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RCASA Friday Facts: Barriers to Native American Women Seeking Help Part 1

In Friday Facts, Sexual Assault Awareness on December 31, 2010 at 8:04 am
Sexual Victimization in Indian Country: Barriers and Resources for Native Women Seeking Help

Sherry L. Hamby

      Even in the 21 st century, victim blaming is alive and well in Indian country.   Just last year, an Indian Health Service (IHS) physician published a paper in which she recommended that victims be lumped into categories such as “unintentional game players” and “intentional game players.”   She recommended these harsh labels “to shed light on the experience of domestic violence in many American Indian communities” (MacEachen, 2003, p. 126) .   Even more amazingly, MacEachen (2003) suggested that women with a history of child sexual abuse often “provoke rape and battery in order to satisfy [their] needs …” (p. 127).   The stubborn persistence of these attitudes, and for that matter the implicit acceptance of such attitudes as indicated by their acceptance in a government-sponsored peer-reviewed journal, are just some of the many barriers American Indian and Alaska Native women face when seeking help for victimization.  

      Other barriers also confront American Indian women who must decide how (and whether) to seek help after a sexual victimization.   Centuries of oppression by the United States government have left many lasting problems (Duran, Duran, Woodis, & Woodis, 1998; Duran, Guillory, & Tingley, 1993) .   Sexual victimization itself is a part of the terrible history of oppression, violence, and maltreatment that American Indians have experienced at the hands of the United States government and its citizens (Smith, 1999) .   Today, the majority culture is still often prejudiced and uninformed about tribal cultures.   Because of U.S. actions, many reservations are in remote areas, and most American Indian communities are fairly small.   These realities create additional problems, such as obtaining access to culturally congruent resources.  

      Looked at from another way, it is also important to realize that tribal membership offers resources that may help some American Indian women who have been sexually victimized.   Many American Indian women have access to both Western and native healers (Kim & Kwok, 1998) .   Many American Indians also have culturally specific spiritual practices that can help with their healing (Senturia, Sullivan, Cixke, & Shiu-Thorton, 2000) .   Tribal members are entitled to some financial benefits, including free health care, and sometimes housing or education subsidies (Indian Health Service, 2002) .   This paper summarizes the barriers facing and resources available to American Indian victims of sexual victimization, with a focus on systemic barriers found in the organizations and communities most likely to serve native women.  

Barriers To Helpseeking Behaviors

      Many barriers face not only American Indian women who have been sexually victimized, but also agencies and organizations seeking to improve services to American Indian women.   A review of the most challenging barriers follows.

Victim Blaming and Prejudice .   MacEachen (2003) reported that many women did not disclose violence in her clinic, even when staff members knew of the violence from social services or law enforcement.   She identified this as a problem with the patients, but given MacEachen’s tendency to blame victims, it seems likely that staff attitudes deterred disclosure as well.  

      In a qualitative study of patient perceptions of health care providers on one reservation, some patients reported negative experiences with providers, stating they showed superior attitudes, used confusing terminology, and avoided the reservation outside of working hours (Fifer, 1996) .   In a study of shelter employees, White staff often reported stereotypic and even racist attitudes towards persons of color (Donnelly, Cook, & Wilson, 1999) .   Many White shelter staff assumed other ethnic groups would “take care of their own” (Donnelly et al., 1999, p. 724) even though there were not other services nearby.   Shelter staff also reported occasional problems with White residents showing prejudice towards victims from other ethnic groups.  

Conflict of Values .   Rape crisis advocates, prevention specialists, health care providers, and law enforcement personnel all typically make recommendations based on the values of the majority U.S. culture.   These can include encouraging rape victims to have physical exams, get tested for sexually transmitted diseases and receive medication to prevent pregnancy, encouraging women who are sexually assaulted by partners to divorce or terminate the relationship, and encouraging women to legally prosecute perpetrators.   Further, at a most basic level, most advocates and providers will expect victims to disclose the details of their victimization, often many times in the course of seeking help from different agencies.  

      Many American Indians hold values that do not mesh well with these recommendations.   Some American Indian women may have difficulties disclosing intimate details about victimization (Hamby & Koss, 2003) , especially given that many American Indian cultures value privacy regarding sexuality and family problems.   Some cultures may value responses from victims that are discouraged or controversial among mainstream violence advocates.   For example, physical resistance to assault is respected among some women of the Passamaquoddy nation (A. Bardi, psychologist, personal communication, November, 2003).  

      This clash in values can present problems for American Indian victim advocates as well.   For example, American Indians are often taught to respect their elders because “they have walked the path where you are now” (S. Locklear, victim advocate and Lumbee tribal member, personal communication, November, 2003).   As such, American Indian advocates may feel uncomfortable giving advice to elder victims, and it may be especially difficult for them to see elders being victimized either sexually or physically.   Further, American Indian advocates and victims alike may feel uncomfortable with use of a criminal justice system that can be racist (Hamby, 2000) .  

Language Barriers .   Language influences the way we perceive sexuality and victimization.   As Tafoya (2000) noted, “English is a mélange (French), a conglomeration (Latin) of xenologic (Greek) words superimposed on a foundation of Anglo-Saxon” (p. 61).   Victim advocates and prevention specialists tend to use Latin-based words, like “intercourse.”   The one-word Anglo-Saxon equivalent for “intercourse” may be more familiar to some, but is not considered polite.  

      As Tafoya pointed out, not all languages have the potential to shift between polite and vulgar terms for sexual experiences (2000) .   For example, in one Apache community, outsiders are commonly told that there are no curse words in Apache.   This is true in the sense that Tafoya described–there are not separate words for intercourse that sound vulgar no matter how they are used.   On the other hand, there is no “polite” equivalent in Apache either, which relies on context and tone much more than English.   Especially in cross-cultural communication, it can be hard to directly communicate information about sexuality in ways that are not offensive.  

      Other languages also differ from modern English in the extensiveness of their terms for victimization (DePuy, Hamby, & Monnier, 2002) .   The U.S. social movements against rape and intimate violence have influenced American English.   English-speakers have many terms for sexual victimization, including “rape,” “sexual assault,” “date rape,” “sexual abuse,” “incest,” and “molestation.”   There are also numerous terms for physically and psychologically abusive behavior.   For purposes of both intervention and prevention, it can be hard to identify comparable words in other languages.   Even English speakers who are not immersed in addressing these social problems may not appreciate the subtle distinctions between these terms.  

      On the other hand, by no means do these differences imply that American Indian languages are lacking in specificity or subtlety (Manson, 2000) .   There is considerable variability across languages, Indian and non-Indian alike, in the phenomenology and terms for emotion.   For example, among the San Carlos Apache, the English word “somehow” is often used to convey a negative mood or irritability, perhaps without immediate apparent cause.   The usage does not closely correspond to any majority culture usage of the same word.   To provide effective services, one must learn the specific terms used in the community one serves.  

Economic and Geographic Barriers .   Many American Indian communities suffer from high rates of unemployment and poverty, due in most cases to a forced conversion to a cash economy from hunting, gathering, and farming economies (Bohn, 1989; Chester, Robin, Koss, Lopez, & Goldman, 1994; DeBruyn, Wilkins, & Artichoker, 1990) .   Further, because tribes were pushed off more desirable lands, many reservations are in rural or geographically remote areas.   As with most rural areas, public transportation is typically not available and a significant barrier to accessing care (Duran et al., 2000) .   There may be fewer programs available and these programs often have high staff vacancy rates because it can be difficult to attract qualified individuals to remote areas (Indian Health Service, 2002) .   Another consequence of poverty and isolation is lack of telephones in a high percentage of American Indian households.   A recent study of American Indian communities in Arizona, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and South Dakota found only 43% to 72% of households had telephones in these communities (Stoddardt et al., 2000) .  

Community Size Affects Confidentiality, Stigma, and Perception of Choices .   This is a well-known issue on many reservations.   Many tribal communities are a fraction of their size before colonization.   As in many small communities, people know each other and are often interrelated by blood or marriage.   Close-knit communities can offer enhanced support and other advantages, but the reduced privacy can be a problem for stigmatized issues such as sexual victimization.   In one study, lack of confidentiality was cited as a major reason for not seeking help for another sensitive issue, drug and alcohol treatment (Duran et al., 2000) .   Stigma is a concern of many American Indian victims (S. Locklear, victim advocate and Lumbee tribal member, personal communication, October, 2003).   Although most advocates attempt to maintain confidentiality, even the perception of limited confidentiality can prevent women from seeking help.

      Another important and often less recognized consequence of small community size is the very issue of tribal survival itself.   Although more than four million people identified themselves as American Indian or Alaska Native on the 2000 U.S. Census, only 11 tribal groups had more than 50,000 members (Ogunwole, 2002) .   Many tribal communities literally face the possibility of extinction.   Victims may be unwilling to prosecute male tribal members because that will take another person out of the community.   They may also hesitate to terminate a relationship with a male tribal member because options for intra-racial remarriage are more limited for American Indians than they are for other U.S. ethnic groups (Hamby, 2000) .

Fear of Law Enforcement and the Community Justice System.   Some problems with the criminal justice system are common to many victims, especially victims from other U.S. minority groups.   These include: fear of stigma following public charges, fear of being accused of a crime themselves, and hesitation to accuse a fellow tribal member and make him confront a racist legal system in addition to his crime.   The complicated relationships among tribal, state, and Federal laws create unique issues, however.   For example, if the perpetrator is non-Indian and the assault was committed on reservation land, jurisdictional problems may arise because reservation authorities cannot prosecute a non-Indian and off-reservation authorities are often reluctant to get involved in all but the most severe reservation crimes (Snyder-Joy, 1995) .   Multiple legal jurisdictions complicate many offenses, including sexual assault and rape, that occur on reservation lands and can hamper the legal process even beyond what is usually seen in other jurisdictions (Millian, 2000) .  

Lack of Funding .   Considerable data document the longstanding lack of services available to American Indians (for a review, see Manson, 2000) .   Recent changes from Public Law 93-638, which authorizes transfer of IHS functions from federal to tribal administration, are designed to improve local input and control over health services.   Although the long-term effects of these changes are likely to be positive, in the short-term they are leading to dramatic shifts and increased variability in service provision and downsizing of technical assistance, quality control, and long-range planning at the federal level (Manson, 2000) .

Thursday Therapy: New Year, New Groups

In Sexual Assault Awareness, Therapy, Trauma on December 30, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Hi everyone,

RCASA will be updating the support group schedule in the new year.  Please look for up coming dates and times after January 3rd, 2011.  There will be a teen support group, male survivor group, and two women’s stabilization groups.  We wish everyone a safe and happy new year.  Please call (540) 371-5502 for an intake if you are intersted in group or finding out more information about RCASA’s services.

RCASA’s Wednesday Outreach: January is National Stalking Awareness Month.

In Awareness Campaigns, Education, Outreach, Prevention on December 29, 2010 at 10:58 am

As we get ready to celebrate the New Year we need to raise awareness about Stalking and how to prevent it from happening.  January is National Stalking Awareness Month.  You can read about the history of NSAM and why it was so important to bring this issue to the forefront to prevent more violent crimes from happening.  So many of the offenses of stalking are not crimes in and of themselves but the definition of stalking is a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. 

There are no specific events scheduled for NSAM in our area but you can raise awareness to your friends and family members.  The Stalking Resource Center Website has so many ways to promote the month on their website.  Please visit them at www.stalkingawarenessmonth.org for more information and how you can get involved.

RCASA Tuesday Prevention: Peer Education

In Prevention, Sexual Assault Awareness on December 28, 2010 at 9:45 am

One of the strategies in violence prevention efforts is utilizing ‘Peer Educators.’ Peer education groups are an effective method of violence prevention because of their ability to reach places that many advocates cannot.  These groups know their audience because they ARE the audience.

You ever push a snowball down a hill? (sure you have).

This is essentially the way that peer education groups work, or are intended to. They begin with a small group of people, most often these groups are students at universities or high schools, who receive training in health topics. Then they teach their peers. Then their peers teach their peers, and so on. Like a snowball rolling down a hill. It keeps getting bigger and bigger.

The biggest issue for peer education groups is the transient nature of them. Students make up these groups and thus at some point must graduate and leave. This presents a problem when senior members graduate and leave the organization in large numbers. Recruiting volunteers in our field is difficult. Retaining them is even harder. Burnout is common and even the most dedicated advocate needs a break sometimes (and given the nature of the work, probably should take one).

So, how do keep these groups active and minimize the (inevitable) crushing mass exodus?

1. Recruit young.

  • For high schools and universities, this means Freshmen. Find a way to present your organization in mandatory freshmen orientation programming. Get into 101 classes. Talk about the fun things your organization does. How it is a great way to meet people. How good it looks on a resume and grad school applications.

2. Start early

  • The best way to get members active is to get them active early in the year/semester. Begin with activities that are fun and simple and approachable. Start with an event/activity that is less about your organizations message and more about meeting people and having fun. When it becomes a part of their day/week planning, they’ll come to meetings and volunteer.

3. Get to know your volunteers

  • The better your volunteers/members know you, the more likely it is that you’ll see them on a regular basis (meaning they’ll actually show up to events). This can be done by having fun events, and example could be ‘family’ game/movie nights. When you have events, have senior members/officers participate in the events with the volunteers. Getting to know them makes them feel appreciated and excited about the group.

4. Listen!

  • Even though this is a peer education group, it’s likely that your volunteers/members will know some things you don’t. So listen to them. Ask them how the group can be better. Volunteers are the most important part of peer education groups, without them, you’re just a small group doing small events that won’t likely get much of a crowd. Also, let them know that they are appreciated. It feels good to know that you matter, and they you’re being helpful. This also applies to less senior officers/ members.

5. Have fun!

  • Have fun! The more that we neglect to laugh and smile together, the smaller our groups will be and the more likely it will be that there will be ‘rebuilding’ years. Activism is supposed to be fun, serious too, and the more fun the group has the more likely that people will be willing to join and retain.

It is inevitable that groups will need to rebuild sometimes, but when you have a good, positive, happy core volunteer/member base, the less likely it is that it will be devastating to the group and the shorter that ‘rebuilding’ year is. So have fun!

Drogas de violación – Ketamina

In Advocacy, Awareness Campaigns, Education, Hispanic/Latino, Outreach, Prevention, Sexual Assault Awareness, Systems Advocacy on December 27, 2010 at 7:00 am

Esperando que hayan pasado una maravillosa navidad y retornando a trabajar nosotros continuamos con nuestra serie de drogas de violación, y la última que mencionaremos es la Ketamina.

La Ketamina puede ser administrada en líquido, tabletas o en polvo, es un anestésico general que actúa rápidamente y usualmente la usan los veterinarios. Como GHB, se encuentra frecuentemente en los clubes y fiestas callejeras, donde los usuarios la toman por los efectos eufóricos de la sustancia. Ketamina puede causar impedimentos en el juicio, paranoia, endormecimiento, amnesia, convulsiones y depresión respiratoria. Dosis en grandes cantidades pueden causar pérdidas de oxígeno en el cerebro y en los músculos. Sus efectos usualmente duran una hora, pero es también posible que los efectos de la ketamina puedan durar de cuatro a seis horas. Generalmente, los usuarios no se recuperan de la droga completetamente por 48 horas. Marcas para la ketamina son Ketaset™ y Vetalar™. Nombres callejeros para la ketamina incluyen Special K, Ket and K, Vitamin K, Kit Kat, Keller, Cat Valium, Purple y Super C.  

Extraído y modificado de: http://www.idph.state.il.us/about/womenshealth/spfactsheets/date.htm

Espero que los tres artículos en cuanto a drogas de violación les hayan sido útiles comenzamos el 13 de Diciembre ha describir el GHB, el 20 de Diciembre les informamos sobre Rohypnol, y hoy día sobre Ketamina.

No olviden de cuidar sus bebidas, cubriéndolas apropiadamente y llevándolas con ustedes si se levantan de la mesa para ir a bailar, a socializar, etc.

Les deseamos un Nuevo año lleno de felicidad, no olviden el de contactarnos con alguna duda.  Prestamos los siguientes servicios relacionados a violencia sexual:

Educación, Prevención, alcance comunitario, acompañamiento al hospital, ayuda inmediata si hay una crisis emocional, intercesoría legal, y consejería.

Nuestro número es el: (540) 371-5502 y si habla Inglés puede llamar al (540) 371-1666 para ayuda inmediata.

Concilio Rappahannock contra el Asalto Sexual

Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault, RCASA

2601 Princess Anne Street, Suite 104

Fredericksburg, Virginia 22401

RCASA Case Management Sunday: The Importance of Healing

In Advocacy, Case Management, Sexual Assault Awareness, Trauma on December 26, 2010 at 9:34 am

Merry Christmas everyone.  I hope that yesterday was a day of peace, calm and joy.  Let us not forget for many it my have been difficult.  However, I want to just briefly reflect on the importance of healing. 

For many the Christmas season is difficult to delve into, particularly if you been raped or assaulted.  Many inidividuals have experienced assault or  have been molested by a family member.  Some hold their assault secret and must face their abuser during the holiday.   Many families have been torn apart by sexual assault or molestation.  What ever the case may be…experiecing peace, calm and joy during the holidays may seem impossible.

As professionals we know that individuals who have been sexually assaulted often carry with them a variety of emotions.  These emotions include depression, fear, terror, self-blame, guilt, rage, anger, grief, spiritual crisis and isolation.  And just because someone says its Christmas, doesn’t make those things go away.   If you or someone you know has been assaulted, recognize that the healing process is different for everyone.  Some people may experience healing quickly for others it is a  longer process.  It is also important to recognize that the holidays can be a challenge.  I encourage you for the sake of your loved ones be vigilant. 

  • An important part of the healing process is having some one or some where to go to be able to talk.  Keep counselors numbers close by or if you don’t have a counselor a local or statewide hotline.  (RCASA 540-371-1666 and Statewide 1-800-838-8238)
  • Develop a safety plan.  This doesn’t mean just physical safety, but mental, emotional, spiritual.  Do you know where to go or what to do if you get in a bad place.  Develop a plan.  Can you call a friend, family, member or pastor?  Do you need to be around people?  Do you need to escape to the movies?  What is going to keep you safe?  Talk with someone you trust and develop a working plan.
  • Journal, blog, read a book, watch an uplifting movie.
  • Attend church.
  • Spend time with friends and loved ones.
  • Speak life to yourself-that is say positive and uplifting things to yourself.
  • Change your environment for the better.

I could go on and on with all types of ideas.  You can check out websites such as http://www.rainn.org/ for more information. 

The bottom line is that the healing process is so important.  Whether you have been a victim of assault or you know someone who is, start researching what it means to heal and how you can apply that to yourself.  If we don’t start that process, the bottom line is things cannot begin to get better.  So as we are approaching the new year…think about a new way of life…a new start and a new you.  We must begin to seek out the healing that will make our lives flourish..

 Peace and Joy…

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

In Sexual Assault Awareness on December 25, 2010 at 10:16 am

We hope that everyone is enjoying the holidays!


Thank you to all of our volunteers who helped out this year and to everyone in the community, you are why we do the work we do, Thank you!

RCASA Friday Facts: Sexual Assault and Homeless Women Part 3

In Friday Facts, Sexual Assault Awareness on December 24, 2010 at 8:00 am
Taken from No Safe Place: Sexual Assault in the Lives of Homeless Women

By Lisa Goodman, Katya Fels, and Catherine Glenn

With contributions from Judy Benitez

Suggestions for System Improvements

            Given that homeless women are raped more than housed women, addressing the grave shortage of affordable housing in the United States would not only reduce the rates of homelessness—it would reduce the incidence of sexual assault.   Yet, there are severe shortages of affordable housing, supported housing, and housing vouchers across the country (Clampet-Lundquist, 2003).   Beyond housing, substance abuse and mental health treatment programs are severely under-funded; rape crisis programs are struggling to meet the needs of those who already come to them for help and often are not funded to provide shelter to victims and shelters for homeless women have long waitlists.   Further, all of these services have developed independently and are now invested in maintaining their “siloed” services in order to hold onto standard funding streams.   These gaps are creating a growing number of “special needs” victims whose needs are grossly neglected.  

            Clearly, the systems that impact homeless women who are sexual assault survivors require new funds and new forms of collaboration to be able to respond to the particular needs and challenges that face them. What follows is a list – albeit not an exhaustive one — of recommendations, which will provide a baseline upon which communities can build. The recommendations made here require the combined energies and resources of funders, policy makers, service providers, and communities.

            Much has already been written about the need for trauma-informed homeless services (Elliott, Bjelajac, Fallot, Markoff, & Reed, 2005; Markoff, Reed, Fallot, Elliott, & Bjelajac, 2005), and these efforts must be expanded and supported.   Collaboration between homeless providers and rape crisis advocates is critical to meet the needs of homeless victims of sexual violence. Homeless service providers must be given training and support in trauma and its consequences and staff must be given the authority to respond flexibly and appropriately to sexual assault survivors who come to them.   Indeed, all homeless women would benefit from a trauma-informed approach since, as illustrated throughout this article, homelessness is itself a form of trauma and a significant risk factor for assault; and survivors of child sexual abuse, regardless of economic status, may not remember or label their experience as such, but continue to suffer its damaging effects.   However, being trauma-informed goes far beyond staff training.   Organizations must examine and reframe their practices and protocols based on an understanding that most homeless women are survivors of trauma, and are likely to be revictimized if not given emotional support, the ability to have some control over their daily lives, and a safe and calm place to stay 24 hours a day.

            Rape crisis centers must be given the funding and the technical support to provide new services responsive to the particular challenges of homeless women, without further marginalizing them.   Given that many housed women who seek the services of rape crisis centers also contend with a range of other difficulties, providing staff and volunteers with tools to effectively help survivors facing multiple challenges would clearly strengthen their offerings. Indeed, whether situated within a rape crisis center or elsewhere, counseling and therapy around trauma cannot be divorced, temporally or practically, from assistance addressing other crises threatening a woman’s health and wellness, whether physical, psychological, economic or situational (Fels, Goodman, & Glenn, 2006).  

            Survivors of sexual assault—homeless or housed, poor or wealthy—live with shame and fear.   If they are homeless, they are further shamed by society for being poor and requiring help. If they are also women of color; immigrants; refugees; victims of sex trafficking; prostitutes; lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals; or women with disabilities, they face even greater stigma and discrimination. At every turn, homeless women are dehumanized by systems that collect information on intake, assess them, process them and attempt to move them forward. The expectation that these women will reach out to strangers for help around issues as deeply personal as sexual assault, whether volunteers at a hotline or an assigned case manger, without time to develop a relationship and a foundation of trust is often unrealistic.

            Creating initiatives, programs, systems and communities that respond collaboratively, respectfully, and holistically to homeless women with sexual assault histories in their distant or immediate past requires an understanding of the constellation of issues raised above.   But it also requires organizational readiness and capacity.   Systems do not prevent homeless survivors of assault from falling through the cracks – the people who work in these systems and their programs do.   Although a significant discussion of the harmful effects of high staff turnover in many social services is beyond the scope of this review, we recognize its deleterious effects on program effectiveness and, ultimately, on survivors’ lives.   Further, it is the authors’ experience that poor and homeless women are acutely tuned-in to the possibility of classicism, racism and other explicit and subtle forms of oppression imposed by the very people offering them services.   Cultural competency training that attends to issues of class, as well as race and position, is critical.   

            If integrating multiple strands of a woman’s history—homelessness, victimization, mental health challenges—were easy, it would be widely practiced.   While homeless women are often pointed to as “challenging,” we suggest that the systems in place to help them pose just as many challenges, both for those seeking help and for those helpers in specialty silos attempting to work with women holistically.   Different specialties see women’s issues differently; the resultant clashes often ignore the woman’s vantage point and voice. By framing the discussion in terms of how a woman sees herself, her behaviors and her challenges, we can begin to break through these impasses.

Author of this document:
Lisa A. Goodman, Ph.D.
Department of Counseling and Developmental Psychology
School of Education
Boston College
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467

Judy Benitez, M.Ed.
Executive Director
Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault
1250 SW Railroad Av Ste. 170
Hammond, LA 70403

Distribution Rights: This Applied Research paper and In Brief may be reprinted in its entirety or excerpted with proper acknowledgement to the author(s) and VAWnet (www.vawnet.org), but may not be altered or sold for profit.Suggested Citation: Goodman, L. (2006, September). No Safe Place: Sexual assault in the lives of homeless women. Harrisburg, PA: VAWnet, a project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence/Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Retrieved month/day/year, from: http://www.vawnet.org

Coping with the holidays

In Sexual Assault Awareness on December 23, 2010 at 4:30 pm

It’s that time of year again: rushing around, buying presents, parties, trying not to blow a diet, and spending time with family.  However, after an assault it can be tough to be around family and friends.  Holiday reunions can be reminders of life before the assault or a time when a person struggles to express their stress if family members aren’t aware of the assault.

According to Dr. Glenn Schiraldi the following six steps can return a survivors’ relationships to being their safety net.  Number one is to accept one’s fears.  This could mean a survivor no longer denying that they are terrified about their family members finding out about the assault; not necessarily telling them, but acknowledging the fear of their knowing.  The next step is to replace those ideas that block close relationships.  This could be the thoughts such as “they don’t know the real ‘me’ anymore.”  Survivors should actively reassure themselves that their families love them regardless and know who they really are, even if they don’t know everything we’ve been through.  The third step is to retrain yourself on communication skills if they have been damaged; this could mean standing up for one’s self or expressing affection.  The fourth step is to gradually practice trusting others again.  An example for this would be for a person who was assaulted by someone they trusted and now have lost faith in all people who have been given their trust.  Allow a person into your world for a bit; maybe let your favorite aunt know about that spelling test you cheated on in elementary school and see if she tells mom.  Next; step back and notice how family and friends handle conflicts and stress.  Never doubt that loved ones can’t handle stress from our lives even though we watch them cram 15 kin into a 3 bedroom house and still love eachother by New Years.  Lastly, consider picking up where things were left before the trauma.  Take this moment to ponder how the relationships truly were before and where they should be.  Survivors should envision how their close, intimate relationships should look like and begin working towards that goal.

Holidays bring enough stress, but compounding it with the stress that trauma can bring may seem overwhelming.  However, they can also be a wonderful opportunity to show us again who matters in life and a strong sense of new opportunities in the new year.

Happy Holidays

Thursday Therapy: Effects of Sexual Abuse

In Therapy, Trauma on December 23, 2010 at 8:00 am

For some people the effects of sexual abuse are very clear; for others, they are more subtle.  Some survivors may not connect any problems affecting them with the abuse for many years.  Sexual abuse either causes problems or reinforces existing ones.  Sexual abuse may cause someone to feel dirty and ashamed and as though they were “damaged goods.”  Many survivors believe that others can see what happened to them.  This means that survivors’ self-esteem is impacted.  If a survivor feels guilty or responsible for the abuse, this will lower self-esteem even more.  A survivor may feel different from or not as good as other people.

Many survivors of sexual abuse say that they feel numb most of the time.  Some say that life is like a movie they are watching instead of living.  Some survivors find that the only way they feel good or alive is to put themselves into risky situations or doing something dangerous.  This can lead to risk taking behavior.

Another common effect of sexual abuse is dissociation.  This is the process of separating painful or unpleasant feelings from your awareness.  If a person experiences trauma frequently they may learn to dissociate easily.  The longer a person has experienced abuse the more used they got to it and the better they got at it.

If you are experiencing any of the effects or symptoms in your life, please reach out for help.  RCASA has a 24 hour hotline and counseling services available.

~This information was taken from the book The Me Nobody Knows: A Guide for Teen Survivors By: Barbara Bean and Shari Bennett.

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