I recently was asked to speak to a group of high school girls about violence against women. As I got dressed for this speaking engagement, I decided on a whim to do something I had never done before. I would layer my clothing so that I would reveal a strapless dress underneath my maxi dress and reiterate one of the most common rape myths out there — that women “invite” assault by dressing a certain way. The fact is that no one has ever been able to show a correlation between how a victim dresses and her chances of sexual assault. Women get sexually assaulted because the male wants to dominate and control the victim. It is not an act of impulsive, uncontrolled passion; rather a premeditated act of violence. Research shows that 50% of rapes are planned; and in my case it was definitely a premeditated violent crime. Over the years, I too have been asked dozens of times what clothing I had on.
Katherine Cambareri, a young photographer from Arcadia University, has done an excellent job showing that sexual assault has nothing to do with the clothes a woman wears in her “Well what were you wearing” series. I applaud her for keeping the conversation going regarding this topic.
And, if you were wondering, I was wearing a below-the-knee black and white skirt with matching blouse.
In December, I got an intriguing email from Angela Klocke who asked if she could “walk” in my honor. Interested and a bit surprised, I asked what this meant. She explained she leads a project called Scars and Tiaras where she focuses on speaking out and creating awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault. Angela had read the article about me in The Washington Post and felt compelled to walk on my behalf. Man! Talk about being honored….I couldn’t believe a mere stranger would do this. It proves we do indeed live in a caring world! My Georgia Southern University intern, Daniela West, did a Q and A with Angela recently, and here’s what Angela shared:
Daniela- So can you tell me what Scars and Tiaras is about? How do you choose who to walk for?
Angela- The site is a combination of information on healing from a painful history of childhood, domestic or sexual abuse. I have experience with all these types of abuse. It’s not a pretty story, but the point of Scars and Tiaras is basically a reclamation of self. To be loved, adored, and worthy. Abusers fill our heads with comments such as: you’re ugly, you’re worthless, you’re stupid so you’re left with scars. The tiaras have more to do with the reclamation of self. The beautiful person that you always were and you’re coming back and realizing who that is. That seems to be a recurring theme–this journey to try to reclaim who each person once was versus what people told them they were.
Daniela- Tell us more about how you walk for people.
Angela- In late 2013 I was out taking a walk and I had this idea when the lyrics “I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more” popped into my head. I developed the goal to walk 1000 miles in 2014. So I would take a person’s name and I’m always asking may I walk for you. For Jenny Lynn, I became familiar with her book through Twitter at some point in time. And though I haven’t been able to read the book yet I just started following her.
Daniela- So when you walk for someone is there any place in particular you walk, or is it a group event or do people walk with you?
Angela- I mostly walk alone. I’m not opposed to anyone walking with me, but I tend to just walk the streets in my town. I’m not in a position where I’m going to walk a thousands miles away from home. It’s just a concentrated time spent thinking about this person’s story, how can I share this person’s story.
Daniela- I saw on your website people walk in your honor. Do they reach out to you or do you reach out to them to walk for you?
Angela- I haven’t asked anyone to walk for me. In December, it became very apparent I wasn’t going to reach a thousand miles in 2014. I shared my challenges on Facebook and several friends stepped forward and said I would be happy to walk in your name.
Daniela- It’s amazing how much people care. When you walk for people, does it help you in your personal healing process?
Angela- Absolutely. It gives me that chance to not live in the past, but to reflect where I’ve been so I don’t forget that passion and that empathy that’s so necessary to help the next person who contacts me.
Daniela- What would you say your ultimate goal is?
Angela- My overall goal is to be able to keep the conversation about abuse going. And for people to understand that it’s not a black and white issue. There’s so much more involved and unfortunately I think for most people unless they experience it they never know how they will respond in that situation.
Daniela- Is there anything you would want someone in that situation to know?
Angela- If abuse occurs, just know you are not alone and there is somebody out there who can help you. There’s so much hope for healing.
It’s difficult to sit down with a reporter and entrust that person with your story. You fear the column won’t come out right, will somehow misrepresent your life–will be just …wrong. But not so with Gracie Bonds Staples, a veteran newspaper writer who wrote about my sexual assault in the Atlanta Journal Constitution last week. Gracie interviewed me in early February in a north Atlanta hotel and I immediately felt comfortable with her as I tried to describe what rape victims experience. After an extensive two-hour interview, she penned a succinct, accurate portrayal of a quarter-century of my life’s struggles and pursuit of restoration.
Thanks, Gracie, for helping me share this story so that others will have hope for recovery as well!
I read an editorial by James Alan Fox, a Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northwestern University in which Mr. Fox concluded that guns won’t deter college sexual assault. He reasoned carrying guns on campus will only create more problems.
Guns will never be the remedy to combat sexual assault on campus. Instead, we must arm women AND men with the right kind of weaponry. It’s called knowledge…information that will empower them to make changes in behavior on campuses nationwide.
Here’s what students need to know before they set foot on a college campus their freshman year:
Between 85%-90% of reported sexual assaults against female students are committed by an acquaintance.
Alcohol is the number 1 date drug, often incapacitating students and rendering the university student incapable of consent to any sexual act.
Rape is a crime of violence and young men will face lifelong consequences due to their behavior and choices made while inebriated.
Only when all students can be taught to be “active” bystanders, will we really make significant strides in preventing sexual assault on campuses.
I have always been a “broadcaster” of sorts. In grade school, I loved giving oral reports in class. I went on to be in One Act Plays in high school and enrolled in tv broadcasting in college until a professor told me my southern accent was too “thick” and I would never succeed as an anchor. I changed my major to public relations and used my communication skills in other ways to share messages.
I truly believed in the power of storytelling. It reflected who I was and I made a good living at it until November 28, 1990.
I was 27 years old and a PR Director for a hospital. I was attending a national conference, staying at a hotel in downtown Atlanta. It was 8 pm as I exited my hotel room to meet a magazine editor in the lobby. While walking down the hotel corridor, I was attacked by a knife-wielding man and was forced back into my hotel room where I was robbed and sexually assaulted. Although I ultimately survived the vicious crime, the assailant escaped and was never found.
During the 15 minutes that it took for the man to rob and sodomize me, I became a different person…mute, traumatized, fearful, anxious.
I had changed.
I searched in vain for the old Jenny Lynn, but could not find the happy, exuberant being that had filled my soul for two and half decades. Most of the time in the first ten years after the assault, I tried to make it through the day and just survive the panic attacks that awaited me at every turn. Hyper-vigilant to protect myself, I seldom slept well and spent most of my waking hours contemplating the man’s return and how I would flee. Although I knew I needed psychological help, I did not have any mental health counselors trained in PTSD in my rural community…they were an hour away and I couldn’t handle the stress of driving alone to Savannah, GA to get help.
So I became helpless.
And therein lies the problem for most of us sexual assault victims. Until we get help, we will not resuscitate and will remain in a vegetative state. Ultimately, in my search for freedom, I came upon 5 critical keys which ultimately provided the release from my imprisonment. Some are spiritual and some are secular, but the combination worked. Here they are and at what year they happened in my journey of healing:
Year 8: Find trust and calm in God. For a long time, I lost all faith in the world as I had known it and also lost any assurance of God’s protection. However, God continued to speak to me through Bible passages and His words jumped off the page and literally calmed me when no one on this planet could.
Year 10: Forgive the assailant. This one is a toughie, I admit. Forgiveness, you know, is not for the person who wronged you, but for your recovery. For years, I had so much blame and bitterness in me that raged as I played the role of judge and jury 24 hours a day. I hated the man who had stolen my independence. I hated the man who had destroyed my life. I hated…everything. When I released this burden to God and allowed Him to be the ultimate Judge, I felt the chains of bondage slowly falling from me and after years of exhaustion, God finally gave me rest.
Year 20: Find Professional Counseling/Cognitive Therapy. I truly believed I was so broken that I was unfixable, but cognitive therapy is a powerful tool for sexual assault victims. My therapist used the veterans/military version of cognitive processing therapy and over the course of many months, she helped me rewire my brain. The anxious threads that incessantly flooded my thoughts subsided as I faithfully carried and completed worksheets 24/7 to “record” and “repair” my thought processes.
Year 21: Break the Silence. When I wrote my book and began speaking publicly about the aftermath of rape, these were cathartic experiences that allowed me to finally tell the truth. In doing so, I expressed what had been churning inside of me and I found when I spoke to groups, others would come forward and tell me that they, too, had been a victim of rape. Sharing my story with “sister and brother survivors” has accelerated my healing exponentially.
Year 22: Victim to Survivor. The final step is that moment when you realize that you can shift from being a victim to a survivor. Webster’s definition of a survivor is a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died. When we can own the word, “survivor,” it empowers us. We can believe, “Well, there must be a reason I was left on this Earth if I survived something so horrific.” We can choose to be stronger because of this negative life experience. We can choose good to come from bad. In my own life, I decided that I could make a mess into a message. I could make a trial into a triumph. And, yes…I once was a victim, but today I choose to be victorious.
The holidays are a stressful time, aren’t they? No matter how organized you are and how hard you work to stay ahead, it’s a bit much for all of us women to do what is required from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.
To be honest, Christmastime in the past has been challenging for me. For years, I had a healthy dose of anxiety brought on by post traumatic stress disorder and this required I be “on guard” to constantly feel safe after I experienced my sexual assault in 1990. It was a 24/7 job for me and the added hustle and bustle of the holidays often took me over the edge by mid-January.
Depression and fatigue would hit and I could not for the life of me find the joy.
I wish back in my early years of my journey to find restoration I had known the healing power of yoga. It helps me so much. I thank Susanne Jackson of Your Power Yoga for being my ROCKSTAR yoga teacher today.
Here are the benefits of yoga:
1) Deep breath allows you to sleep better. I swear I did not breathe deeply for 20-plus years. I was always gasping and holding my breath as a result of PTSD. Deep breath calms and soothes us and allows us to fight insomnia. Harvard Medical School researchers have reported a daily yoga practice produces broad improvements of sleep quality and quantity.
2) Fights Food Cravings. The very nature of yoga makes you so aware of the mind/body connection and creates in you a greater desire to make better choices about food selection. I personally leave my yoga studio every Saturday morning and drive by the swarms heading into the local donut shop, but always choose to drive by the sugar haven. I often muse, “Why would I want to mess up what I just accomplished with yoga?”
3) Calms in the face of storms. Anyone who knows me would classify me as a Type-A Personality, but yoga makes me a B+ type of gal. It brings me down a notch or two and allows me to focus on the big picture, not the nuts and bolts that usually drive me insane. In findings of the MD Anderson Cancer Center study from University of Texas, women who practiced yoga had the steepest decline in their cortisol levels across the day, indicating that yoga had the ability to help regulate this stress hormone.
4) Yoga is non-judgmental and is for all sizes and shapes. Although we “strike” poses in yoga which require alignment, I have never felt my instructors ever thought or said, “Jenny Lynn, you are doing it wrong!” Rather, it is a practice where the instructor gently corrects you with his/her hands and repositions you in an encouraging way. I have never felt inadequate in yoga class. I have often arrived at yoga practice with feelings of annoyance, discouragement, and a cluttered mind, but I always leave with great clarity and purpose, full of self esteem.
As you race through the next two weeks, why not try a yoga class? For the ones of you nearby, Susanne is offering a free class at Your Power Yoga in Statesboro if you mention this email.