On consent: the familiar face of sexual assault and abuse.

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April is Sexual Abuse/Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (#SAAPM, #SAAM). This is the second article I’m posting about the subject. Because the first step in fighting the silent epidemic of sexual crimes is awareness. You can read the first article, on how to support a survivor, by clicking here.

The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available by phone (800.656.HOPE) and online (online.rainn.org). Talk with someone who is trained to help anytime, 24/7.  

You’ve heard it before.

The old line that “no” never means “yes.”

But maybe that bears repeating.

NO NEVER MEANS YES.

According to RAINN, nearly 1/3 of sexual assaults are by people the victim knows. This means they’re in a situation where they ought to be able to say no, but the other party refuses to listen, refuses to respect, and at the end of the day, commits a crime with a lifetime of horrific implications.

The numbers are even more horrifying for minors. The majority of children under 18 who are abused, molested, and assaulted and who KNOW THEIR PERPETRATOR is a whopping 93%.

I can personally testify to the accuracy of this one. 

Those friendly little sleepovers? The relative who’s a little too touchy-feely and insists on getting a child alone? The coach, uncle, aunt, neighbor who takes a special interest in your child? There are warning signs…although many child molestors and family members who commit incest are often charismatic, the “life of the party,” likable, and pathological experts at hiding their crimes. I’ll post more about this topic later. (And click here for important information on warning signs.)

In the meantime, RAINN has a number of great resources on exactly what sexual consent is, and is not, including the article below, provided as a resource for #SAAPM.

Share this with someone you love.

Because no never means yes.

And learning those boundaries could save someone a lifetime of hurt.

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What Consent Looks Like

from RAINN.org

The laws about consent vary by state and situation. It can make the topic confusing, but you don’t have to be a legal expert to understand how consent plays out in real life.

What is consent? 

Consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. There are many ways to give consent, and some of those are discussed below. Consent doesn’t have to be verbal, but verbally agreeing to different sexual activities can help both you and your partner respect each other’s boundaries.

How does consent work in real life?

When you’re engaging in sexual activity, consent is about communication. And it should happen every time. Giving consent for one activity, one time, does not mean giving consent for increased or recurring sexual contact. For example, agreeing to kiss someone doesn’t give that person permission to remove your clothes. Having sex with someone in the past doesn’t give that person permission to have sex with you again in the future.

You can change your mind at any time. 

You can withdraw consent at any point if you feel uncomfortable. It’s important to clearly communicate to your partner that you are no longer comfortable with this activity and wish to stop. The best way to ensure both parties are comfortable with any sexual activity is to talk about it.

Positive consent can look like this:

  • Communicating when you change the type or degree of sexual activity with phrases like “Is this OK?”
  • Explicitly agreeing to certain activities, either by saying “yes” or another affirmative statement, like “I’m open to trying.”
  • Using physical cues to let the other person know you’re comfortable taking things to the next level

It does NOT look like this:

  • Refusing to acknowledge “no”
  • Assuming that wearing certain clothes, flirting, or kissing is an invitation for anything more
  • Someone being under the legal age of consent, as defined by the state
  • Someone being incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol
  • Pressuring someone into sexual activity by using fear or intimidation
  • Assuming you have permission to engage in a sexual act because you’ve done it in the past

Related:

If you’ve experienced sexual assault, you’re not alone. To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.

Legal Disclaimer
The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) website provides general information that is intended, but not guaranteed, to be correct and up-to-date. The information is not presented as a source of legal advice. You should not rely, for legal advice, on statements or representations made within the website or by any externally referenced Internet sites. If you need legal advice upon which you intend to rely in the course of your legal affairs, consult a competent, independent attorney. RAINN does not assume any responsibility for actions or non-actions taken by people who have visited this site, and no one shall be entitled to a claim for detrimental reliance on any information provided or expressed.

How to support a survivor: #SAAPM month series.

If you’ve followed me for long, you know I’ve always been an advocate for sexual abuse and assault survivors. In fact, my first novel How Sweet the Sound was written as a response to questions I had for the Lord about the subject. (Incidentally, this book will be re-released this fall! Stay tuned for details.)

Each April I do what I can to promote awareness about the subject, in tandem with efforts from non-profits like RAINN.org and others. Shining light into this dark and devastating subject is the first step in combating the evil. Coming alongside survivors is another.

Today’s post is about how to come alongside a survivor, and is one of a few blog posts I’ll release this month with helpful tips from RAINN. How Sweet the Sound tells the story of a survivor as she navigates her own healing journey. A big part of this story is about the friends who come alongside and support her. I wrote it with particular care and sensitivity, based on years of research, talking to survivor groups, and my own recovery. so that survivors could read it and find hope without feeling too triggered.

The following are facts and a helpful message on how to help survivors from RAINN.org:

Sexual violence affects nearly every household in America. Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted, and every eight minutes a child is sexually abused.

One in six American women and one in 33 men have experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes.

On average, there are 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.

When someone you care about tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted or abused, it can be a lot to handle. A supportive reaction can make all the difference, but that doesn’t mean it comes easy. Encouraging words and phrases can avoid judgment and show support for the survivor.

Consider these phrases:

“I’m sorry this happened.”

Acknowledge that the experience has affected their life. Phrases like “This must be really tough for you,” and, “I’m so glad you are sharing this with me,” help to communicate empathy.

“It’s not your fault.”

Survivors may blame themselves, especially if they know the perpetrator personally. Remind the survivor, maybe even more than once, that they are not to blame.

“I believe you.”

It can be extremely difficult for survivors to come forward and share their story. They may feel ashamed, concerned that they won’t be believed, or worried they’ll be blamed. Leave any “why” questions or investigations to the experts—your job is to support this person. Be careful not to interpret calmness as a sign that the event did not occur—everyone responds differently. The best thing you can do is to believe them.

“You are not alone.”

Remind the survivor that you are there for them and willing to listen to their story. Remind them there are other people in their life who care and that there are service providers who will be able to support them as they recover from the experience.

“Are you open to seeking medical attention?”

The survivor might need medical attention, even if the event happened a while ago. You can support the survivor by offering to accompany them or find more information. It’s okay to ask directly, “Are you open to seeking medical care?”

“You can trust me.”

If a survivor opens up to you, it means they trust you. Reassure them that you can be trusted and will respect their privacy. Always ask the survivor before you share their story with others. If a minor discloses a situation of sexual abuse, you are required in most situations to report the crime. Let the minor know that you have to tell another adult, and ask them if they’d like to be involved.

“This doesn’t change how I think of you.”

Some survivors are concerned that sharing what happened will change the way other people see them, especially a partner. Reassure the survivor that surviving sexual violence doesn’t change the way you think or feel about them.

Continued Support

There’s no timetable when it comes to recovering from sexual violence.

If someone trusted you enough to disclose the event to you, consider the following ways to show your continued support.

Avoid judgment.

It can be difficult to watch a survivor struggle with the effects of sexual assault for an extended period of time. Avoid phrases that suggest they’re taking too long to recover such as, “You’ve been acting like this for a while now,” or “How much longer will you feel this way?”

Check in periodically.

The event may have happened a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean the pain is gone. Check in with the survivor to remind them you still care about their well-being and believe their story.

Know your resources.

You’re a strong supporter, but that doesn’t mean you’re equipped to manage someone else’s health. Become familiar with resources you can recommend to a survivor, like the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800.656.HOPE (4673) and online.rainn.org.

Remember that the healing process is fluid. Everyone has bad days. Don’t interpret flashbacks, bad days, or silent spells as “setbacks.” It’s all part of the process.

The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available by phone (800.656.HOPE) and online (online.rainn.org). Talk with someone who is trained to help anytime, 24/7.

Silence doesn’t help, even if I have little to offer.

It’s too much.

The noise.

The arguing.

The hate.

For the last several months, being an American alone has been heart-rending.

Being an American and online has just about wrecked me.

I absorb too much. I feel too much. I care too much. Besides that, if you’ve followed me for long you know that the holidays are notorious for making me feel raw and skittish. Add to all of this that the fact that we launched our firstborn to college in August, we’re getting our second son ready to launch this spring, and I am working on two very important book projects, and all I want to do is hide. 

I want to curl up until January first–or maybe the year 2020–and let the world and all its noise and hate pass by. I don’t have anything to offer anyone, after all. I feel empty and unworthy. One writing project in particular, one that I’ve poured my heart and prayers over for many months, has me feeling just. like. this. no matter what I do:

floor

Dear readers, I wanted to give you a series of hopeful posts leading up to Christmas, but I felt paralyzed, numb to hope myself in many ways. So I decided to go offline until January first.

That intention lasted less than a week.

Because even at my worst, I remembered that it’s my heart’s desire to bring hope to the hopeless through my words. That’s always been my mission. My vision. Through my novels, my poems, my newspaper columns, whatever words I can offer.

Slowly I began to remember that over a decade ago I was voiceless and alone, struggling to understand how to cope with recovering from the abuse I’d endured as a child, trembling with the fear that I was broken and filthy beyond repair. I remembered that back then I took a chance and searched the internet–where I could be anonymous–for other survivors and I found tens of hundreds of others just. like. me.

Hurt.

Broken.

Hopeless.

But they were speaking. They were healing. They had hope. And their hope gave me hope in return.

So who am I to stay silent during this time of the year when so many people are hurting, and all the lights and glitter and jam-packed stores and Hallmark movies make it hurt all the more? Who am I to hide, when there are people just like me who need to know they’re not alone and that there really is hope out there, and hope for them?

Lately I’ve been so weary and burned out I’ve forgotten to even pray. But today, on an unexpected two-hour drive, I prayed.

I took a chance that the Christmas music I’d been avoiding might actually bring hope and not just empty nostalgia.

And sure enough, God met me through a song…

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Everything inside me cries for order
Everything inside me wants to hide…

*

The sun hung low as I drove down the two-lane, Indiana highway. The melody filled the car even as brown, shorn fields blurred by, and my tied up, pent up heart fell to pieces.

*
If God is pleased with me, why am I so terrified?

*

I am terrified, after all. Oh, I have a real good game face. You learn to have a good game face when you’ve been through the things I’ve been through. But inside where no one can see, I’m terrified that all I’ve done to raise my precious boys won’t be enough for them now that they’re leaving home. I’m terrified that a lifetime of writing won’t be enough to finish the project I was so sure of when I started it. I’m terrified that I haven’t been able to hear God for a good, long while.

*

Someone tell me I am only dreaming
Somehow help me see with Heaven’s eyes
And before my head agrees, my heart is on its knees
Holy is He; blessed am I.

*

Before my head agrees, my heart is on its knees, indeed. Tears fell. All I could think about were the tiny, premature babies I’d cared for at work (I’m an RN) in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and how the Lord of all creation chose to come to us like one of them…God could have come with fire and earthquakes and lightning and thunder, but He chose to come as a helpless infant, cold and naked, completely dependent on infinitely inadequate humans to survive.

Holy is He.

Holy.

Is.

He.

Maybe He knew we’d be so exhausted from the noise that more noise wouldn’t–couldn’t–rescue us. Maybe He knew we wouldn’t be able to find Him–truly find HIM–without bending our knees. Maybe He knew we wouldn’t be able to see Him until we saw ourselves in the face of the helpless.

My heart cry crescendoed with the song that played through my car speakers:

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Be born in me, be born in me
Trembling heart, somehow I believe that You chose me
I’ll hold You in the beginning, You will hold me in the end
Every moment in the middle, make my heart Your Bethlehem
Be born in me

*

Be born in me, Lord. Be born in whoever might be reading this today. Not just the way You were born over 2000 years ago, but be born in each of us this day, this hour, this minute…

*

All this time we’ve waited for the promise
All this time You’ve waited for my arms
Did You wrap yourself inside the unexpected
So we might know that Love would go that far?

I am not brave
I’ll never be
The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy
I’m just a girl
Nothing more
But I am willing, I am Yours

*

I’m far from brave.

I’m still fullsizerender-2broken.

Lord knows there are still vacancies in my heart groping for earthly substitutes to fill what only He can fill–if I let Him. I’m just a girl and nothing more. But I can offer hope. Though my instinct is to run and hide, I can give to those who are hurting the same hope I needed years ago. The world shows no sign of slowing down or toning down, after all. Nor did it over 2000 years ago when Herod slaughtered toddlers and infants and women screamed in the streets and men tore their robes begging for a savior.

But the Savior did come.

The Promise was born small and helpless, to an aching, trembling, hopeless Israel then, and the same Promise to redeem us, to free us, to break the silence and the violence in our lives, that same Promise is here now. 

Emmanuel.

God is with us.

God is with you. 

He transcends the men, the women, the brothers, the sisters, the religion, the ideologies, the cold shimmering lights and empty silver bells that have let us down.

And because of that, I can’t stay silent.

Even if it hurts to write, even if believing feels too far-fetched, still I will praise Him.

Still, I will choose to believe. 

Here’s the video of the song (below) I listened to in my car yesterday, Be Born In Me, by Francesca Battistelli. Maybe it will bless you, too.

Look for a new Facebook Live video from me on Friday (much obliged if you’d follow my author page there), and a few more posts and live videos throughout the month. And know that even if you’re feeling raw and alone and worn out–especially if you feel that way this time of year–Emmanuel is here for you today and always.