What’s the Worst Type of Sexual Abuse?
Since I started speaking out on sexual abuse at the age of 16, the response I have received from most people is positive. There are those who have felt a connection to my story; shared the similar pain and shame; those who didn’t realize how much the abuse affected them until years later; and those who have never told a single soul about the abuse they survived.
Whatever their story was, there was some of sort of connection that we had experienced a violation, not just of the body, but of the mind and spirit.
However, with positive feedback, there oftentimes will be someone who doesn’t resonate with my story or doesn’t appreciate why I chose to share my story. In particular, after an article had been published about me and the work I’ve done concerning sexual abuse, someone accused me of just using the abuse to “get my name out there and that my abuse wasn’t nearly as bad as others so my story wasn’t as legitimate.”
What this person said did not hurt me. I certainly understood the frustration that perhaps I had not experienced traumatic enough abuse compared to others. There were several times when I heard stories recounted to me after giving a presentation that would absolutely break my heart. It made me question how someone could ever go back to trusting anyone or cultivating a normal and healthy relationship and also how resilient the human spirit must be in order to survive such trauma.
It did make question: how bad does the abuse need to be in order to make it legitimate? What are the requirements for someone to think you’ve been abused enough in order to speak about the abuse in a way that details the effects it had on you?
I’ve experienced three assaults on different levels that each affected me in a different way, but also had similar side effects: a molestation that took place over six months when I was 9; a rape at 16; a rape at 18. All three took place with different people. All took place in difference settings. One took place because I didn’t know the abuse was abuse; the other took place because I went to an older man’s house and he took advantage of my vulnerability; and the other took place because I put myself in an extremely dangerous situation that I could not physically break free from.
I’ve heard stories of men or women getting mutilated, gang raped, physically beaten and sexually assaulted by a family member. I’ve heard stories of their rapes getting taped and shared with others. I’ve heard of people getting sexually assaulted and felt even more helpless and assaulted as others stood by and cheered the rapist on and did nothing to stop the assault.
Every story is different. There is no point in trying to trivialize the abuse someone went through or make it seem like someone “wasn’t abused enough” to make their story legitimate.
The symptoms people experience after a sexual assault are similar, no matter what type of assault took place:
- Inability to trust others
- Self-blame/guilt for the abuse that took place
- Inability to build health sexual relationships
These are just a few of the side effects of sexual assault, regardless of the abuse that took place.
Abuse is traumatic. It hurts. It’s scary. It’s more than just a transgression: it is a literal rape of the soul. How one deals with it and how one is affected by it is completely different from one person to the next. To compare the trauma of one person to another does nothing to diminish the shame that comes along with sexual assault.
After contemplating the question about if my abuse justified speaking out about, I came to a resolution that my story is worth sharing. Too many people have resonated with my story that stepping down and staying silent would do nothing in helping end the shame that many people feel after sexual assault.
I encourage you that if you or someone you know has been abused, to not compare your trauma to someone else’s. Instead, if you’re able to find a safe place to discuss the abuse, try to find similarities where you can draw from each other strength and resilience and know that you are not alone in your pain, guilt, shame, or hurt. Find common ground to help end the stigma that comes with sexual assault in society.
We are all survivors together in our abuse despite the differences in our stories. Let us unite in the pain and find a way to strengthen each other through it.