A woman raped by her Uber driver. A child stolen from her country and brought to the United States to serve as a sex slave. A man molested by his priest from the time he was a young boy. These stories of sexual exploitation and violence are not just headlines – they are the lived experience of thousands of victims. As these atrocities become part of the public discourse, we begin to hold perpetrators accountable and take steps toward prevention and reparation. But what happens to the victims of sexual violence? How do those of us who have been physically violated heal not only our bodies, but our emotional well-being?
Recovery from sexual trauma is not a linear, one-size-fits-all process. Each person is the expert on her or his own healing process. For some, speaking out about their experiences of abuse may reduce feelings of isolation and foster a sense of connection and agency. In her essay for Pandora’s Project, a non-profit organization for survivors of sexual assault, Louise writes, “In speaking out, you become part of destroying the forces that have harmed and hurt you… It is just such a fine way to fight back and reduce one’s own fear and shame.”
Sexual violence feeds on silence. While not all survivors can recount their stories of trauma, those that feel compelled and supported to speak out work toward reclaiming individual and collective power. In her article on the misconceptions of forgiveness, Megan Feldman Buttencourt writes, “To recover from trauma and change the culture that enables sexual abuse, we must be free to tell the truth, protect our safety, seek justice and release our bitterness.” Sharing stories of sexual abuse may service as acts of empowerment that move us along the path to restoring justice. Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., defines justice as “righting a wrong that most members of society (as opposed to simply the alleged victim) would agree is morally culpable.” By voicing their experiences, survivors help us forge a just response to sexual exploitation and trauma.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual violence, we encourage you to seek the help of a trusted friend, family member and/or therapist. If you are interested in sharing your story in pursuit of justice, we encourage you to reach out to experienced attorneys who are dedicated to helping you navigate the civil legal system.
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