It’s Been a Tough Year for Survivors of Sexual Violence

It’s Been a Tough Year for Survivors of Sexual Violence December 13, 2018

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In 2018, we couldn’t turn on the TV or log into our social media accounts without seeing more reports of sexual abuse. I can’t speak for every survivor of sexualized violence, but based on what I’ve personally heard from fellow survivors, 2018 was an especially rough year for us.

As 2017 wound down, some of us felt like our time had finally come when #MeToo went viral. We saw a handful of powerful men held accountable, and that sparked some serious hope. Maybe people were ready to believe us now. Maybe our culture had finally decided to hold predators responsible for their choices. Maybe everyone would finally understand that enabling and protecting predators is evil too.

In January, we saw Larry Nassar sentenced for up to 175 years for systematically sexually assaulting the girls he was supposed to help. We heard the survivors speak. We saw a judge take them seriously, and we thought, “That could be me. Maybe someone would take me seriously too.”

In August, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report came out. Anyone who wants to end abuse in the church was supportive of that report coming out, but that didn’t make it any less painful for some of us. For some of us, it brought back memories tied into our own trauma. When abuse is in the news, it’s hard to get away from PTSD triggers that can bring on panic attacks or worsen depression.

A month later, we watched Dr. Christine Blasey Ford speak before the Senate Judiciary Committee. As she recounted her own sexual assault, we thought, “That could be me. Maybe if I speak up, I’ll get death threats too.” As our friends and family hopped on social media to belittle her and say unconscionably cruel things about her, it was like they were saying them about us. We felt the pain of wondering if the people we love would believe us if we were ever assaulted by someone they felt loyalty toward.

This month, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram released an investigative report on hundreds of sexual abuse allegations within independent fundamentalist Baptist churches. Whether Baptist or Catholic, Lutheran or Anabaptist, anyone reading through that report would recognize the similarities in churches that enable abuse by weaponizing the Christian faith.

When you’ve survived trauma, it’s common to have symptoms of PTSD. Sometimes we can learn what those PTSD triggers are so we can avoid them when it would be especially inconvenient to have a panic attack. This year, for most survivors of sexualized violence, it’s been impossible to avoid these triggers.

In the middle of dealing with our own traumatic memories cropping up like the unwelcome ghosts of traumas past, we’ve had to handle the emotional whiplash of seeing survivors championed and threatened. One minute, we’re all heroes. The next minute, we’re all liars with agendas.

We don’t know if the people dearest to us would embrace us and raise us up if we came forward, or if they would join the mob calling for our heads because we dared tell the truth.

We go on Facebook to see pictures of our cousin’s new baby, and we see our uncle ranting about how most women lie about being raped.

We go to church and we don’t know if we or our children are safe there.

It’s good that we’re talking about sexualized violence. It’s good that it’s in the news. And it’s also hard.

Sometimes it feels like there’s no room to breathe anymore.

We’re in the middle of a major cultural shift, and that’s always painful.

I’m spreading myself thin sometimes in the hopes we can nudge that change to come a little quicker.

I’m praying this pain will pay off, and we’re not just being tortured by our past trauma for no reason.

The heartache of this Advent makes me think about the very first Advent. It makes me think about the pain of birthing something new. It reminds me of an ancient world that was waiting for the arrogant to be dismissed, the powerful cast down from their thrones, the rich sent away without taking what isn’t theirs to take, the hungry fed, and the lowly lifted up.

Jesus, we’re still waiting.

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