Sexual assault and abuse are clearly traumatic experiences for the victims. At AVFTI, we have emphasized the importance of the first response, as many research shows that negative reactions to initial disclosure of a sexual assault will negatively impact victims’ recovery and possibly inhibit them from disclosing for many years, if ever again. As a researcher, I am dedicating my future career as a graduate student and future community psychologist to investigate ways to facilitate these positive reactions to disclosure as well as changing existing systems to better respond to sexual assault.
However, something missing from research on sexual assault is continued contact with someone who has assaulted you. What effect does that have on a victim? What kind of a toll will that take on their personal life? These are questions that, while research may not address them, I know the answers to firsthand. This is because I am a victim of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment.
Each and every perpetrator I have encountered, I have known personally. I will not go into each and every one of them, because the only abuser I still have to keep in contact with for years is my older brother. And let me just say that as the years have gone by, the harder and harder it has become for me to keep having to be in contact with him. The mental toll of having to face him every time I travel home from college is exhausting-and something that my family does not understand, acknowledge, or even know is a mental toll for me. I have distanced myself from my family because of the contact I am forced to keep with him. I have distanced myself from the place that I grew up, from my home. As much as I love Cincinnati and the friends and family that I have made here, I am jealous that everyone around me seems to have a home and a place to feel grounded and rooted in. I haven’t felt that way for as long as I can remember-and that is because of my abuse and having to continue to be in contact with my brother.
What’s potentially even more frustrating for me, is that even when I go home, as much as I do not want to see my brother, even when I do, I still want him to like me and talk to me. For some reason, I still care about what he thinks of me. Maybe it’s because, in some screwed up way, I don’t really blame him for what happened, and hope that he is okay. Or maybe it’s because of the many years of forced contact, has caused me to develop some sort of caring relations, because I was never told how I should respond to what happened to me. I was abused when I was 9 and disclosed when I was 11. My brother switched from living with us and my grandma until he moved out on his own. Until I left for college, I had to see him. I had to pretend that I was okay being around him. To this day, I still do. Faking that I am okay, as I’ve said, takes its mental toll on me-but honestly, what’s even harder for me to handle is that I feel like I can’t talk about how I feel.
In previous blogs and in the podcast last month, other members of this organization talked about how you have a choice-and how it’s okay if your family doesn’t know, and it’s okay if you don’t go home for the holidays, etc. I am not going to disagree or take away from everything they said-because I agree with all of it, and I support all victims’ decisions that they make for their recovery. As comforting as that is to know that I am part of such a supportive space (and I have never been more grateful for this space), for me, it’s just not true. I don’t have a choice. It’s not okay that my family doesn’t know. Every holiday, I drive the lonely, three hours home to a family I can’t relate to and the possibility of being forced to see someone who took so much of my life away. I don’t speak up. I don’t miss the major holidays. The mental toll this takes on me is almost unexplainable. The emotional wreckage I have had to sift through doesn’t seem to have an end in sight. This Christmas, I’ll go home, just like I have each year since I moved to Cincinnati for college. I’ll spend time with my family. I’ll play euchre, I’ll go to church, I’ll eat good food. In general, I’ll have a good time. But with each new trip home, I feel a piece of me chipping away-being left in the place I’ve never been able to call home. And that is the toll that continued contact with my abuser has had on me.