Yesterday I had the first flashback I have had in over 20 years. Over 20 years ago, I took power back after my sexual assault. I went through extensive therapy, to fix and strengthen the broken parts of me. I relived my experience while giving my deposition to an unsympathetic and doubting man to help change the law in my state. I told my story to individuals in order to raise awareness for this injustice. Through the grace of God, support of others and inner strength I did not know I had, I even got to the point of forgiveness and a continued relationship with my abuser (this is not something I would advocate for in most circumstances). My healing journey brought me to the place where I could honestly say that while I would never want to relive my experience, I would not change it--for it shaped who I am, and I really like her. My point is that I have come to a place of healing that many in this situation will not reach.
Being that this is where I have been in my sexual assault journey for over 20 years, I was blind-sided by the flashback. It was just as real as if it had just occurred and left me shaken. I learned long ago that I cannot control these experiences, they come when they are triggered. They are a visceral reaction to my previous experiences and my current state. It does no good to try to suppress the flashback. Instead, I have learned that if I let it play out, give grace to that innocent girl, and give myself time to process it, I can find my balance again. It also helps to understand the trigger--what in my current life has set off this flashback?
This time, I realize, it is fear. Fear of not being heard and validated. Fear that the world is not safe. Fear that society does not stand with me, does not hear me, does not validate me. For me, my reaction to the election results is more than sadness at not winning. It is a lump in my gut that will not dissipate. It is fear. The victim of sexual assault in our country has the obligation to prove way beyond a shadow of doubt first that the assault even occurred, second that she did not agree, and third that she was completely innocent. Not just innocent of explicit consent, but every conceivable implicit consent (Was she wearing too short of a skirt? Was she possibly intoxicated? Did she walk into a dark alley after looking his way, thus implying she wanted it?). As we learned from the Stanford rape this year, she finally has to prove she is worth more than he is as a person for him to receive a punishment that affects him a fraction of how it will affect her. Here I am, 20 years and a lot of therapy and support out, more whole than many with similar experiences, brought to my knees with a vivid flashback. In public. In broad daylight. It doesn't really go away. Ever. When our country elected Trump, the message to this sexual assault victim was a solid stand with my perpetrator. That might not be what your vote meant to you, but it is what his victory told my soul. By voting in a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women, my country told me that behavior is okay. It tells him, it is okay. Voting him in to office has reinforced his behavior. This is the part I am struggling with. This is what has caused enough primal fear in me to trigger a flashback.
I can't pretend to know another's experience, but I wonder if this isn't the same fear sitting in the guts of minorities in our country? I have heard of multiple racist and sexist accounts against my friends' children. These have occurred in the days following the election. Voting for Trump, despite his hateful comments about minorities, women, and other so-called "lesser-thans" is viewed (by me, by Trump, and by many others out there) as approval for him and his behaviors. Conservative Christians and other really good hearted people out there, I get you. I grew up with you and I grew up as one of you. My life circumstances may not allow me to be you anymore, but I get and I love you--and I hear you. You wanted change that aligned with your values. You wanted change that heard your struggles. You don't agree with his hateful comments, and you may not even like him as a person--but you needed the change he promised to bring. The problem is, on the ballot there is only one box to mark. You don't get to mark yes for him, but no for the hatred he spews.
When I told my mom (who loves me very much and does not ever want to see me hurting) that I had had a flashback yesterday, she urged me to get therapy. She wanted me to find a way to fix myself so I could live successfully in this society. While I appreciate that this comes from a place of love and isn't a bad idea, what I hear is that I am broken. The reality is, my world is broken. When Trump's views on sexual assault became clear, I was still okay. Why? Because there was outrage. Society stood with me and all the other me's out there and said, "We will not stand for this! This is wrong!" His ratings dropped. I felt surrounded by support from the majority. However, when he won the election, the message to me was it is ok. It is ok that the man who will have the most powerful position in the world feels free to misuse his power against women. I wonder if people of color across our nation had the same reaction when he said hateful things about their race, when he incited others at rallies to show their hatred?
One thing that has been shown over and over in occasions of violence is that silence is the same as acceptance. The same. It sends the message of acceptance to the victim. It sends the same message to the perpetrator. This silence has to stop. The message has to change. The thing is, sexual assault happens to 1 in 4 women in college. Right now. Today, 1 in 4. Twenty-five percent of males are not causing all of this pain. In fact, the number of people causing the pain represents a very small percentage of those in our society. The same is true for those people doing overt racist acts. The problem is that a small percentage of people doing similar acts to multiple people makes this a very big problem. If our President does not see this as a problem, and in fact incites this very behavior, the problem will grow. We have learned from this election that racism is more rampant than we once knew. Those of us who come from a place of privilege don't experience it daily, so we were able to believe that it wasn't as bad as it is. Now we know. Our power doesn't stop with the ballot. We need to be very clear of our expectations for those we have placed in power.
Trump is here for the next four years. I accept that. We have had Presidents before and will have Presidents again that I don't align with. I accept that. However, we don't have to and should not accept his hateful comments. He needs to acknowledge the power his comments have as the President of the most powerful country in the world. He needs to acknowledge they were wrong and that those sentiments will not be tolerated in our country.
I don't feel safe--I don't feel that my daughters are being raised in a community that has their backs. I don't believe people of color feel safe. I don't believe the LGBTQ community feels safe. I don't feel people with disabilities feel safe. Everyone deserves to feel safe. If you believe that God calls you to take care of the "least of these" in society, or if you believe in taking care of them because you are just a good person, than please, stand with us. Hear us. Please don't discount us as just being emotional or "sore losers". Hear us and tell us you will keep us safe. An easy way to tell me you hear me and stand with me is to write letters to every person you have voted into a position of power. Tell them that you expect them to stand strong for the safety of all people in this country. If you voted Trump into office despite disagreeing with his stance on humanity, make that very clear to him. If you need a template for your letter to get you started, let me know. As parents, we don't make our children guess our expectations. Instead, we clearly state them ahead of time so they have a chance to meet those expectations. We, the people, are now Trump's boss and we need to make sure he understands our expectations prior to his inauguration. Another way is to share this perspective with your friends and ask them to join you in setting expectations. Remember, Trump ran on the platform of being different than the establishment. Therefore, we can not expect him to follow the implied rules of the previous establishment. We cannot sit back and hope and pray that he will be for all people. Also, if you see people peacefully protesting, listen to them and stand with them. Obviously, your experience is quite different from theirs or you would be standing there with them. Find out what it means for them. Chances are, they aren't wasting their time, standing, marching, holding up a sign and chanting until they are hoarse because they didn't have anything better to do. It is because they have been hurt or they see hurt and need change and healing.
This blog post is for every woman who has experienced sexual assault. If this election has had this affect on me, what is it like for those women who are just beginning their journey to healing? I have put in a lot of work towards building a strong self, taking back the power that was ripped from me so long ago. Writing this blog required me to be very vulnerable. To take down the walls of strength I so purposefully constructed. If you are feeling inclined to take action steps to stand with me, please leave a comment and let me know how you have made an effort to make this country a safe place for all people. I still believe that love is more powerful than hate, and that together we can make influence the outcome. Thank you for taking the time to hear my heart cry.