Sunday, June 16, 2013

After Sexual Violence: a Story of Hope*

Sexual assault can be a devastating experience that can destroy our very lifestyle, but the emotional pain can be overcome with patience and time.

100_0799The evening of September 15, 2002 was without a doubt the most terrifying evening of my life: it was the evening I saw my life pass before my eyes as I faced the man whose intentions were of the basest type – sexual assault and possibly even worse.

Follow Your First Instincts

I’ll admit that I completely left myself open. I was stranded in a tiny Sicilian village named Leonforte on my way to Nicosia – where I was supposed to meet my daughter – after participating in a faculty meeting in Siracusa. Unfortunately, the bus driver neglected to mention hat he would only be going as far as Leonforte, instead of all the way to Nicosia. I was furious, especially since the only pay phone in the “town” was in a bar, and my home phone was busy and my daughter’s cell phone couldn’t be reached.

The only customers were a nice–looking young couple who offered to give me a ride to Nicosia if I paid for the gas. I was unsure – they had been drinking – and I was worried that he might have an accident. With the clarity of hindsight, I could see that the bartender was trying to warn me against it, but I was tired and had absolutely no desire to spend the night on a park bench in an unknown town.

I began to realize I was in trouble about 5 minutes into the ride, when he stuck his right arm over the seat and started caressing my leg and told me he wanted to have sex with me. I scooted as far away as I could, which wasn’t far enough, and then pushed his hand away. After the third time, I had the presence of mind to scratch him.

That, and a lot of fast talking, probably saved me from serious harm. I didn’t pass unscathed emotionally, but I learned a few valuable lessons during the recovery process that I’d like to share.

Report the Incident to the Police

So many men and women refuse to go the police for a variety of reasons, including embarrassment and fear of not being believed. That is so, so wrong! The police need to know, because if they don’t, they can’t stop the offender. As in my case, the offender is very often a repeat offender; not reporting him or her could lead to more victims, something that could have been avoided had the report been made.

Press charges once an identification has been made and the offender has been apprehended. Maurizio had already been identified several times, but when the time came to press charges, the girls gave in to peer pressure and Maurizio was released. I was the first woman to actually take him to court; I won my case and Maurizio now has criminal charges on his record.

Don’t Blame Yourself

A lot of people are going to blame the victim, so you don’t need to do it, too. Thoughts like “if I had only…” are NOT going to help you. Regardless of what you may or may not have done, if someone has intentions of hurting you, they most likely will. I was lucky that he was drunk. If people blame you, stay away from them. They are NOT going to help you recover.

Get Emotional Help

Don’t keep it all for yourself—share it. There weren’t any help groups for victims of sexual assault in Mistretta, and psychologists were hard to come by and expensive if you could find one. However, I had a lot of friends who were willing to lend me an ear and give me hope. My family was a great strength for me, especially my husband, when I would wake up in the middle of the night screaming because of the nightmares.

One friend in particular helped me by encouraging me during the most difficult times, especially when I considered the idea of withdrawing charges. She helped me realize that Maurizio wasn’t going to come get me if he was in prison, but he sure could if he was out. And she was also the one who made me realize that there was nothing to be embarrassed about. I should take it as a compliment, kind of back-handed, perhaps, but still a compliment.

Sing a Song

Something else that helped me immensely was to choose a song to sing every time thoughts of what had happened came to mind. I chose “Angels We Have Heard on High”, and at the beginning ended up singing it about 50 times a day, including in my sleep. I would realize at that moment I was entering a danger zone and quickly change the direction of my thoughts. It was truly a big help.

I can’t tell you what to do in case the rape should result in pregnancy or disease, except to turn to medical and psychological assistance. Pregnancy is such a personal experience and is best understood by you and your doctor, just as only a medical doctor will know how to treat a disease.

A victim of sexual assault will probably never recover completely – 9 years have already passed since my experience, and I still have the occasional nightmare, but my song is always on the ready – but you can still have a satisfying, happy life. We all need help from our friends and professionals in overcoming the pain, but the power to recovery lies mainly in ourselves.

*This blog was originally published on November 21, 2011 by myself, Mary Purpari, for; I hold the copyright.