What a wonderful way to kick off Sexual Assault Awareness Month with NCCASA by hearing from one of the newest staff members! My name is Erica Blackwood and I am honored to be a part of such an illustrious team of great knowledgeable people who are very passionate about the work. My job here at NCCASA is the Sexual Assault Demonstration Initiative (SADI) Specialist, and I am pleased to provide my genuine thoughts to you all regarding SAAM and this year’s theme, “I Ask!”.
Consent has always been an important piece to eliminating sexual assault, and the idea that making consent about receiving a clear and enthusiastic yes, makes this current climate a perfect time to discuss. From a SADI lens, one of the main goals is to make sure we are developing models of service provision that prioritize the needs of sexual assault survivors, particularly those survivors in underserved communities. In these uncertain times, it can be very difficult to find the light in all the negativity. What is most important for all of us, is to connect with our own inner light. We must make an active choice, every minute of every day, to shift our awareness to something positive. We are powerful proclaimers who can affect change greater than we thought possible. So, what is it you ask for?
While the idea of consent can help to shift focus to the harm doer, it does not go without mentioning that a good majority of sexual abuse does not take place because of a miscommunication. Sexual assault is never the survivors’ fault, and whether they were vocal enough in providing consent for such a violation can sometimes make survivors feel culpable. We are fortunate enough to be living in a climate that is ready and willing to hold offenders accountable for their actions. Nevertheless, there is the possibility of an additional angle to SAAM 2020 in our current climate. As I reflect on the necessity of this year’s theme, I want to shift focus to survivors.
Feeling the need to be constantly busy, is a trauma response and a distraction based in fear from what survivors would be forced to acknowledge if they feel they must “slow down”. Many of us, survivors included, are feeling the strain of this pandemic nationwide. My ask is that survivors give themselves permission to take care of themselves in these slow, uncertain times. Their feelings are valid. Give yourself permission to be vulnerable. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable requires you to open parts of you that you closed off after being hurt. Vulnerability is hard to express because it involves accessing parts of yourself that others may have disapproved of. I ask that you give yourself permission to be vulnerable at this time. I ask that survivors, along with their growth and healing, give time for integration. Taking the good with the bad. Growth and healing are wonderful parts of a survivor’s journey, but sometimes, there are periods of plateau. Integration. Nothingness. And this nothing is more than necessary. Because it is within these spaces, that we find the time and space to learn to love our most authentic selves.
As service providers, I also ask that we be conscious, especially right now, of fears that seep in. Recognize the limits of what we can do and allow for an understanding that we cannot carry the weight of the world. This same “ask” can be made of survivors we serve, particularly in marginalized communities, where confronting their sexual assault in this time can take a back burner to the other oppressions they are currently faced with. We must work together to care for each other. Uplifting one another and giving consent to exist in spaces where our smiles are accepted, yet our tears can be a powerful release.
And finally, I also ask that we encourage the supportive people around survivors. Ask that they believe survivors. Ask that they educate themselves. Ask that they do not minimize. Ask that they give them time! In this topic of consent, we must make sure, as trauma- informed and client- centered service providers, that we are not making a harm- doer’s potential more valuable than a survivor’s pain. Remind survivors they are never alone. And even if you, the provider, needs to be reminded of that, ask for support. It will show up. Individually we are all powerful creators of a greater reality for ourselves. But together, we can attain the unimaginable.