If you are unfamiliar with #MeToo, I am not quite sure what to say to you other than get out of the hole you’ve been living in. In support of the overwhelming number of womyn who are survivors of sexual assault, which is defined by any sort of unwanted physical contact – not only intercourse, I felt it necessary to compile share a woman’s experience, hope, and resources with our readers. I spoke to a dear friend, artist, activist, survivor and Live FAST contributor Olivia Shove.
Olivia has been sharing fantastic resources that are helpful for all walks of life on her Instagram this week. From stark statistics to pieces of her own story, Olivia has used social media to provide hope and help to those who have been personally affected by sexual assault, as well as men who do not know how to show up for womyn.
There have been thousands of female-identifying individuals recounting their experiences with sexual assault on social media this week, which has been both heartbreaking and infuriating. For some, this is their first time sharing these stories. For others, perhaps they haven’t shared their story, but are now looking at their own trauma from reading that of others. In hopes of providing a space for healing and resources, I chatted with Olivia about her own experience below. Please be mindful that there is mention of rape and childhood sexual abuse in the remainder of this article.
LF: What is some advice you have for survivors?
OS: First and foremost, IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT! Even your poorest choices never justified such foul treatment, and it’s very likely that nothing you could have done would have changed the outcome as you are not responsible for anyone’s behavior but your own. No matter who your assailant was to you, what you were wearing, if you were intoxicated, or if you had previously agreed to something and later changed your mind… All factors aside, the one and only cause of rape is rapists. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.
You are worthy of healthy love in any and every form.
You are just as valuable now as you were the day you were born, and nothing anyone could do to you will ever change that. You have everything you’ve ever needed inside of yourself. The moment you realize that, your world will change.
Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. The burden of an assault can be catastrophic and soul crushing, but it is better to feel it in full when it’s present than to stuff it away for a rainy day; when it rains it pours, so soak in it now and let the sun warm you after.
One word, three syllables, repeat after me… boundaries. If you haven’t had any up until this point (don’t worry, I didn’t either), now is the time to create some. Only you get to decide how you want your body to be treated, how you want to be spoken to, and what you will and will not put up with from others. Not only are boundaries wildly attractive, they are vital to one’s self-preservation. We all have a breaking point. Figure out what you do and don’t want before you’re pushed over the edge.
It is 100% okay to ask for help.
No one expects you to heal from something like this on your own. Find one friend you trust and tell them your story. Find a therapist. Call a hotline. Buy a journal and release your pain on the pages. Do anything and everything you need to heal. It’s not a race, just take your time and be patient with yourself. There will be many more ups and downs ahead, but you’ll get there, I promise.
LF: What is the best way a loved one can show support for a survivor of sexual assault?
OS: This is tricky and something I am personally still figuring out. When I’m feeling really low, I naturally want to isolate. I shut everyone out and do my best to disappear. I have waves of trauma where the thought of being touched in any capacity makes me feel physically ill, and I can disassociate from my body quite easily. Even when I’m feeling closer to ‘normal,’ the last thing I ever want is special treatment or a spotlight on my pain. I don’t want to be treated like I am fragile, damaged, or weak. I don’t want a romantic partner to baby me or hesitate to be intimate with me for fear of hurting me more (I understand that fear, but it only makes it worse). At the end of the day, all I need from anyone who cares about me is to be treated as an equal, and to have my boundaries acknowledged and respected.
What I really don’t need is any more apologies.
LF: How can men show up and be allies in the face of rape culture?
Step one: LISTEN!
And I don’t mean sit there quietly while someone shares their story. I mean really, truly, hear what they are saying. Hear the pain in their voice. Listen to them through unbiased ears. Set your own singular experiences aside and do your very best to hear them out, without adding in any of your own perspective, because after all, this isn’t about you. Don’t question the validity of what they are saying. Believe that what they are telling you is the truth, even if it sounds so absurd you can’t wrap your mind around it.
Step two: Under no circumstances whatsoever is it at all acceptable to pull the “not all men” card.
That’s an instant block from me. ENOUGH MEN have committed these heinous acts that it is absolutely fair to make the generalization of just “men.” If your first instinct is to become defensive and try to fight those of us willing to bare our souls for your educational benefit, that is directly linked to your own internalized guilt. Whether or not you are physically guilty, we have all been socialized to be complicit, and that alone is a source of guilt. Take responsibility for the times when you have been complicit, and work to unlearn your conditioning.
Step three: Hold your friends accountable.
Anyone is capable of anything. Your favorite celebrity, the cool dude from that band you like, and yes, even your dearest friends are all absolutely capable of committing sexual assault. If a survivor comes forward and puts their assailant on blast, assume that they are telling the truth, because the vast majority of the time they are – and anyone who falsely accuses someone of assault is just as bad as assailants in my book because it makes it harder for the rest of us to be believed when it really does happen.
Step four: Check your privilege.
Recognize that as a man in this world, you are at the top of the food chain. Are you white? Then you are at the peak. The only way to even the scales? Those with the most privilege have to give up some to help out the rest of us. Yes, dude, I’m talking to you.
Step five: Stop telling womyn to be nice and understanding.
We don’t owe you shit. If someone has taken their time to inform you of an injustice, publicly or privately, the first words out of your mouth better not be “well that’s a bit harsh.” Not only is that a completely disrespectful and ignorant thing to say, it immediately invalidates their experience and proves that you weren’t actually listening. Oppressed people are entitled to feel and express their frustration however they see fit, and no, they don’t have to tone it down for you. You can suck it up. It is never the responsibility of the oppressed to educate the complicit. It is only the responsibility of the complicit to educate themselves. If you are lucky enough to come across an oppressed person willing to teach you, be nothing but gracious and grateful that they have done you such a favor.
Other important steps to becoming an ally:
– No means no. Stop trying after the first one.
– Consensual sex requires an enthusiastic “yes” from your partner, otherwise assume it’s a no. Make sure you and all of your guy friends understand this.
– Don’t talk over womyn. Don’t let other men talk over womyn. If you witness this happen, call them on it and let the womyn finish speaking.
– If a womyn tells you that something you’ve done hurt them in some way, don’t respond with, “No, you misunderstood…” or, “That’s your perception.” You hurt someone, unintentionally. Own up to it. Apologize. Listen. Don’t do it again.
– Rape jokes are not funny. At all. Ever. If you hear one, call that person out. If you make one, you’re a lowlife scumbag, no exceptions.
– Stop using the word “pussy” for anything other than cats or vaginas. Stop using it a slur. Vaginas and cats are fucking great and you know it.
– The way a womyn dresses is not insinuating anything. You like jeans and a t-shirt? She/they like mini-skirts and spaghetti straps. No one is getting dressed thinking about you.
– No one wants to see your penis, unless they explicitly ask to see it. No more dick pics.
– Pay womyn the same wage as men!
LF: What are some of the most important statistics about sexual assault that you’ve come across?
OS: There are so many and they are all horrific, but to get a glimpse…
– Every 98 seconds, someone in the US is sexually assaulted
– Officially 1 in 6 women will survive an attempted or completed rape, though likely more, this is only based on reported cases
– 99% of perpetrators of sexual violence walk free
– 57% of sexual violence perpetrators are white
– 82% of all juvenile assault survivors are female
– 90% of adult rape survivors are women
– 64% of trans people will experience sexual assault in their lifetime
– A person with a disability is TWICE as likely to be sexually assaulted than someone without a disability
– Native Americans are TWICE as likely to be sexually assaulted in their lifetime compared to all races
– About 3% of American men will experience sexual assault in their lifetime
(Sources are Huffington Post and RAINN)
LF: What were some resources that helped you the most in your recovery?
OS: I don’t know if this is the sort of thing one can ever be fully ‘recovered’ from, but I do know that I am only getting stronger as time goes by, and that I owe a great deal of my strength to the support I have received from friends and strangers alike. Sharing my pieces of my story with others, particularly other womyn, has helped me heal enormously; though more often than not when I share my story it turns out they have a similar one, and while it provides moments of closeness and solidarity, it breaks my heart to know that so many others have felt the same kind of life-altering pain I have, an experience I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. I have survived multiple accounts of sexual assault beginning at age 9, was later raped when I was 17, and assaulted more times than I can count on two hands just within the last 6 years. It took me 3 years after being raped to realize that it wasn’t my fault, and another year to report it to authorities. I wouldn’t have known that reporting was even an option for me if not for the help of a counselor at my university – thank you!
Probably the second most beneficial thing I’ve done during my recovery was reporting my rapist to authorities, 4 years after the fact.
There is no statute of limitations on when you can report a sexual assault of a minor in CA. While I chose not to press charges and go to court, I did file an official report, wrote my rapist a letter, and had him called in for questioning to read the letter in the presence of the detective on my case. My rapist did not know he was a rapist until I told him he was. Even then, he couldn’t call himself that name, though he did not deny my accusations. In my letter I reopened my wound and reviewed everything that happened that night, called him what he was, and told him that if he made any attempt at all to contact me, I would file for a restraining order. He still has his freedom, a job, and a social life, but I no longer have to carry the weight of what he did to me.
Another major component of my healing, and something I am still very much in the process of doing, is mourning for my younger selves. I have had to go back and apologize to my 9 year old self and remind her that no matter what she could have done differently, she was never responsible for the actions of others. I have had to go back and apologize to my 17 year old self and remind her that even her most careless decisions never warranted having her trust shattered and body violated. I continually scan through my memories and search for other moments where I’ve been taken advantage of or mistreated, and I have to have compassion for the girl I used to be, so that the woman I am becoming can be as resilient and self-respecting as possible.
A major realization that I made after reporting my rapist was that if I were not a white, cisgendered woman, I might not have been taken seriously by authorities. Even within my own oppression, I still hold privilege. This was a difficult understanding to come to, but it is incredibly important in the push for equality. The personal is political, but I cannot speak for all survivors. There will be moments of overlap, things all survivors can relate to, but ultimately my experience is still very limited as a result of my privilege.