories with me. Even more importantly, they share the steps they are taking to overcome the challenges they are faced with and different things they do to help make themselves feel better.
Over a year ago I was sexually assaulted at a New Year’s party. I was surrounded by a few friends but mainly strangers and I was, unfortunately, assaulted by someone who I was trying to be friendly with, through a mutual friend. Even though it has been over a year since it occurred, I can remember the moment clearly as if it had happened a minute ago. There are things that are hard to explain about the trauma, some of its so subtle that I probably don’t notice it on a day to day basis. Things that I was already cautious and fearful about, like walking home alone or meeting new men for the first time, are now more stress inducing and scary. Not to mention the mental gymnastics the trauma puts me through on certain nights when I relive the night of my assault. On the days where I’m able to fight off these feelings, there are a few things that help, but first it is important to realize that everyone heals and copes with sexual assault differently, and even more important to realize that you are not alone in this. Going on line and seeing other women sharing their stories, particularly recently with the #MeToo movement taking place, is one thing that gives me hope that if others have overcome this, I can as well. I’ve seen so many pieces of artwork, so many poems, so many songs that encompass how I feel and the struggles that I face that it helps show me that I am not the only one who has ever felt like this or experienced assault.
I have come to the accept and respect the fact that I am allowed to be angry.
I am allowed to come out of my trauma being a little scarped up and tattered. Healing isn’t always easy or filled with support and happiness. I am allowed to come out of this being, well, a different person, but the sexual assault does not define me as a person.
My assault happened about six years ago and sadly it was caused by someone who I knew and was close with, my boyfriend at that time. When this event took place I was fifteen years old and I did not fully understand and comprehend what had happened to me. I was fighting thoughts of confusion for about a week because I was attacked by someone who said they loved me and cared about me. I was very uneducated at the time and I didn’t know if it would even be considered assault because we were dating. After the relationship ended I did not trust anyone; meeting new people was a challenge and would cause me to become very anxious. I would never walk or go anywhere by myself, I constantly had the thought, “if someone who said they love me and was close to me could do it, what was stopping other people.”
There were so many things about me that had changed and the way I went about my day and all the different thoughts that constantly went through my head. I would wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares reliving what had happened and every time I would see him or someone who resembled him I would immediately run away and hide, or even the way certain people would touch me, even very close friends would cause me to remember what happened. Some of the changes were very subtle while others were not, it was something that affected me every day until the day I decided to do something about it.
It was difficult in the beginning to overcome what had happened and accept it. One of the first steps I had taken was meeting new friends when I started college. I started sitting next to people instead of in the back of the class or a few seats away from people. When I started doing this I was more likely to talk to people and make friends with them, and I ended up making a few friends. Once I started with this small step, it became easier for me to talk to people. I was not as scared anymore because the guy friends that I started to befriend made me realize that there are so many good people in the world. I had been so focused on the fact that one person hurt me I assumed that everyone was going to. After getting through my first year of college, I was excited to start my sophomore year and that was the year I decided to go to a program at Wayne State University called Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). This was one of the hardest things I had ever done because it was very difficult to talk about what happened and I had never talked about it before with anyone. Although it was one of the hardest things I had ever done, it was one of the best things for me.
I am not alone in this and I am so much more than what I have experienced.
Going to therapy and talking to someone I realized that what happened was not my fault and that I had to stop blaming myself for what happened. When I came to that realization it changed the way I looked at everything and helped me overcome may of the struggles I was still having. I also accepted what happened to me, for a long time I lived in denial and did everything I could to push it away and fight it. Once I stopped fighting it, it made talking about it easier and resolved any internal conflicts that I had. Although I have accepted what happened to me and went to therapy for it, I still notice myself being more careful when I’m walking around campus by myself and I am very aware of my surroundings. What happened is something that I am always going to live with and it has become a part of me, I am not going to forget it but that doesn’t mean I can’t use my experience in a positive way. The experience changed me as a person, it made me stronger, wiser, braver, and so much more. It has allowed me to connect to others who have experienced assault.
About a year ago I was dealing with a pretty intense breakup. Me and him were on decent terms and we agreed that we should keep some distance between us. That however turned into him showing up on my campus every day. I seemed like he was always in my face like he was stalking me or something. One night my friend had a hotel party and since we are all mutual friends he was there as well. The night progressed and we had a few drinks. Everyone was dancing and laughing and having a good time. The next thing that I remember, I was pushing and kicking him off me in front of everybody. I felt violated. I felt disrespected by him and everybody else. It probably took me about a year to get over what happened, gain closure, and regain my peace. I gained closure and regained my peace through writing.
Writing helped me understand the way I was feeling and that what happened was not my fault.
Although what happened to these survivors is awful, they found different ways to work through what has happened to them. Each survivor utilized a different method from therapy, to writing to reading others stories and looking at artwork. Everyone handles trauma differently and sometimes it may take a few years before someone decides to take action and that is okay. There is no clock that says you have to be ready to overcome your trauma, it is something you have to do on your own time. Although sexual assault is sadly very prevalent in our society today, there are different ways that survivors are working to overcome the trauma they have endured. As knowledge and treatment of sexual assault becomes more common, survivors gain more and more tools to recover, cope with, and move on from their trauma.
Teaching Men That Their Voices Are Important Too
By: Michael Nesbitt
It’s unfortunate to know that the women in my life, and many other women around the world, live in a society where they have to constantly worry about what they are wearing, what they are doing, who they spend time with, how late they stay out, how much makeup they wear and how nice they can be to boys and/or men in order to avoid violence or sexual assault. As Kathryn Stamoulis points out, as a society we are constantly teaching girls methods to avoid getting raped while failing to also teach boys not to rape. Violence against women is an important issue that needs to be focused on and an issue that stems from disrespect for women. Mary Stathopoulos explains that a strong belief in gender stereotypes and a weak belief in gender equality are key determinants in the perpetuation of violence and sexual assault. She explains that rather than trying to reduce sexual assault, we should focus on creating gender equality and correct men on their hostile attitudes toward women.
One reason some men hold these hostile attitudes toward women is that men are socialized and taught that a man has to exhibit specific behaviors to be viewed by society as a “real man”. Our society has strong gender stereotypes that puts men and women in two separate categories. Men are supposed to be strong, dominant, independent, emotionless, the breadwinner, and the decision maker. This is a strong disadvantage for men. Being taught to act like a “real man” not only forces men to follow behaviors and attitudes that they may not agree with or reflects their true beliefs, but they also avoid talking about and understanding the truth behind gender-based violence or gender inequality because they may feel that being conscious of the issue somehow takes away from their status as a man. On the other hand, women are socialized to be submissive, dependent, the caretaker, the cook, the cleaner and the people pleaser. In sum, these traits are viewed as weaker traits, characteristics that are opposite of the socially constructed definition of masculinity. Men need to understand and be comfortable with the fact that gender inequality is an important issue and has an effect on other men perpetuating violence and/or sexual assault towards women.
It is vital that we start teaching our young boys and men about respecting women and educate them about sexual assault prevention. We need to have open and honest dialogue about sexism, male privilege, and violence against women so they can recognize their role in its perpetuation and take steps to make change. Men need to provide young boys with healthy definitions of masculinity and teach them they can still be masculine while also displaying respect and sensitivity. This is especially important since many children understand their roles in society through media. In songs, music videos, television shows, magazines and even video games, women are constantly disrespected and if they aren’t being taught differently, they will perpetuate what they see. It’s also important that they realize that their voices can be used to teach others not to perpetuate violence or sexual assault. Kathryn Stamoulis explains a study where researchers observed the behaviors of bystanders when they witnessed a man belittle and mistreat a woman in their presence. They observed that most of the bystanders did not speak up and 80% of them felt uncomfortable seeing the woman being mistreated. They individually felt that they were the only one uncomfortable and, therefore, were too scared to say anything. Being an example and speaking out against violence towards women can help other men see and understand that they can use their voices too and that there’s nothing wrong with doing so.
Christine Rudolph listed 7 ways that men can join the #MeToo movement and use their voices to shed light on sexual assault and violence against women. There are five out of the seven that I feel are very important.
- Men should be aware of the society we live in. She explains that there is apparent gender bias and gender inequality in our society and that’s something that men should be aware of.
- Men need to hold other men accountable for their behavior. If a man sees disrespect or harassment towards women, they need to know that it’s okay to use their voices and say things like “that’s not okay” or “don’t do that”.
- Men should read pieces from feminist writers. This is important because it allows men to gain an understanding of the world from the perspective of a woman.
- Men should boost women’s voices. That means to tell people about articles, speeches and books by women and “spread the word”.
- Men need to treat women as people. This means that it’s important for men to treat women as their equal and for them not to use language or behaviors that demean or belittle women.
In conclusion, men are vital components to the eradication of sexual and other forms of violence against women. Without the active participation of men, the movement will continue to be viewed as having little impact on others not affected directly by violence, as a “woman’s issue.” It’s time for men to speak out and stand up for survivors everywhere!