April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Today is National Day of Silence; a student- led initiative focused on bringing awareness to the silencing effects of anti-LGBTQ name-calling, bullying, and harassment in schools.

What does this have to do with Sexual Assault Awareness Month or Sexual Violence for that matter?

There’s a lot of shame around Sexual Trauma. Many don’t talk about their experience with Sexual Violence and very few actually victims of Sexual Violence report it to the police.

Within the LGBTQ community, several studies found that respondents who identify as LGBTQ reported higher rates of childhood sexual abuse than heterosexual respondents.

Statistics also state that 1 in 2 transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their lives.  Some reports estimate that transgender survivors may experience rates of sexual assault up to 66 percent, often coupled with physical assaults or abuse. This indicates that the majority of transgender individuals are living with the aftermath of trauma and the fear of possible repeat victimization.

Furthermore, 50 % of people who died in violent hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people were transgender women; the other half were male, many of whom were gender non-conforming. Sexual assault and/or genital mutilation before or after their murders was a frequent occurrence. These hate crimes are also more prevalent against people of color. >> Source: Office For Victims of Crime

The goal of Day of Silence is to ensure that every person is treated with respect and fairness regardless of their Sexual Orientation. The conversation that happens around Day of Silence has to do with bullying/harassment that occurs throughout the school grades K-12.

I experienced bullying throughout grammar school. I fought a lot, for myself and certainly wouldn’t hesitate to stick up for one of my siblings if they were being bullied. I was in 5th or 6th grade when I ended up fighting one of my classmates because she would throw spitballs at me. One day as we were leaving the lunchroom to go back to the classroom, my male childhood friend (I mostly hung out with males) said to me, ” she’s going to try to fight you and you need to be prepared. Make sure when you hit her, make a fist and tuck your thumb in so you don’t break it.” Now, his advice was thoughtful at the time but now it’s quite hilarious. We were kids.

Sure enough, as we were walking back to the classroom a single line, the girl was walking behind me and continuously and provokingly stepped on my shoe. I just kept hearing those words, “Make sure when you hit her, make a fist and tuck your thumb in.” I was terrified. I didn’t like to fight but it was something I found myself doing a lot when I was younger. After I’d had enough of her stepping on my shoe, I turned around and asked her to stop. She replies, “And if I don’t?” then pushes me. After that, we’re in the hallway fighting. I knew I’d have to fight her to get her to stop bullying me. After the teacher broke us up, I looked down to find my white uniform shirt torn and my barely filled out training bra exposed to my entire classmates.

I also remember a time being jumped by a group of girls in the 4th grade and they’d pulled my hair out. My junior year of high school, my sister and I had to be removed from school because a guy had grabbed my ass while in the cafeteria and when I called him out on it, he laughed it off and said, “bitch, fuck you.”  My mom’s friend’s husband was the football coach at my school. I refer to him as my uncle because he’s like a part of the family. He was also a police officer so I went to his office and told him. The next day he came to the lunchroom and asked me to point the boy out. My uncle was very well respected and I’d even say feared by the students. I pointed the guy out and my uncle walked over and said, “Aye, you touched her ass? My niece, you touched her ass?” I want to say he hemmed him up a bit but that could be my imagination. I do know that after that, my sister and I were being removed from our classes because word got out to his sister and they were planning to jump on me.

As crazy as all of this sounds, this was the norm at my high school. Fighting was the norm. I’d transferred to this school my junior year because it was a popular school, mostly for Athletes. Actually, we had a lot of athletes who graduated from my high school and have gone on to play professional sports. As I reflect,  even though this was an athletically popular school,  the violence that went on there was disheartening. I’ve witnessed boys come to schools with guns and fights that were so bad, there’d be remnants of blood in the hallways. We had a metal detector at the main entrance and security would often do pat downs.

Though this was the norm, Now that I am older, I understand that nothing about that was normal. Bullying isn’t normal. Having to be afraid to go to school; a place that should be a safe space for students to learn, make a friend and grow isn’t normal at all. And I’d have to say it definitely shifted my perspective of the world back then.

Bullying isn’t something people just get over. Many have committed suicide because of it. It’s something that affects many people very deeply, even if they don’t realize it. Our experiences from the time we are born until we leave this earth shape us. The negative, painful and traumatic experiences mold us into beings with defenses and most times even fear. A lot of the things I experienced as a child up until now has shaped me and though some were the way I thought they should’ve been, I’m grateful to be able to share my experience in hopes of helping someone else heal.

I am a huge supporter of the LGBTQ community. I am also a supporter of people being who they truly are and being respected and honored for that. So though this blog isn’t space where I cater to children or teens, if you’re reading this and you’re a mother of an LGBTQ child, understand that it starts with you accepting them for who they truly are. Create an open dialogue with them and consistently remind them that you celebrate them. I believe by empowering children to be who are without hiding in the shadows of society’s programming and beliefs, parents can raise emotionally whole children who can speak up for themselves in a situation where bullying occurs. I’m not saying that’s the cure. I am saying it a start.

LGBT National Help Center http://www.glbthotline.org/

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