Trigger Warning! This is about sexual assault awareness month. RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) is an amazing support resource. Click here to link to their site and 24 hour hotlines.
The month of April is national what month? April is the awareness month of many things I wish we didn't need to raise awareness about month. This week is Street Harassment Awareness Week. This month is National STI's Education and Awareness Month, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, Mental Health Month, Sexual Abuse Awareness Month. It is also the month that I was born in. Last year I collaborated with Audacia Ray of Red Umbrella Project and co-curated a Red Umbrella Diary story telling night with the theme Survivors. This was the first time I (and many of the speakers that night) spoke publicly about being a survivors of sexual abuse. I gifted myself freedom from the silence for my birthday. There were many reasons why I never wanted to talk about it out loud. I least of all wanted to talk about it within the context of also having been a stripper. It was a long journey for me to get to a place where I realized that there would be a whole lot more sex workers if sexual abuse was the cause. Every TWO minutes someone is sexually assaulted in the US.
However, this year has shown us just how much awareness is still needed. Watching the various news reports about the rape and sexual abuse cases (that actually made the news) hurt. Seeing the reactions to the stories also hurt. In one social media timeline discussion a female poster actually said "it was only fingers" (in reply to the guilty verdict found in the Steubenville Rape Case). It's as if having someone violate your body with "only fingers" makes sexual assault excusable. Could she imagine this being done to her and shrugging it off? What about to her daughter or son, niece or nephew? Let us not forget males can also be victims of sexual abuse. I tried without being able to adequately explain to a partner, once, why I didn't tell. Reactions like this are a part of it. There is still very much a way in which the victims of sexual assault are blamed. The victim is made to feel responsible in some way shape or form. There was alcohol involved, she was dressed to skimpy, she willingly was alone with him/them, etc.
The rape culture we exist in insists on having victims of sexual abuse believe it is their fault. In some way, shape or form, the victim is often shamed into silence. This silence stunts the journey towards healing and surviving. I wish I could scream it loud enough for even unborn children to hear:
IT COULD NEVER, EVER, EVER BE YOUR FAULT!!!
Would I could be in the mindset of my now, yet another year older self, comforting and supporting my then unknowing younger self. Tell. Report it. Break the silence until you get support. It's not so easy to be that strong when you are sexually violated. It's even harder when you are young. It remains a battle in our society to find the strength to do so. I cannot say/write it better than Melissa Harris-Perry. See/hear Melissa Harris-Perry's words here.
April is also National Poetry Month so, I leave you with this message from an amazing poet, Staceyann Chin:
- My Open Letter to the Steubenville Survivor (Melissa Harris-Perry)
- Straight From Barack's House: The Daily Word (theobamacrat.com)
- Sexual assault: Many myths surround crime (courierpress.com)
- Male Sexual Abuse Survivors Stand Together (Oprah.com)
ESSENCE REVEALED - Essence Revealed is first generation Bajan born & raised in Boston. She got her BFA at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and MA at NYU's Steinhardt School of Education. Her writing has appeared places such as $pread Magazine, Corset Magazine, BurlesqueBible.com and 21st Century Burlesque. She now performs & teaches nationally and internationally both solo and as a member of Brown Girls Burlesque. Her favorite thing to do besides reading is to lay on the beach in Barbados to rest up for a night of calypso dancing. Help Essence get to the Milan Burlesque Awards!