Sex is a beautiful aspect of our humanity, and yet it can also be severely destructive. We know the reasons for sexual activity vary and that there are different forms of sexual identity, expression, and choices. This topic usually evokes passionate emotions and opinions with much disagreement and hypocrisy throughout the world on choice, rights, laws, health, and morality. We also understand that sex is used for different purposes. Sex can be seen as a sacred gift or simply natural to human beings, but what happens when something so personally intimate becomes distorted, perverted, or violent? Does human language truly describe the evil of rape? Sexual trauma in all forms can cause deep destruction to the body, mind, heart, and soul over significant periods of time, but as horrific as these crimes are, they do not have to control and cripple people.
Sexual violence is the least reported violent crime that affects countless women, men, and children of every ethnicity, gender, religious/spiritual beliefs, sexual orientation and socio-economic status. No one is exempt, and no statistic can show the true prevalence of sexual violence because it is shrouded in silence and secrecy. There are justified reasons why the majority of people do not speak about their experiences, such as fear of speaking against a family member or friend, anxiety of not being believed, or just not feeling comfortable speaking about something so traumatizing and vile. Oftentimes, there is no evidence of non-consensual acts occurring, so it is incredibly difficult to prove even if a victim/survivor wants to pursue criminal charges. Many people are suffering inside, feeling alone, and not clear on how to navigate overwhelming thoughts and emotions. For these reasons and so many more, we must be patient, gentle, compassionate and thoughtful when discussing these issues and spending time with anyone who may be affected.
Fear, depression, suicidal thoughts, lack of self-esteem and self-worth are just some of the effects from sexual trauma, but in my twelve years as a rape crisis counselor and public educator, the deepest and most common effect among survivors I see is shame. Shame, specifically undeserved shame, will inevitably cause serious health problems and play a role in poor choices. I find it heart-breaking to witness people struggle so intensely with this shame, because the truth is that rape survivors do nothing wrong and are not the cause of anyone hurting them. How sad is that the innocent are left feeling shameful for the actions of another? It is normal to feel shame after an assault, but it is important to understand that shame can be lessened and lifted. As agonizing as a healing process can be, it is possible.
People have their power and control taken from them when they are raped or sexually assaulted, and this manifests differently with some of the ways in which people spiral out of control or become too controlling. Part of my job as a counselor is to try and help people reclaim their power and control back for themselves. One of the simple ways all of us can do this is to not blame people for being raped and/or sexually assaulted.
Humanity continues to struggle with the painful realities of sexual violence and how to respond. Our responses to disclosures of sexual violence are critical. We have the ability to lead people down a path of destruction or a path of healing, based largely on how we react. I understand this can be incredibly challenging, so I offer a simple tool to help people respond adequately to disclosures. I ask that you “BLESS” them. Here is how:
Believe: Believe that person if they disclose.
Listen: Listen to that person when they need to talk, cry, or scream. Listen to their silence.
Empathy: Empathize with that person as best you can.
Safety: Ensure that person’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual safety.
Support: Support that person in what they need at the time.
All of us truly can make a difference and provide more light in this broken world. If you feel a calling to get involved with these issues or are moved in your heart by something else, please act on it. Fight through insecurities and fears, know that you have been given gifts, and make wise use of the time you have on this earth.
If you or someone you know is struggling with the effects of sexual violence, please check out these resources and others:
- Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN)
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center
- Survivors Chat
- After Silence
- National Eating Disorders.org
- National Suicide Prevention
- Online Suicide Crisis Network
- International Association For Suicide Prevention
Wishing you all peace and strength.
~ Robert Uttaro
Photos are courtesy of Robert Uttaro – All Rights Reserved
Guest Author Bio
Robert Uttaro is currently in his 12th year as a rape crisis counselor and community educator. Inspired by his undergraduate studies in Criminal Justice, he continues to embrace a life-long commitment to activism and advocacy for survivors of sexual violence. Serving as a counselor, Uttaro supports rape survivors and their significant others through myriad emotional, spiritual, and legal issues. He also facilitates workshops that unpack the realities of sexual violence, and offers strategies for support and prevention with a focus on healing. Uttaro has been featured in magazine publications across the country and on international radio broadcasts. Through the grace of God, Uttaro’s work and To the Survivors continues to impact peoples’ minds and hearts globally.
Blog / Website: Robert Uttaro