Sunday, February 13, 2011

From Victim to Survivor: A True Story

From Victim to Survivor: A True Story

(This is the final part of the true story following a victim to survivor. For previous parts, please look through the blog)

My teacher’s caring words resounded through my head. I don’t know if my teacher knew I was planning to commit suicide that day, but her reaching out to me changed my life. Someone cared about my pain! It’s not that I didn’t think my family and friends cared, but going to school every day to deal with bullying and harassment, it wears a person down. People in my life either wanted to pretend the rape never happened or wanted to talk about the details, which I was not comfortable doing.

I began to feel like I was living outside myself, no longer who I thought I was. It was at this point my eating disorder began. My life felt out of control. It seemed the only thing I could control is my eating habits. I would starve or binge on everything edible in sight, then purge myself. Afterward, there would be a strange sense of control and I would feel better. It was like I was saying to the universe, “Ha! I do have some control here!”

Eventually I spoke to my teacher. As it turns out, my teacher was a volunteer at a local crisis center for many years. It was from her I first learned of Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS). She explained that everyone responds differently to sexual assault and there is no wrong or right way. As she told me about it, I recognized myself in what she described.

The first stage of RTS is the acute phase. This is when the victim tries to deal with the assault after it has happened. Some are expressive, in that they are very emotional. Another response is controlled and is when the victim tries to maintain their composure and not show any emotion. Some victims might even go through both the expressive and controlled response.

During this acute stage that some victims experience nightmares, panic attacks, or even disconnect from everything. A loss of interest in everything, inability to focus, not feeling safe or trusting anyone, all are part of the acute phase. I felt shocked and elated when she told me this. I wasn’t alone in dealing with this, others go through it too! I felt sad it happens so often there is a name for it, but I no longer felt like a freak and alone.

The next stage is the Reorganization Phase: the victim tries to put the pieces of her/his life back together. The loss of security, trust, and control are so intrinsic the anxiety seems more heightened. This is where the shame and guilt, pulling away from family and friends, the constant fear and anxiety have come to a place where the victim tries to take some control back and reorganize a recognizable life. As with all recovery, there is no one way to go about this either or a length of time any of this may take.

Eventually, my rapist plead guilty, sparing me from a long court process. It did not make the other issues go away; there was a lot to deal with. I do look back and wish I had handled it differently and found someone to talk to sooner. It’s always a struggle. When I developed an eating disorder to try and take back control, I just wanted to feel better. I had no idea it would be a life-long struggle of triggers, relapse, and recovery.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual violence, talk to someone: a friend, family, even an anonymous voice on a hotline. It is very important to get those feelings out. Remember, there is no wrong or right way a victim responds or copes. Time does not always heal all, but it does make it easier to live with. You do not have to be a victim, you can become a survivor!

This column is not is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice or treatment.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month!

By the time you finish reading this sentence, a woman somewhere will have been abused.

Teen dating violence is an equal opportunity crime. It does not matter where you live, what race you are, what your family socio-economic status is, what kind of car you drive, what kind of grades you get, etc.

It is alarmingly common.

It is estimated one in three teens experience some type of abuse in their relationships, including verbal and emotional abuse. Dating violence is a reality for many youth, and an issue that many parents are not aware of.

Statistics show that one in three people are affected by physical, sexual or verbal, dating violence, with one in five in a serious relationship reported having been slapped, hit, threatened, or coerced by a partner. About one in three high school students have been or will be involved in an abusive relationship.

Abuse in a dating relationship can be confusing and frightening at any age. For teenagers or tweens, who are just beginning to date and develop romantic relationships, this abuse is especially difficult, because only half recognize the warning signs of a dangerous relationship .

Teen dating violence is also often hidden because teenagers typically are inexperienced with dating relationships, they may be pressured by peers to act violently, want independence from parents, or have "romantic" views of love.

Ten of the most common warning signs of abuse at any age include:

1.Checking your cell phone or email without permission
2.Constant put-downs
3.Extreme jealousy or insecurity
4.Explosive temper
5.Financial control
6.Isolating you from family or friends
7.Mood swings
8.Physically hurting you in any way
10.Telling you what to do

A 2008 study commissioned by Liz Claiborne and found: 40 percent of the youngest tweens, those between the ages of 11 and 12, report that their friends are victims of verbal abuse in relationships, and nearly one-in-ten (9 percent) say their friends have had sex.

One-in-five between the ages of 13 and 14 say their friends are victims of dating violence, such as getting struck, hit or slapped by a boyfriend or girlfriend, and nearly half of all tweens in relationships say they know friends who are verbally abused.

Only half of all tweens (51 percent) claim to know the warning signs of a bad/hurtful relationship. In addition, significant numbers of teens (15-18) are experiencing emotional and mental abuse as well as violence when dating; it's even more prevalent among teens who have engaged in intercourse by the age of 14.

Break ups can be a time of even greater risk, even when a relationship was never physically abusive. Young people can choose better relationships when they learn that healthy relationships are based on respect and learn to identify early warning signs of an abusive relationship.

Elimination of dating violence must be achieved through cooperation of individuals, organizations, and communities. Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month provides an excellent opportunity for citizens to learn more about dating violence and to show support to the numerous organizations and individuals that provide critical advocacy, service and assistance to victims

Many communities face the problem of teen dating violence, and young people can be afraid to discuss it, or they may not recognize the severity of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Parents and other adults may also be uncomfortable acknowledging that young people experience abuse, or may be unaware of its occurrence.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there are lots of resources to help. National Teen Dating Abuse Help Line: 1-866-331-9497 The National Resource Center for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month: