Talking about Assault

The first time I remember being assaulted I was 15 years old. The first time I recognized what had happened to me was assault I was 25. I finally find myself in a place where I can talk about that first time, and the subsequent ones that followed.

I have shared many of these stories, often eliciting shock, pain, sympathy, empathy. The intent is not to silence people with these horrors or exert my opinion as an experienced individual over their opinions. I have PTSD and for me talking about these nightmares helps me when I am forced to relive them because I feel as though I have somehow given form to invisible monsters. And as any avid horror fan can attest, giving shape and form to an invisible monster makes them possible to fight.

The thing is, I have had time to digest this information. When I try to discuss it with others, especially my male friends who have not experienced anything like this, it can be challenging both for me and for them to have a productive discussion.

In looking deeper into this and asking around, I have learned from many wonderful and supportive friends what makes this difficult for them, and the answers all seem to sing the same tune- an inability to form a response and insecurity about how to react to something so horrible in a constructive way.

So how do we keep this conversation going? How do we maintain constructive conversation loud enough to be heard, but soft enough to allow others to weigh in?

This topic is particularly important now, because the conversations are finally happening. The problem is the loudest voices are the ones who have little experience and first hand knowledge of the topic and I firmly believe that needs to change. I want to give a voice to the voiceless, but in order to do that we need to find a way to make it easier for people to hear us and feel a part of the discussion, even when they were not a part of the trauma.

I am opening this conversation up to the survivors, to the victims, to friends and family, to supporters of women as people and not property, and to those who are curious to hear what we have to say.

This is a safe space.

This is not a place for shaming, in any capacity.

This is also not a place for generalizations. Referring to groups (be it women, Republicans, survivors, men, etc.) as though they are one entity all with the same ideas and feelings and actions is not realistic nor open minded and contributes nothing to the topic at hand.

There are men and women out there who have views that can be hurtful and conflicting, but shaming and condemning them does not bring about constructive change.

I am asking for your help; when you are ready to open up about sexual assault, what kind of response feels most comforting? What kind of questions are you comfortable with? What would make the conversation easier for you while still opening the floor for people to learn? What could someone do that might make it easier for you to open up to them?

For those who have not experienced something like this, how do you feel when someone opens up to you about their experiences? If you have questions but were unsure if they were appropriate to ask, what are they? What do you do to try and make someone feel more comfortable opening up to you, and have you had success in doing so?