Survivors Coming Forward EMPWR
Photo by Brianna Santellan

Disclaimer: The following article and its links contain repetitive mentions of sexual, physical & mental abuse that may be triggering or unsafe for some readers. The article does not contain any graphic images/descriptions of abuse.

In the past 3 weeks, a feminist revolution has been brewing in the otherwise famously misogynistic country Egypt, after a staggering number of 150 girls came forward with allegations of sexual, mental and physical abuse against a young Egyptian man. Since then, countless young women on the internet have been bravely exposing their predators and sharing their stories.

Now, survivors – what we call people who have endured abuse in all its forms – are coming forward with personal stories, driving change around rape culture in the region.

It’s vital that we must consider the price and side effects survivors endure hence the purpose of this article is to shine a light on the challenging act of coming forward with their abuse story, ie. their long-lived silent trauma.

It’s a brave act, only now, many have mustered the courage to take, and that simply cannot go unnoticed.

To better understand it, let’s break down the process of bringing up a hidden trauma to the surface and telling one’s abuse story.

1. Making the decision

Because of the way we’ve gotten so accustomed to sexual assault happening on a daily basis, most of us don’t even register incidents as assault or harassment. We often only learn it’s wrong months if not years after it happens. Even if we do realize it, most brush it off as “an awkward mishap” or “a misunderstanding” rather than holding the assaulter accountable for their actions.

Many sexual assault survivors, especially from upbringings in conservative cultures such as the Middle East, avoid coming forward with their stories in fear of how their families and friends would react. In fact, too many feel afraid of what their parents would do to them if they found out.

Oftentimes, many others also fear that opening a closed door in their past would enable their abuser to get back in touch with them. It’s rather easier to “move on” than face back the trauma.

These feelings of fear can subconsciously be caused by survivors seeing themselves as inherently “bad”, “worthless” or “shameful”, which may bring on strong desires to rather hide than come forward. These self-esteem challenges can bring on a cycle of constant inferiority when amongst peers. 

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After all, it can be a very hard choice…

Choosing between opening a door which one struggled to keep shut for so long, and flinging it open – only to experience the pain of an unhealed wound all over again. 

So why do so many survivors takIe the hard path? 

Predators feed on a survivor’s feeling of shame, hence the strong urge by survivors choosing to selflessly expose them. Doing so, they hope that their actions would save many more young girls from being targeted by predators.

Furthermore, beyond the selfless act of exposing sexual predators, coming forward as a survivor enables one to break the cycle of shame and regain power over one’s sense of self, healing mentally and physically.

Owning your story is the first step to writing the many wrongs shame does to a victim of sexual assault. 

2. Telling The Story

Whether you’ve told a few close friends or your entire follower base, it’s a lot of work. Aside from your own fear of coming out that makes you overthink every single word you type/say; wondering if maybe you’re being too harsh, victim-playing or if what you went through just wasn’t that big of a deal, most survivors have trouble remembering what happened in full detail. This is usually a result of how your brain registered the incident. 

The way the brain deals with trauma is not binary – in fact, the brain commonly registers memories created in times of extreme stress and fear in the subconscious, which means these memories are only accessible when you’re in a similar state.

Think of it as different radio frequencies in your brain. When you’re trying to recall the incident in detail, you often struggle to remember every detail and can sometimes take a lot of time to gather your thoughts. That being said, in other cases, survivors get so anxious when it’s time to tell their stories that they enter the brain realm of terror and can access these memories easily and with increased vividity. It differs from one person to another.

3. The Aftermath

What happens after you tell someone your story or post it online usually means a lot. As previously mentioned, the trauma caused by sexual assault is often fuelled by shame and causes severe self-esteem issues that make survivors overly submissive, often feeling like they have to hide parts of themselves from their loved ones.

However, because most people choose to at least start by telling people they know would accept them, they start with a positive experience. As you tell more people, though, the backlash is destined to show up at some point. Because this is still a very vulnerable time for survivors, it’s sensitive as one negative comment that can lead down a rabbit hole of negative emotions and self-doubt. 

Oftentimes, these negative comments are often battled online by countless allies and fellow survivors, which empower survivors by helping them regain stability in their values once again.

However, similarly to many social-media-to-real-life connections, the same logic isn’t always present in our family values, causing many to experience backlash from the people closest to them.

A message to survivors…

You do have it hard. 

Because of what other people have done, with no right, to you, you struggle to deal with so much suffering that’s tucked away somewhere in the endless subconscious folds of your brain.

Especially now, we feel for you deeply when everyone’s always talking about sexual abuse, causing your trauma to trigger on a daily basis, as people debate your right to your own body.

We won’t start to even discuss the endless debate in your head of whether or not you should come forward with what you’ve gone through..

It’s a lot – no doubt about that. But you have no choice but to get on with your life and to try to get over this.

So, here are a few tips to help you through.

Cut off your abuser entirely.

This is a pretty easy one, but a crucial and huge step forward. Once they’re out of your life for good you start to notice all the little micro attacks they pulled and truly move forward. Ignore/block their numbers and social media, and, most importantly, remember that whatever they could do they cannot hurt you anymore

Regain the power of yourself.

Abusers thrive in silence. They feed on your insecurity and disbelief. Control powers them. When you remove the lid and show the world what they are, when you regain confidence in yourself and in your body, when you say what happened wasn’t your fault and believe it, when you take back control – that is when you regain the power of yourself.

Embrace your solitude.

If you were romantically involved with your abuser, it’s always good to take time off the dating scene after cutting them off. Allow yourself to experience things alone, reset your boundaries and generally heal.

Get help.

As we’ve established, the brain handles trauma in complex ways. Not to mention the effect sexual trauma has on a person, often creating deep-rooted issues that can prevent you from participating in healthy relationships, give you chronic body image issues, and generally cause your self-esteem to plummet. These are very complex issues that require professional help, which you can now get for free in multiple centers around Egypt here!

A message to the world

Whether or not you’ve experienced sexual assault, now is the time to stand by survivors. This can mean many things, from believing their stories, checking in on them regularly or going to even greater activist extents and participating in the online revolution that is bringing power back not only to these women, but to us all. 

It’s about time you educate yourself on the facts about sexual assault and what these people experience to be able to actively help. It’s a very long way to go, but here are a few starter tips to get the ball rolling:

  1. Understand trauma

You might be going online, sharing posts here and there, signing petitions, doing all that you can do to help, but still be hurting survivors by constantly filling up their feeds with triggering content. Understand how to use trigger warnings in order to protect all your survivor followers.

  1. Amplify voices

When a survivor speaks out about what happened to them, the public shrinks their voice, convincing them that what they’re saying is in whatever way wrong. This is where you come in, by amplifying a survivor’s voice you’re actively working against this shrinkage, which doesn’t only empower the survivor in question, but any others reading as well.

  1. Become a place of safety

So many people are afraid to speak out because of their families and the people around them. At the same time, speaking out is always beneficial as it takes away the shame so many survivors feel. Make sure that you’re one of the people that come to mind when your survivor friends need someone to talk to by constantly showing them empathy, cutting off your abuser friends, and generally being an ally.

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