Dear Parents Part 1
This is a letter specifically addressed to the parents of girls who have been sexually assaulted and/or abused.
for the purpose of this blog post, i will be talking specifically about women who have been assaulted by men.
This letter has been written based off of my own experiences. Thinking back to when I told my parents about my story of sexual assault, I remembered all of the ways my parents supported me through this horrible time in my life. As a parent, you play a crucial role in the healing of your child. I think that it is important for parents to understand how necessary it is to be there for your daughters while they are working through their trauma. To be there for her, you need to educate yourself, listen with ears to hear and truly try to understand her pain. Many parents feel like it’s their fault or like there is something they could have done to prevent the rape. Please know that it is not your fault. There is no amount of parenting that can protect a child from something like this.
Sexual assault is defined as unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against a person's will or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent because of mental illness, mental deficiency, intoxication, unconsciousness, or deception.
Every 92 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Every 9 minutes, that victim is a child. In the last ten years, the statistic of women who have been sexually assaulted has grown from every six in ten women to every one and three. Think about it this way. Let’s just say you have two sisters and a mother. That means one of them is likely to be assaulted in their lifetime and it is even more likely to happen between the ages of 18-24.
The most critical part of being there for your child is reminding her that she did absolutely nothing wrong. What she was wearing has absolutely no weight on the choices her rapist made.
A rapist is a rapist.
After being assaulted, it can become hard to even look in the mirror. A little part of you is ripped away and there’s no getting it back. I’m not exactly sure how to explain the feeling. I went almost a year without letting anyone touch me other than my mother. It’s a gut wrenching feeling that doesn’t go away overnight. It takes time and work. Some women wait years before getting help or even saying a word. Some women never do. I can’t even imagine. I waited six months before telling anyone and it almost killed me. My parents encouraged me to go to therapy which helped immensely. I’ve been so blessed with the help I’ve been provided. My parents did a lot right. They didn’t do everything right, but they did set up a support system for me and I wouldn’t have made it through without it. My parents were extremely patient with me during this time. There were days I didn’t even want to get out of bed. They let me grieve. It is truly a grieving period. A part of her has been lost.
My parents were very intentional about their wording around me. The list below are actual words that have been said to me and many other girls that I know personally. Words matter. The amount of shame and guilt that surrounds sexual assault is unfathomable. It took me two years to come to the conclusion that it was NOT my fault. There was nothing I did to deserve what happened to me and there's nothing I could have done to prevent it.
what they should say
This doesn’t change how I see you.
Do you WANT to talk about it.
You are not alone.
I’m going to walk through this with you.
It’s okay to feel your feelings.
I believe you.
You are not to blame for anything.
How can I be here for you?
What do you need?
It’s not your fault.
You did nothing wrong.
I am so sorry.
I’m not going anywhere.
Do you want to go get some ice cream?
what they actually say
You should have reported it.
What were you wearing?
Were you drinking?
Isn’t he your boyfriend?
Did you actually say no?
It’s been long enough, get over it.
I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.
But he’s such a good guy.
Why do you keep bringing it up?
It’s just sex. It’s not that big of a deal.
Are you sure you didn’t say yes?
You were drunk. How do you know it actually happened?
Why didn’t you go to the police?
You’ve had sex before.
I was fifteen when I was sexually assaulted and even now I get jumpy when someone touches my shoulders.
When dealing with trauma, there are certain triggers that can bring the victim back to her encounter. It could be anything from hearing the perpetrator’s name to seeing a similar face, dates associated with the rape or even just smelling the same cologne he was wearing. There’s no guide to triggers. Every single woman has something different that triggers them.
One of the hardest parts of dealing with sexual assault is the constant fear and feeling of being unsafe. There is no way to protect your child 100% of the time but there are ways to make sure they feel safe in their own home. For the first six months after my assault, I couldn’t walk out the front door without at least two people. The fear can be overwhelming. It’s the thought of, “What if I see him? What then?” You must be sensitive to this. If she doesn’t want to leave the house, don’t make her.
there is no one way of healing
After assault, many survivors struggle with: guilt, shame, sleeping and or eating disorders, depression, anxiety, PTSD, dissociation, etc. As helpful it would be to have a step-by-step healing process, there is no “how to heal” brochure. Do not let her isolate herself. I cannot stress this enough. Isolation leaves room for thoughts- thoughts that can feel even more damaging than the assault itself. You have to remember that no matter what, your daughter will never be the same. Sexual assault changes people. It changed me. I was forced to grow up when I was fifteen. But here I am, almost three years later, using one of the worst things that has ever happened to me to aid others in healing. It does get better. I swear to you. There comes a day when it no longer feels like an elephant on your chest. There comes a day where you can leave the house without a crippling fear. There comes a day when you can talk about it without crying.
Parents, my last piece of advice is this: believe your daughters and love them through it. Every story is different. Do not shame her for not telling you soon enough. Do not make her feel like she is damaged because she is not. Remind her every single day that this does not define her. It is something that happened to her but it is NOT her identity.
Sincerely, someone who has been there.