Supporting a survivor of sexual assault is no easy task. I can’t really know what it’s like, on the other side. The loving family member or friend who is restricted to the periphery as their loved one implodes, explodes and scatters violently from the impact of assault. I can only guess at what it must be like to observe the messy, awkward stumble through the aftermath of assault. At what it must be like to sit through endless tears, rants, silences, interrogations, panics, flashbacks and irrational episodes. To be the stoic witness to a never-ending parade of distress and anguish. Or, the patient listener to the grating, feral shriek of the trampled and abused.
I can’t testify to the experience. All I can do is express my unrestrained gratitude to those who have been willing to patiently accompany me through the endless ups, downs, reversals, oblique twists and roundabouts of the tortuous path I have been on ever since the assault. I know how exhausting, trying and crushing it is for me. I imagine it’s little better for those who choose not to shy away from it’s inhospitable terrain. Perhaps, it’s even harder. For, I have no choice. I have been exiled to this territory against my will and am powerless to change my expulsion no matter what I try. My supporters though are under no such binding ties, they could turn their back. And who could blame them? Certainly, I wouldn’t. I understand only too well why you might refuse to enter this territory.
But, remarkably, there are people out there who don’t turn their backs. Who, willingly, knowingly, agree to accompany the exiled on their perilous journey through the wilds of violence and abuse. Who reach out their hands and refuse to close their eyes, their ears. Who care, even when it comes at great personal cost. These people, they are the the light at the end of the tunnel. A light so gently warm, so vibrantly golden, so lustrous, that it can reach into the deep, murky depths of that tunnel and convince you there will be a way out. They are the hope that a return to civilization, a compromised, impartial one, perhaps, but a return nonetheless, may be possible after all.
To listen, to believe, to acknowledge – these are extraordinary gifts to a survivor of sexual assault. They make a world of difference – literally, they transform the world the survivor inhabits. Sexual assault is an abuse of human rights, it is to be completely disregarded as a human being. It is to be exploited via your faith in others, via your belief in a basic human pact of respect. To take that trampled, mocked faith and resurrect it, through kindness, through belief, through respect is to reinstate a possibility of community, of trust, of humanity. To sit down among the shards and fragments left to the survivor and help her piece them back together, bit by bit, even if it’s pain-stakingly slow, even if it means your fingers too are cut on those sharp edges, is to literally rebuild a world. To each and every person who is sitting in that mess with me right now, I say thank you. And thank you. And thank you, again.