As a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence—in 2015, I have done things I never thought I would do.
I moved to another country and conquered my fear of being alone. I am in a new loving and healthy relationship, surrendering to love at a time when loving someone and being loved seemed impossible for me.
What I am most proud of is having turned my own story around, and that I’m now working as a consultant with the most amazing women on the front lines of the domestic violence and sexual assault field all over the world. Walking with them this year, not only have I conquered some of my biggest fears, but I learned some very important things about what happened to me that have helped me heal and continuously expand my knowledge to support other victims in their healing and recovery journey.
Most people think that once someone goes through something in their lives, they automatically become experts on the topic. Not only do people think they should have known about what was going to happen to them, but they think that victims understand it so much that they also know what is next for them. On the contrary, when one experiences violence in any form, everything we thought we knew gets questioned. Our vision of ourselves and the world as we know it gets blurred, and what we have just experienced may even contradict the essence of who we are.
Our very existence as we knew it will never be the same.
The only expert we become is that of our own experience and the journey of healing ahead includes the re-education of the mind, body and spirit. We have to train ourselves to love again, to dream again and to exist again in a body that often times feels like a stranger’s and that we think has betrayed us. The liberation of a sexual assault and domestic violence survivor lies in their ability to name what happened to them—to tell their story and to contextualize it within historical and institutional violence that makes it okay so they don’t become victims to it.
From the Dominican Republic to Miami, this year I have traveled all over the world working with some of the most extraordinary women in the field. Each time I’ve trained or coached someone, I learned yet another piece of my own story—getting that much closer to my own freedom.
On my journey to liberation, I share with you the 12 most important things I learned in 2015 about sexual assault that will make 2016 an unprecedented year for victims and survivors and the people who love them.
1. Justice looks different for each survivor.
2. Sexual assault starts with “grooming.”
3. The difference between dating a perpetrator versus someone else, is that a sexual offender will use the dating process to “groom” you. With a perpetrator, the sexual experience that should be a natural part of dating will happen with or without one’s consent. There will be a sexual experience no matter what, because sexual offenders believe that they have a right to it, and that is their intent to “dating” someone.
4. During the “grooming” process a sexual offender is breaking down boundaries and barriers in the relationship with the intent being to get something sexual.
5. The definition of sexual assault includes: voyarism, exhibinism, foundling or touching, molestation, child pornography, trafficking, stalking, sexual harassment, incest, exploitation, rape.
6. Sexual Harassment is forced. It’s intimidation, threats, manipulation and unwanted advances of sexual nature. It often includes “grooming” and it’s not always physical
7. What is important is that someone believes the survivor.
8. “Grooming” that does not include touching is strategic, so that the perpetrator can say, “But I didn’t touch you.”
9. The context—how, who, what, where, when and why—will determine the experience of the survivor. Not every survivor story is the same.
10. How do we deal with sexual assault? Most often, the survivor’s problem is not the sexual abuse itself, but everything that comes after it—its impact on their lives, mind, body and spirit.
11. Most survivors believe that their body betrayed them. They also might feel this way about the people who were supposed to “take care” of them.
12. The conversation of sex has to be different when rape, or sexual abuse of any kind, has been a girl’s or women’s first experience of sex.
In honor of myself, of victims and survivors this holiday season and all who work on the front lines—I am declaring 2016 an intentional year for each and every person reading this. May we be determined to light a new fire and passion for living. May we never be a victim, but always be in victory over our past.
Author: Dayanara Marte
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Flickr/Craig Sunter