Welcome to my new blog about everything related to sexual violence. Heavy topic, eh? As a psychotherapist specializing in working with survivors of sexual assault and abuse, I often get asked how I can do this work. My answer is: at a certain point in my life, I started finding it easier and more satisfying to face head on the fact that sexual violence is a big part of our world, than to continue trying to pretend it wasn’t. A key ingredient for finding the courage to face this reality, for me, is actively doing something to help people who have survived sexual violence. I hope this blog will help me with another key ingredient: being part of a community that speaks and listens to stories of sexual violence, and talks about how sexual violence affects all of us.
Let me tell you a little bit about my personal history with this topic. When I first started counseling sexual assault survivors in the 1990s, I naively looked at it as simply a way to productively use my time. I just wanted to help people. Sure, I was already a feminist, and I knew from personal experience that women had a harder row to hoe than men in a lot of ways. I was vaguely aware of the common rape statistics. But I didn’t realize how distorted my own thinking was around this tricky issue, and how much personal growth would come from getting more deeply involved with it. In particular, I didn’t realize the extent to which I did not hold rapists and abusers fully accountable for their crimes. I let them off the hook to some extent, by believing that women who took risks were partly to blame if they were assaulted. As if the risks those women took somehow removed the ability of their assailants to make their own decisions.
I also didn’t realize that some people in my life would see my new interest as radical and controversial, not to be discussed in polite company. I didn’t realize that I would come to reinterpret past incidents in my life through a more troubling lense. I didn’t realize how many heart wrenching stories of assault, abuse, and loss I would eventually hear. And I didn’t realize how healing it could be for survivors and for myself if I listened deeply to those stories.
What have you learned while trying to come to terms with the sexual violence in our world?