A Letter to Survivors of Sexual Assault

In honour of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, here’s a letter to those that have experienced sexual assault. It is all the things I wish I could say to you over a hot cup of coffee in a quiet, undiscovered (but somehow accessible?) coffee shop.

I believe you. Every last word. You are not “crazy.” What happened to you is.

It’s not your fault Ever. If you’re a survivor of multiple assaults, not one of them has been your fault. I’m sorry that this has happened to you, no one deserves to go through that, and nothing you did could warrant sexual violence.

You are strong. So fucking strong. Even if you don’t feel strong. The fact that you are reading this, (er uh, sharing with me over fake coffee) makes you strong. Being sexually violated can be devastating, and completely debilitating. Just living through it makes you strong by default.

Your healing process is 100% yours. There is no proper timeframe for recovering from abuse. There is no limit to grief. If you are having trouble doing the things you used to do–are feeling depressed, angry, unfocused, cloudy, confused or indifferent, know that you are healing. You are refuelling. You are resilient–you’re a fucking butterfly-in-the-making, cocooning from violence, preparing to come out beautiful when ready. You will heal as you know best–how you do that (and who you allow to be part of your healing) is entirely up to you. My guess is that any way you do it, you’re doing what you need to to get by.

Flashbacks and anxiety are common. This is a frequent reality for people that have experienced violence. It’s your mind and body’s way of processing your assault(s), of helping you cope. You are not alone, many survivors have flashbacks, anxiety, and/or night-terrors related to their assault. Some techniques that might help you through these feelings include grounding, breathing exercises and calling a crisis line for support.

*This upcoming point is about power-and-control dynamics as they relate to violence. Some people who have experienced violence might find this overwhelming. If so, scroll down a point.*

Sexual assault isn’t about sex, it’s about power. You might feel confused about what’s happened–especially if you’ve been assaulted by a family member, boyfriend (or girlfriend) or spouse. And rightfully so–why would someone who loves you force themselves on you? Were they just extremely horny?

There is a prevalent belief that sexual assault is one person being sexually aroused by another person and then forcing themselves on that person. This is inaccurate: One person is sexually aroused by power, and  then forces themselves on that person. Ergo, the person that has been assaulted has nothing to do with the assault,because it was not about them, or their sex appeal, it was about the assaulter’s plight for power.

So, your partner, or family member that has sexually assaulted you did not do so because it is how they express love. They did not do so because you were “looking all beautiful and batted your eyes” at them, or because they just “lost control” because they were so turned on. In fact the opposite is true: They did so because they found a way to gain control over you.  This is not your fault. You did nothing to deserve this, nor are you the reason it happened. It happened because that person decided to force themselves on you, because they wanted power.

If you want it, there is support for people that have experienced violence Everyone deals with trauma differently, so you are the best judge of whether or not you want (or are ready/ in a safe enough place for) support.Support comes in different forms, from online forums or phone conversations, to individual counselling, advocacy, or group sessions. I’m in the Ottawa area, so all of my resources are specific to this region, but if you are ready, you can reach out, wherever you are. Calling your local community centre and specifying the type of help you want is a great place to start.  If that seems overwhelming, you can try to put down what you’ve experienced on paper, or record yourself if that’s easier, or make art.

If you feel like talking, here’s a list of crisis lines in Ottawa: https://carleton.ca/health/emergencies-and-crisis/emergency-numbers/ ( and here is a list if you prefer to speak in French, or other languages).

And lastly, I wish you kindness and positive people in your journey of healing. I wish you hope. I wish you well-being. That’s what you deserve. ❤

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#WheelieAttachment Rd 2

stairs

A couple of nights ago I wrote a post detailing wheelies’ need to be incessantly clingy. It was full of self-negativity and became a scapegoat for my personal attachment issues. My attachment issues still exist–very much so– but below I’ve tried to reconcile with that post by providing a more systemic approach to the attachment issues PwD face. More specifically, I’ve looked at the ways in which the vulnerability stereotype, combined with society’s tendency to blame loneliness, and wheelies themselves, have created unhealthy attachment environments for PwD. Take from it what you will.

Vulnerability Reinforced

It’s my belief that solidifying vulnerability as a part of a person’s identity contributes to a life of overcompensation and clamouring after validation from others. Media stories on disability (few as they may be) generally have 3 subcategories: Inspiration, integration and abuse. The third category portrays us as helpless, unknowing, lonely people, who simply crave connection.

Reports depicting the abuse of people with physical and/or developmental disabilities enforce the idea of disabled people as vulnerable and perpetually lonely. In this news story from October, CBC details the sexual assault of a woman with an intellectual disability, on a bus in Winnipeg. Do me a solid and count the number of times they refer to this woman as vulnerable in the video segment. Seriously, try it. Notice how the first word used to describe the woman, after mentioning her young age, isn’t intellectually disabled– it’s “vulnerability”. The word is then repeated in different tenses by different people throughout the piece, followed by an assault statistic and a quote from an “advocate of the disabled.” (hehe, can I be an advocate of the gayed, please?). If by some form of amnesia, you forget the details of this assault, you can be sure not to forget this woman’s vulnerability, in relation to her disability.

There are a slew of other articles which also focus on vulnerability, but don’t take my word for it, Google ‘disability’ and anything and you’ll see what I mean. There’s this article, describing a number of abuses in ‘care homes’ in Alberta, this stat sheet on abuse of women with disabilities in Newfoundland and Labrador  and this statistical myriad, exposing that 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

What does all of this say about vulnerability and disability? Well, for starters, that it’s a stereotype that holds truth. Some stereotypes are out in left field, used for oppressive, manipulative purposes. But the disability + vulnerability stereotype originates from a place of honesty—you can see from the statistics, that disability and vulnerability are extremely correlated.

It also demonstrates that vulnerability often overshadows the other realities of people with disabilities, like stereotypes often do. The internet is overwhelmed with disability and abuse conversations, depictions, and coverings. What it lacks is the other aspects of disability—or more accurately, the humanity, to be seconded by the disability. There’s a reason the woman in the CBC story was only described as young, vulnerable and intellectually disabled. There’s a reason vulnerable was used at least a dozen times, and was by far, the leading descriptor. The truth is that, while abuse IS rampant within the disability community, so too is our loss of humanity in the name of sensationalization and stereotyping.

Don’t misunderstand, this post is not about to minimize the horrific problem that is abuse and assault of people with disabilities, my point is not about the assaults, it is about our one-dimensional focus on this vulnerability. It’s my opinion that no matter how much truth there is to a statement regarding a certain group, that statement becomes a stereotype when it allows us to lose sight of the group’s humanity.

By way of challenge, I suggest re-framing thoughts around disability and vulnerability. I think we should do what we’ve done for other experiencers of violence and assert that they are, in fact, survivors. This not only blows stereotypes out of the water, but it illuminates the fact that we—PwD and people who have experienced violence—are people….people with strength, even.(I know right? Stop the insanity).

Blaming Loneliness

People often believe loneliness is to blame for the prevalent abuse of people with disabilities, thinking that PwD’s hunger for companionship make them more susceptible to mistreatment—but to blame loneliness is to blame a symptom, not a root cause.

Loneliness is a hated part of human existence, well-understood by everyone on this planet, and probably by intelligent life galaxies away. Here’s a list of the contributors to wheelie-specific loneliness:

  1. Currently, I’m pulling a number out of my butt that says 60% of people won’t really be close with a wheelie because, “yikes what are you?!” Anyone want to do a ‘Would you befriend a wheelie’ poll?
  2. Wheelie’s Personality. So out of the 40% that will even consider being around you in public, only 15% jive with your brand of weird.
  3. Walkie’s Personality: You only care about 10% of those 15% that like you. What number does that leave us at? This blog doesn’t do maths.
  4. Money—All the wheelies I know are broke, except for one, and he’s one of the smartest people I know. Just one of those terribly resourceful motherfuckers that everyone and their mom envies.

Anyways, majority of wheelies are broke for most, if not all of their lives. Google              poverty rates and disability. It’s hard to be social without money.

  1. Accessibility—Nobody wants to kick it with you when you can’t meet them at their friend’s apartment, or go see their friend’s band, or join the after-party that’s atop 3 flights of stairs. You remind them that the world is unfair, that they are not into you enough to carry you around. You make them feel like shit.

The above list is incomplete, but you get the idea (Other contributors: Limited/no access to education, no access to supportive housing, struggles adjusting to social norms, after x number of years of being excluded). The problem is so much bigger than lonely wheelie who just wanted a friend. It’s systemic. And yet, PwD are still blamed for out lack of ability to find ‘normal,’ consistent, securely-attached friendship. Just the other week, The Telegraph published an article promoting, (among other things), that disabled people have help making relationships work. The article focuses on Tibby Owens, an“advocate for the sexual lives”of people with disabilities” . Owens is in her 70s, and has released a book for the caregivers of PwD called Supporting Disabled People with Their Sexual Lives. Her belief is that disabled people ‘mess things up,’ in the realm of dating. She’s positively oozing condescension and wheelie-blaming (that’s a thing? It is now.). Read:

“A lot of what we’re doing is helping disabled people gain the sexual confidence so that when they do meet someone they like, they don’t mess it up,” Owens says. “It’s all about being positive and enjoying it and achieving some sexual fun for the first time in their lives.”

Mess it up? Sexual fun for the first time in our lives? Lady, you and I need to have a sit down. Buy me a coffee ASAP.

The insinuation here is that someone might be able to bring PwD sexual joys for the first time EVAR because we are too lonely, isolated, and socially inept to figure it out ourselves. And again, while I recognize that this is a reality for some, I see no positives in acting like disabled people are to blame for not having all the awesome sex. We’re not. Stigma is. People’s misunderstandings about how our bodies work, what our limitations mean, and what they can offer, is certainly another area where my finger points. But me, my loneliness, my tendency to “mess it up”—damnit lady, if I could solve that, I would have a husband on a ranch by now (just kidding, manure is fucking gross). Please stop blaming me, stop blaming us and our lonely, it’s unproductive. And truly, Ms. Anointed to Help Wheelies Fuck, we were doing that long before you got here.

This post is so long and garbled, who knows why I started. The bottom line is that, stereotypes hurt, and when society perpetually sees us as vulnerable victims, and people who are all about the lonely, or people who don’t know how to fuck, well fuck you. Not in the fun way. Let’s rethink these beliefs and the blame that commonly accompanies them.

Why Some Women Hold Back on Sharing Their #WhyIStayed Stories

There are all these moving stories about escaping abusive relationships floating around the internet. They are all unique, and poignant, and hopefully bring better understanding to what abusive relationships are actually like.

But for every woman telling her story of abuse, there are probably two others holding back on sharing theirs. Statistically, 1 in 3 women will experience some form of abuse in their life—be it physical, emotional or sexual—which often go hand-in-hand. This means that a big chunk of the population has a story about the time they had their dignity, their sanity, and their safety stripped away from them, and yet they keep their struggles quiet.

Today, I don’t really want to talk about why women avoid their stories of abuse (even after they’re free), but I will, because awareness.So here are some reasons not to talk about abuse, even after it’s over:

Reliving is terrible. Let’s get the obvious out of the way. A major deterrent in women avoiding the #WhyIStayed stories is because it involves thinking about one of the most scary, gut-wrenching, confusing, angering, taxing times of their lives. Even if it happened to you—especially if it happened to you—it’s a really big pill to swallow, and nearly fucking impossible to think about. True story: I still can’t think about it in its proper context. When I try, I think about tons of reasons why it wasn’t actually that bad, just so I can remember what happened fully. I often wonder if I was just young and the relationship was tumultuous. If I had been more emotionally mature, smarter, prettier, ablebodied, it wouldn’t have happened. Deep down, I know it wouldn’t have mattered if I was as enlightened as a Zen Master, or as pretty as Megan Fox, all the horrible shit would’ve happened anyway, short from walking away sooner or never meeting him. (Imagine?!).

There’s also the beautiful phenomenon of blocking, which a lot of people employ after shitty things happen to them. It does wonders for daily function, and can even delete things from your personal history if enough time passes. Great for some aspects of coping, not-so-great for sharing your story of mistreatment.

Victim Status. Once you disclose that this stuff has happened to you, a veil of sadness drapes itself all over your otherwise happy relationships. You watch as the person’s eyes digest your past, as they sit up straighter, tightening their jaw and say, “You don’t have to tell me this if you’re uncomfortable,” What they (maybe unknowingly) mean to say (probably?) is that you’re making them uncomfortable with the weight of your secrets.

Victim status, whether you want it or not, pushes a lot of people away. You’re one of those girls, who’s likely have a ton of baggage, and for whom there must be a reason all that bad stuff has happened.

Disbelief. Every time I read about one of the women who has come forward with her story, I catch myself looking for all the things she could’ve done differently: “Oh, she could’ve left, here, here, or here and she wouldn’t be in this sticky sitch.” I hear her talk about the early signs of being in a controlling relationship, and I think, “Didn’t she find it strange?” As if I’ve never been there. As if I don’t get it. I wonder, just like many people, how she let this happen? And, surely, she could’ve nipped it in the bud. What scares me about this is that I fucking know what it’s like, and I’m still inclined to question, be skeptical of woman sharing their souls. If someone who knows, way down, how this stuff happens, doubts the woman for her role in the events, what does that mean for how the rest of the world sees them?

Can’t leave it at the door. Being severely mistreated for years is not something anyone just up-and-leaves, physically or emotionally. Telling your story about it solidifies that. If you ever find voice to talk about it, either generally or specifically, it becomes more and more real (and less and less deniable) with every detail.   And you’ll have to take that with you, into your next relationships. It’s likely that your whole worldview morphed to match your abusive situation, and that never (I presume) goes away. You’’ll spend a long time (maybe forever?) waiting for the “other shoe to drop” in your new and old friendships and relationships, the way it did in your abusive one. This stuff, it doesn’t leave you. And knowing that can throw you back into denial harder than whiplash on Space Mountain.

Safety is another huge reason I’d imagine some women aren’t sharing. Sometimes even whispering the words “He’s hitting me,” can mean tons of danger. I didn’t address it here because the focus is mostly on emotional bounds that keep woman from disclosing, even after the abuse has dissipated.

So, next time you read a #WhyIStayed story, try to believe it with your whole heart, and if you want to put things into perspective, think of all the women who aren’t sharing. Commend all the women who are sharing—they are fucking heroes, but be mindful of those who aren’t there yet–they’re on their own journey.