I am a Victim Advocate and a grandmother; not to say that these two ways of self-identifying relate. There is some truth, however, in the fact that I am often asked similarly innocent questions. One example is, “Are we there yet?”
Dr. Jaime J. Romo, author of Healing the Sexually Abused Heart, says in response to victims seeking to heal themselves from sexual violence, “The good and bad news…is that you are not alone.” How long does it take to heal from child sexual abuse, date rape, or sexual assault? The answers are as individual as we are.
Karen Baker, Director of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, says, “When we, as advocates, communicate about sexual violence, we often assume people hear what we are saying in the way we intend. But the fact is, we know that individuals have unique sets of filters by which they understand information, given factors such as gender, cultural, spiritual and political beliefs. There are also a host of cultural models or patterns of reasoning and assumptions about how society works.” Therefore, as humans in general, we are subject to necessarily accepting who are before beginning the task of measuring our healing time.
Another frequent question I experience in my dual existence is, “What does it look like?” There is no right answer. Dr. Romo tells us, “Since we’re talking about healing, we’re talking about a change in our self understanding, which is the beginning step towards becoming healthy.” You can change tires on the car and change clothes. You can change toothpaste, or you can change your mind about something. When we talk about physical, mental, and spiritual health, we’re really dealing with transformation. There is no time limit.
Smithsonian Magazine’s January 2013 issue tells us, “Time has proven itself to be both relative and subjective. What any group of people think about time ends up being a result of interacting with each other and socialization processes.” Research can give us some insight into what has happened to victims as a result of violence. Science has proven that children who witness violence have changes in brain growth (with the work of people like Besty McAllister). Duke University is doing DNA research on the length of our DNA and stress, such as violence, that shorten our genetic code for thriving. So, how do victims incorporate all of this information into an individually tailored recovery? Simply, to start, by loving and accepting oneself.
I often tell victims to imagine themselves as a loved one to whom you want to convey love and caring. If we were responsible for surgical recovery of a spouse, parent or child, we would encourage quiet, rest, and nutrition until one sunny day when it was time for some fresh air.
Victims can sometimes re-victimize themselves with profound misconceptions of what is interpreted as “survivor,” “helpless,” “hopeless,” or “powerless.” This occurs because the majority of people who have experienced sexual violence have had their personal boundaries damaged. Rebuilding healthy boundaries can be compared to constructing a house from scratch. Sometimes, you just need help.
Crime Victim Assistance Centers are located in every state. Victims may be introduced to them only after a crime occurs. However, many human service agencies in cities around the country are combining efforts to form support networks for victims of sexual violence. They may be referred to as Sexual Assault Response Teams. Their common goal, like the agency I work for, is to provide compassionate support and education, enhancing the community’s ability to prevent and respond to victims of crime. There are allies in these organizations for victims to reach out to, free of charge, courtesy of the Violence Against Women Act. Dr. Romo says it beautifully: “I know someone discovered water but I don’t think it was a fish.” SART allies bring a hopeful perspective and a healing consciousness into the victim’s experience. They provide comfort and unquestioning loyalty--be passed onto the survivor, like gentle advice from a grandmother. Are we completely there yet as victim advocates? No, but like the healing we inspire, it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey through time that we walk together.
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