I wondered about the day I would write this. Or if I ever would. Neither option is better or worse, but instead it’s about listening to the tones of one’s own healing story, and lean deeply into one’s intuition.
And my intuition is telling me to speak.
I was sexually assaulted by a female physical therapist two years ago today under the guise of medical treatment. I had just been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s 3 months before, and the doctor who diagnosed me referred me to this woman who worked in his building.
Last fall, I started following the Larry Nassar case and the US Gymnastics cover up of the rampant sexual assault in this sport. I felt several emotions: both a sense of validation and sadness. What happened to me has happened to hundreds, if not thousands of girls or young women. I am not alone, and yet part of healing is delving deep into the systemic injustice of assault and the silence that is interwoven into the story.
Sexual assault is bad enough. And then to worsen the injury, I, along with many women who have already testified in the Nassar case, have sought out the help of authorities, only to be silenced or shamed or told that “this is a reputable medical procedure.”
I won’t ever forget the day I got a letter in the mail from the female lawyer in Indianapolis, that I reported my assault to. A simple template letter just stating that she would not take my case. What happened to me apparently was not assault, but a documented medical procedure.
A response like that really messed with my head. Intuitively I knew this wasn’t true, yet I still was left to feel stupid. I was left to feel like I didn’t know the difference between medical procedure and assault. That somehow I was supposed to come to a place of acceptance that vaginal penetration without gloves or lubricant was supposed to heal my severe menstrual pain, what I was being treated for. The medical and legal system had let me down.
That acceptance never came. And since I’ve spent considerable time healing the past two years, I’m in a place where I can speak. This Nassar case feels personal for several reasons other than the fact that I find myself within the stories these brave, strong women are telling. I grew up 90 minutes from MSU, and personally knew several female athletes who attended Michigan State and had injuries sometime during college. I seriously hope none of them saw Nassar. I also currently live in Indianapolis, headquarters of U.S. Gymnastics, now the hub of an enormous cover-up. U.S. Gymnastics stayed silent for way too long, and spoke too late.
I’ve spent many months thinking “What would be helpful about me speaking up?”
First, the answer must be that it’s healing for me and I must be strong enough to enter into the hard conversations that come afterwards. Because I know that many people will not get it or know what to say. Some may treat me differently afterwards or avoid me because my speaking out made them uncomfortable. Many don’t understand why a survivor of sexual assault needs to speak out for his/her own healing. But ultimately I am not speaking to the ignorant or the uncomfortable. I’m speaking to the people who know exactly what I’m talking about.
I’m speaking to say, “I felt alone too, but now I don’t. And I don’t want you to feel alone either. The silence has harmed us both long enough.”
I’ve also learned that in taking the risk of telling a few people privately, the response has been loving and kind.
For those who are reading this, and want to be compassionate through words, but feel fearful about saying the wrong thing, here are a few pointers of what to say and what to avoid, at least in addressing me at this time. Every survivor may have their own different set of preferences.
-Please don’t ask questions. I’ve given all the information I want to give in this post.
-Please do not spiritualize assault. It is wrong. Period. Mentioning God’s redemption adds insult to injury.
-Please do not speak if you are shocked or overwhelmed. Projecting your own charged feelings about assault onto a survivor is very harmful.
-Please do not offer up a general, “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.” I know that this statement is said with the best motives. However usually, someone who hears about an assault wants to feel useful, in order to remove the uncomfortability that naturally surfaces. I am not asking anyone to do anything in particular, just be a person who can receive my story as truth.
-Please do not make referrals. I have a strong support system. I am in therapy and yoga. I am making healthy choices for myself.
-Please be yourself in your response, giving dignity and not pity.
-Please, if you see me in person, feel free to say, “I read your post, and ….” I will feel honored, not embarrassed.
-Please, even though this list is long, do not be overly worried about saying the “wrong” thing. Maybe consider, “if I was in Alyssa’s place, what would be the most loving thing I could hear?” Please, speak love.