It’s Not Your Fault. It’s Never Your Fault.

By Erica Burner

Shame.
Embarrassment.
Guilt.
Self-Blame.

These are the all-consuming emotions that sexual assault survivors face after they’ve been violated. Experiencing these emotions can also cause survivors to not report the attack to authorities.


If the experiences recounted by the brave women who endured the horrors of Harvey Weinstein have taught us anything, we have learned that sexual assault is far more common and pervasive than we used to believe.

Assault involves more than just the physical attack.  It involves a mental attack, the feeling of lack of bodily ownership and powerlessness, which leaves the lasting emotional scar upon survivors. Many of these survivors did not come forward for years, and even when they did, they were still confronted by their all-encompassing shame.

Shame is a deep, completely engrossing emotion that attacks from within. It needs no assistance to plant its seed.  Feelings of shame often become deeply rooted inside those who experience it.

These women didn’t choose to be sexually assaulted; no one does. No matter what they were wearing, no matter if or how much they drank, no matter their occupation, and no matter if they initially consented. It is not their fault. The fault lies solely on the perpetrator; the person who to chose to violate someone physically and mentally without their consent.

Feelings of shame can be caused by the hearing the insensitive comments of others and a survivor’s own unfounded regrets. Survivors, however, shouldn’t have to think about the potential shame that these horrific attacks sometimes inspire. 

Survivors should not have to think about the possibility that leaving their house and having fun, could lead to a horrific attack that will change their lives forever.

Attacking someone is the attacker’s choice alone.


Shame is so deeply engrossing that it is one of the top emotional predictors of suicide. Survivors can become so immersed by the belief that their attack was their fault, that they are led to take their own lives.

It is our responsibility to do everything within our power to prevent this from happening. We must let those who have been assaulted know that they do not need to feel ashamed.

It’s not your fault. It’s never your fault.

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Self-Care for Survivors: Exercise

Most resources encourage survivors of domestic violence and assault to practice self-care, but it often seems life a daunting task.  Self-care includes a lot of different things, and it can be difficult to know where to begin.

Exercise has been the most helpful element of self care for me.  I find it energizing and empowering, but I know that many people have not had a great experience.  So let’s make one thing clear right away: exercise should not be a punishment.

Our mainstream society often frames it as one, with statements like “I need to work out because I ate too much” that I’m sure you’ve heard many times before.  That’s not healthy.

The body positive movement pushes back against this, saying that we should be compassionate toward our bodies and love them as they are.  There’s quite a bit of truth to this, but  it paints an incomplete picture of what self-love is.  Body positivity, taken to an extreme, leads people toward complacency in their health and fitness because they don’t see a need to make lifestyle changes.

That isn’t self-love; that’s neglect.

When you love something, you want to take care of it.  You want it to have the best, and be the best it can be.  This requires action, rather than passive acceptance.  So let’s reframe the way we think about exercise.

I have the following on a post-it note in my room: Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do.  It reminds me to take care of my body and slow down on days where I don’t feel as well.  Also, it helps me remember that comparison is the thief of joy.  It’s harder to enjoy exercise when you’re constantly comparing your abilities to someone else.  Healthy, stress-relieving exercise looks different for everybody.  Do what you can, and don’t worry about what everyone else is or isn’t doing.

Have a look at a few of my favorites if you’re not quite sure where to start:

  1. Running.  Nothing energizes me more than running outside.  The fresh air makes me feel alive and is a HUGE stress reliever.  I know for some people, running is hell.  If that’s you, a brisk walk will do to get your blood pumping.
  2. MMA/kickboxing.  I’m currently doing a program called Core de Force, and it’s the greatest thing.  I feel stronger and more confident as I master the moves.  Also, it’s a healthy way to release some of your pent-up aggression.
  3. Yoga.  Stretching is one of the best ways to relax.  I promise you’ll get more flexible if you keep at it.  The focus on breathing helps increase self-awareness, and it’s a great way to center yourself if you’ve had a chaotic day.

Again, everybody is different.  My exercise routine might look totally different from yours and that’s okay.  Just get out there and do what you can.  Your body is an amazing thing and you deserve to celebrate all that it can do.

 

“Forward”

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By Erica Burner

            It’s always challenging to end a chapter of your life, even when you know doing so will be better for you.
After you’ve been stuck in one place for so long moving on, even the thought of it seems next to impossible.
And if you’ve been stuck in a bad place for a long time, it seems even more so.
It’s as if the thought of being happy and carefree is so unattainable and unfamiliar that it’s terrifying.

            It feels almost natural to stay miserable.

            Maybe it’s the moment you finally realize you are worth more, the moment you realize that the people around you really and truly care, or the moment you realize that there is a way to move on ….
Either way you, and all your strength, decide that change is better, especially when you are suffering.
But coping with change isn’t always easy.
Finally letting go and letting down your barriers is easier said than done.
The belief that you can make connections and that there are still good people is an almost alien concept.

  And most of all the thing that is the hardest of all to encounter….happiness

It’s odd and you’re afraid of how fleeting it seems.
Eventually though, you begin to heal.
You return to who you were before everything happened: hopeful and not always on guard. Except now that you are stronger.
And eventually learn that it is okay to be happy.
And most of all you learn to love yourself again.

 

 

 

Standing up for your future

SOSN stands for “Speak Out, Speak Now.” Speaking out against domestic abuse is something we have always believed in, because it allows those who have suffered from it to heal.

Our experiences, positive and negative, do not leave us. It doesn’t matter if the abuse was physical, sexual, or emotional. It doesn’t matter whether the duration of abuse was brief, or if it continued for several years. Healing is difficult because you have to personally acknowledge and work to overcome what you experienced in order to achieve it.

Pastor Joyce Meyer is an example of someone who overcame her an abusive past. She spoke about her own healing process in her sermon, “Chasing Your Future by Confronting Your Past.”

Meyer was sexually abused by her father for about 15 years. Meyer said that her mother was aware of the abuse, however, she never tried to protect Meyer out of fear. In her thirties, Meyer gained the courage to confront her father.

A face-to-face confrontation was what Meyer knew she needed in order to heal. Meyer said in her sermon that you don’t necessarily have to confront someone who has harmed you. Instead, you can talk to someone that you trust for emotional support. By speaking to someone you will not only receive support,  but you will also be able to confront your feelings.

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Meyer’s full sermon is available here, however, here are three quick takeaways from it:

“Sweeping something under the rug does not mean it is not there.”

Avoiding your feelings towards an abusive situation only allows it to become even more deeply rooted inside you. You first have to recognize the problem, and make the decision to conquer it so that it can no longer burden you.

“Do not let the fear of man manipulate you.”

To me, this second takeaway is the most difficult one. Its so easy to fear others, yet so difficult to confront those feelings. No matter what someone did to you, you should recognize how important it is to stand up for yourself.

Abusers often use fear to manipulate others. It is completely normal to feel afraid of someone whose toxic behavior has impacted you, however, do not let this fear cloud your judgment or your feelings. Do not allow yourself to feel guilty over what may be afflicting your abuser; no amount of pain validates the mistreatment of another person. Stand up for yourself, on your own terms.

Meyer was abused by a family member. As a survivor, you have the right to distance yourself or close the door on anyone, regardless of their relationship to you. Walking away is a powerful key to healing.

“No matter what someone did, you don’t have to keep bleeding from it for the rest of your life.”

Healing from past abuse requires conscious effort and self-awareness. Be aware of your thoughts and emotions. Be able to recognize what situations trigger negative feelings for you. Try to surround yourself with positive people.

It is up to you to motivate yourself about the life you are living, and your future. Consider your progress, and celebrate it. Don’t get discouraged if you need to ask others for help.

Keep moving forward. You won’t bleed forever.

Priya

 

 

 

 

How Soon We Forget

I stumbled upon the following tweet this morning and it hit me pretty hard:

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This is a fair assessment of what I see when I scroll through social media.  It’s not true of everyone, of course.  But it is a trend that I’ve noticed among my peers and in our culture.  We have the tendency to jump on a cause and go all out, only to quickly jump off that cause when something new is trending.

Remember when you had Facebook friends passionately declaring their stance on the  transgender bathroom bill I haven’t seen any recent petitions to boycott Target.  Or when social media exploded with the discussion of whether or not the United States should accept Syrian refugees?  These people still need a safe place to call home, yet people seemed to tire of passionately proclaiming their plight.Or when everyone had an opinion about flying the Confederate flag?  Or when you couldn’t get on your computer without seeing Brock Turner’s face?

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Let’s talk about that last example for a quick minute.

For a solid week, Brock Turner’s face was all we saw on social media.  People expressed outrage (rightfully so) at his lenient sentence and his heinous crime.  Friends from across the political spectrum were united in standing against rape culture.

And now?  Virtual silence.  It seems like people only get angry about injustice when it’s trending online.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m not saying that Brock Turner’s face should overtake our newsfeeds until the end of time.  I understand that the major elements of the case have been thoroughly discussed and that everyone got the righteous anger out of their system.

However, I am saying that these injustices haven’t gone away.  Our justice system remains the same.  The attitudes and privileges that allowed Brock Turner to receive a lenient sentence (6 months for 3 felonies) still exist.  We were all captivated by the poignant letter read by the rape survivor during his trial.  Her pain is still very real, as it is for all survivors.

Nothing has changed, so why have we fallen silent?

Our short attention spans strongly affect our effectiveness.  We manage to express a lot of opinions, but we tire of them so quickly that we fail to explore issues with any depth.  When we flit from one cause to the next. we don’t give ourselves adequate time to lay the groundwork to make a lasting impact.

If we want to make a difference, we cannot afford to forget.

 

Perpetrator Privilege is Real

When I started a feminist organization on campus, a good number of people told me that we don’t need feminism anymore.  They said that male privilege isn’t really a thing anymore.

 

The recent Stanford case proves all of them wrong.  We must continue to speak out.


This particular case is more chilling than most.  With DNA evidence and two bystanders that intervened, Brock Turner was found guilty.  The maximum sentence is 14 years, yet Turner’s sentence was minimal-6 months in jail and probation.  The judge feared a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner and seemingly overlooked the severe impact on the rape survivor.

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And it did have a severe impact.  In a letter read aloud during the trial, she stated “what he [Turner] did to me doesn’t expire, doesn’t just go away after a set number of years. It stays with me, it’s part of my identity, it has forever changed the way I carry myself, the way I live the rest of my life.”

 

The justice system failed her.

 

Prejudice against sexual assault survivors is ever-present in the justice system, particularly in tactics used by defense attorneys.

 

Additionally, the justice system failed because of privilege.  Brock Turner does not fit the criminal stereotype.  He studied at an Ivy League Institution, and he was a talented swimmer with his eye on the Olympics.  The defense focused on Turner’s accomplishments, as if this should somehow excuse his behavior.  They paint a picture of a driven young man who worked to achieve his goals, inconvenienced by a small misstep.  In reality, he is a rapist who happens to be successful in other areas of life.

 

We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by the appearance of a clean-cut, high-achieving young man.  A rapist is still a rapist.

 

There’s a lot to unpack here, including white privilege and the advantages of wealth and social class.  White men, on average, receive more lenient sentences.  Wealthy defendents have access to more quality legal resources and stronger representation.  Such privileges are an unfortunate reality.  It’s time to recognize this and work to reform the system.

 

The internet has a way of making stories explode and then fade away.  Don’t let this be one of them.  Please, remember  this case and keep speaking out for the rights of survivors everywhere.
If you haven’t read the Stanford survivor’s letter to her attacker, check it out.

How forgiveness gave me everything

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Allison Pulliam is like a sister to me. When she was a freshman and I was a junior, she had written a quote on her message board in her dorm room. I took a picture of it one night when I came to visit.

Everything and everyone that you hate is engraved upon your heart; if you want to let go of something, if you want to forget, you cannot hate.

I kept the picture in my phone, but there have been times when I failed to abide by it.

After someone has been mistreated or abused, it is understandable for the person to feel resentful for a period of time. These feelings are valid, however, they can end up hurting you in the long run if you choose not to let go.

Forgiving means not to forget or, in a situation of abuse, to put up with toxic treatment. It means releasing any feelings of anger or hatred you might hold on your heart.

Allison dealt with severe harassment in college. During her sophomore year, she was forced to issue a no -contact order. The situation was ridiculously painful, however, Allison always carried herself with dignity. She forgave the ones who harmed her. Allison even encouraged the university to revise its sexual harassment policies in student senate.

The true power of forgiveness also became evident to me in a conversation that happened during a recent visit to New York.

I was born and raised in Coney Island. In April, I went to the city for a bachelorette weekend. Our group of girls took an Uber to go out one night.

Our driver was an elderly gentleman, and he was extremely kind. He asked us each where we were from.  The driver and I immediately started chatting- he also was from Coney Island. He began describing my old neighborhood, which was near Ocean Parkway.

Happy memories flooded in. I saw myself as a little girl collecting shells from Brighton Beach, hearing  my older brother’s stories of ding-dong ditching the ‘baba yaga’ who lived upstairs, and watching fireworks on the roof during the Fourth of July. Even though I have lived in Tennessee for longer, it will always be the place I call home.

The driver told me he lived a block away from Coney Island Hospital, where I was born.

“Two of my kids were born there,” he told me.

“And, one died there,” he continued.

I could feel my heart shattering when he told me his 9-year old son had been hit by a car. He had been dragged for half a mile before the driver of the car  stopped. The little boy was put on life support, and was declared brain dead.  Our driver told me that if his son had lived, he would have been 42 today.

Barry  and I are 32 and 24, respectively. My mom has showed up at the emergency room in tears far too many times due to our sports injuries and car accidents.

Most of these injuries, however, were fairly minor. If she had actually lost one of us, she would have been devastated.

Our driver told us that he realized his son’s death was an accident.

“She didn’t even see him,” he told us. “It wasn’t her fault.”

This ride through midtown was one of the most valuable conversations I have had in my life. Our driver missed his son each day, but he did not look back in anger. He was free from it.

I cannot begin to fathom the heartbreak of losing a child.  I now knew that if our driver could forgive the woman who hit his son, any anger I carried with me related to my past was definitely worth letting go of.

Forgiveness means giving yourself freedom; the freedom to let go of anything that burdens your mind and heart.

This freedom is always yours to choose.

Thank you all for reading! We look forward to celebrating two years of writing with you all soon.

❤ Priya