Survivor story: Healing after sexual violence in an intimate relationship

Written by SAFE

April marks Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time dedicated to raising public awareness about sexual violence and providing support to survivors. It’s crucial to peel back the layers of societal norms and confront the uncomfortable truths hidden behind closed doors. Sexual violence within relationships remains a pervasive and often overlooked issue, perpetuated by silence and stigma. Therefore, this month serves as a call to action, inviting individuals and communities to engage in open dialogue, challenge harmful beliefs, and foster environments where survivors feel empowered to speak out and seek help. By engaging in discourse, we pave the way for healing, resilience, and a collective commitment to create a safer, more compassionate community.

Sexual violence within intimate partnerships can take many forms, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. It thrives in silence and secrecy, making it all the more important to break the stigma and educate ourselves and our communities about its realities.

One emotional testimony illustrates the impact of sexual violence in relationships. Kiera is a 28-year-old Hispanic woman who bravely sought therapeutic services after enduring physical, emotional, and sexual violence in her previous relationship. Kiera’s story is not uncommon; countless individuals, like her, suffer in silence, often facing immense challenges in seeking help and support.

During her therapy journey, Kiera disclosed the traumatic experience of being sexually assaulted by her ex-partner, resulting in an unplanned pregnancy. Despite the overwhelming burden of raising four young children on her own and grappling with financial stress, Kiera courageously embarked on her healing journey.

For survivors like Kiera, finding the strength to speak out and seek support is a significant milestone. However, the journey toward healing is not without its challenges. Trust, a fundamental aspect of therapy, can be particularly fragile for survivors of sexual violence. Building trust and rapport takes time, patience, and a deep understanding of the survivor’s needs and boundaries.

Kiera’s therapist, Charlotte, exemplifies the importance of creating a safe and supportive environment for survivors. By moving at Kiera pace and acknowledging her emotional needs, Charlotte fosters a therapeutic alliance built on trust and respect. Kiera’s gratitude at the end of each session speaks volumes about the impact of being heard and valued in her healing journey.

In the United States, nearly 1 in 4 women (24.3%) and 1 in 7 men (13.8%) have experienced severe physical violence, rape, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.

Our hope at SAFE is that we can continue to be a place of refuge for survivors like Kiera in their desperate times of need. When they feel like they have nowhere to go and no one to confide in, we will be there to welcome them and provide them with the help and resources they need throughout their healing journey.

Preventing sexual violence in relationships requires a collective effort from individuals, communities, and institutions. By challenging harmful attitudes, promoting consent and healthy relationships, and amplifying survivor voices, we can all help prevent this traumatic harm from occurring.

*Names have been changed to protect identities