Written by: Viktoria Belle.
Trigger warning: Sexual assault content.
The weekend was uneventful, I was filled with a restless anxiousness that happens most after a weekend of working or hiding away in my cave. So I decided to call a friend and see where she was. She was at a staff party, she would meet me at our local. She showed up in her usual blaze of glory and I felt myself sink deeper into this sour mood I was in. By my second drink I decided that tonight was a bust and that I should just go home, have a smoke and go to bed, tomorrow would be better. I walked my friend to a cab just outside the bar, it wasn’t freezing but it was cold enough that she didn’t want to walk or TTC home. then He walked up to us.
I’m not going to describe him or go into great detail about the long and destructive process my brain and body put me through for weeks after the attack took place. There is no room for the words that describe the what if’s? and if only and why me? and why now? There is no room for words here because there are none that can capture the human betrayal and disgust a woman feels when her right to exist without fear of sexual or physical violence is ripped away. I’m not going to describe him because after six months his face has melded into the many faces I know or don’t know, but pass with slowness and sureness, every day. His eyes no longer recognizable in true transparency, but they are clouded with apathetic distance and time. His clothes which I could smell for weeks and see for months are now an unsure garment that hides in the back of your closest for years before its triumphant return. I’m not going to describe him because it’s too late and it wont help.
The police tried the best they could within a system that is built to fail women over and over again. They tried by pacifying my intense and direct questions about systematic oppression and the flaw in the identification process and the timeline in which we were working. I took too much time in between the attack and when I went back for the second time to the police station to participate in a series of identification process that I had to sign a waiver saying I would not disclose. It was the most ridiculous and flawed process and I couldn’t believe how everyone knew that it was flawed but maintained that it was fine the way things were now.
There were 12 photographs in envelopes. I would sit with an officer in a room, the officer would ask me to look at the photo not show it to her, label it and number it, show it to the camera if I recognized my assailant and tell the camera why. I was sweating as soon as she was reading off the process to me. I knew, I knew there was no way that I remembered his face well enough to do complete this puzzle. If I said yes, and I wasn’t sure, I could be condemning a marginalized man of color, that may be innocent. I had to be 100% sure if I was going to say yes.
“Can I look at them at the same time, It would help if I could compare?” I ask.
“No, one at a time and you can’t show me, only the camera.”
“This process makes me so nervous, I can’t say for sure and I know if I don’t do this right my entire case has no merit.”
“Just breathe and take your time, we know this is very hard. But we have been doing it this way for a reason for a long time.”
“OK, I just don’t know if I can do this.”
I closed my eyes and tried to remember every single smell, his breath, his skin, I tried to imagine if he was wearing a hat? Was it a hat? did he have facial hair? I think he did, I’m almost positive he had facial hair.. This guy doesn’t have facial hair, I can’t remember the photograph before, I cant remember at all now.
I kept thinking… How is this process happening? why do I feel like i’ve done something wrong. When only 30% of victims will report how are we not looking at rebuilding and reinventing a broken system? and while we are fighting for change, why aren’t we educating women to navigate this flawed process? because i’m scared shitless and this, unfortunatly isnt my first time at the rodeo.
When I was young and my biological father would go off, my tiny house in Brampton, turned into a barren field laced with landmines. I would retreat into a place of peace, usually I was floating in space, quietly among the stars. Dancing in a small room filled with snow that never melted, I would remember bits of violence, screaming, sad silences and I would remember his face. I would remember it because I saw it over and over my entire life. But this, what this stranger did, I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember his face, because I had seen it once before for a few seconds, during the 20 minutes or so and after when I would wake up weeks after sweating and shaking. He looked like nothing I could describe, he was not human to me, so picking him out from a series of photographs months later, was just not going to work.
Trauma informs and dictates so much of who we are and who we become after physical and sexual violence, I’m not saying I believe that all survivors are tainted, broken or branded, further from that actually. What I am saying is that, trauma, especially survivors of long-term trauma will always tell you that our current legal and societal approach to sexual assault and violence is THE FURTHEST from a trauma informed approach. If anything, it re traumatizes us all.
On the one hand, we’re hard-wired to try to remember a traumatic event. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective: we need to live through the trauma, and then be able to communicate the threat to others. But the hormones we release can make it more difficult for the amygdala to work together with the hippocampus to encode and consolidate information, disrupting the victim’s remembering of the event, according to Rebecca Campbell, a community psychologist at Michigan State University who has lectured widely on the neurobiology of sexual assault. Click here for Source
What is a trauma informed approach?
A trauma-informed approach adherence to six key principles rather than a prescribed set of practices or procedures. These principles may be generalized across multiple types of settings, although terminology and application may be setting- or sector-specific:
- Trustworthiness and Transparency
- Peer support
- Collaboration and mutuality
- Empowerment, voice and choice
- Cultural, Historical, and Gender
Trauma-specific intervention programs generally recognize the following:
- The survivor’s need to be respected, informed, connected, and hopeful regarding their own recovery
- The interrelation between trauma and symptoms of trauma such as substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety
- The need to work in a collaborative way with survivors, family and friends of the survivor, and other human services agencies in a manner that will empower survivors and consumers
We do not have this. We have never had this. We need to start demanding this.
There were times throughout this entire trauma that I fell away from myself. I fell away because it was the only way I could keep moving.
Then Jenna called me the morning after the Ghomeshi verdict was read.
I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt like my dad was beside me. I felt like the abandonment and fear had never left. I felt that guys hands on me again.. and I couldn’t take anymore.
Because of this I knew, when Jenna called me to become involved and help lead the Sexual Assault Action Coalition I knew my rage, my fear, my resiliency and my experience could maybe help other survivors like myself.
I always said to people that I would never be a victim of my circumstances. That I am not a product of my past. This was my chance to prove that to myself.
We are so proud that with a finalized vision statement the Sexual Assault Action Coalition held its first meeting last Tuesday, in a small room filled to the brim with survivors, activists, allies and mentors, sharing their stories, expressing their concerns and demands for change. It was the beginning of something we hope to bring holistic care and healing to survivors while engaging them and our allies in political and social activism.
I realized that whether I’m taking off my top in front of a bunch of people singing about smashing the patriarchy or sitting in my office doing research and connecting with my community, everything brings me closer to finding peace.
Women have had centuries to build our resiliency to a patriarchal system that quietly whispers to us and everyone else that our bodies are not our own, that our bodies do not hold the value that a man’s does. Women have been told that we are weaker, we are meant to saddle next to a man, we are not owners of our own destiny because not only are we too weak to make it through the fire but there is too much fire to make it through.
Yet here we are, resisting the fires and creating something beautiful and revolutionary.
There is peace after the war that rages inside all survivors and that peace comes with validation, vindication and victory. This brings me closer and now seeing other survivors create a community of trust and healing brings us all closer.
Please visit us on facebook- Sexual Assault Action Coalition