Of all the things that can affect our relationships, one we hear very little about is a history of sexual violence.
According to the CDC, 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. These women go on with their lives, loving and dating and raising families, but the past never entirely goes away. It lives on in body memory.
In this week’s YBTV interview, we talk to author and advocate Marnie Grundman about life after sexual violence.
As a survivor herself, she’s frank about the challenges of putting the past behind you. Even when you want to forget, triggers keep the trauma alive. It’s not easy to open up about what happened, especially to family. And counseling is a must. Professional support can make all the difference between letting the past control you and living life on your terms.
What You’ll Learn
Believe the victim, first and foremost.”
Marnie Grundman was a teenage runaway. She started running away from home at 5 years old from a sexually, emotionally, and physically abusive environment, and ended up living on the streets at 13. It’s a story she tells in her memoir MISSING: A True Story of a Childhood Lost.
Today, she uses those experiences to help people and organizations understand why kids are running away from home and how to help them. She also raises awareness about the link between runaways and kids who end up being trafficked for both sex and labor.
Homeless youth are not just at risk for trafficking but also sexual assault.
One in four girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. That early abuse puts them at further risk. More than a third of those girls end up getting sexually assaulted again as an adult.
The Aftermath of Sexual Violence
Sexual abuse isn’t something you can just forget and put behind you.
“Your body has a memory of abuse, and I think a lot of time we don’t talk about that enough,” Marnie says. “Your body will remember something before it hits your mind.”
Those triggers don’t just go away. Even today Marnie gets triggered when someone moves swiftly or comes up behind her, but she’s learned to take a moment and come back to herself.
“We’re very focused even now as a society on, ‘Don’t look back,’ or, ‘Get over it,’ or, ‘Move through it,’ but you’re carrying it,” she says. “You have to look back to move forward.”
Moving forward from the past includes learning how to deal with off days, finding the best way to talk about it with people you trust, and getting the professional support you need.
It’s always going to be a part of our lives. We just have to know how to to navigate it and not to be hard on ourselves and not to think, ‘Oh my god, when am I going to get over this?’ You don’t get over it; you just live with it.”
If you haven’t talked to anyone yet about what happened, coming out can be a big step.
But Marnie urges anyone considering coming out to talk with a counselor first, so you’re supported if you don’t get the reaction you expect.
Your family may not be able to give you the support you need. “Even if it wasn’t somebody within the family who assaulted you, [your family] might deny it, because they don’t want to deal with it. You have to be prepared for that.”
She adds, “I think part of the reason [for the denial] is because maybe they feel like they failed you in some way. So unless you have a really supportive family unit, it may be received in a way that you aren’t anticipating.”
You shouldn’t feel any pressure to tell a new partner unless you want to.
“Nobody has a right to know about anything in your past,” Marnie says. “That’s your past, and you share when you feel that it’s something that you want to share.”
If you do want to talk about it, “you don’t have to share the details, just, ‘Listen, I was sexually assaulted, and it has an impact on me sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t.’
“If they’re the right person, they’re going to receive that well, and they’re going to be supportive. They are not going to ask questions out of curiosity but rather [say], ‘Hey, I’m here for you, and I’m really glad that you shared that with me.'”
Given what Marnie has went through, you’d think she’d be the last person to trust men.
But that hasn’t been her experience—or the experience of other rape survivors she’s talked to.
When something bad happens to you, you don’t hold it against everybody of that gender or body type or religious background or whatever it is.”
What does change is how trust works for them. Survivors are more aware of their surroundings and avoid putting themselves into a situation they’re not ready for.
Counseling is highly recommended.
Take time to find the right person. You want someone who’s a specialist in the area of sexual assault. “Commit to it even when it gets too hard,” Marnie says.
A great resource for survivors is the sexual violence organization RAINN.
Online groups aren’t a replacement for therapy, but they can be a good supplement to it. “Look for the ones that are actually run by professional organizations,” Marnie says.
The #1 thing we can do to support victims is believe them until we have a really good reason not to.
It’s so hard to come out and speak about what happened. There’s also a “lack of recognition in terms of understanding how trauma affects the brain.”
Marnie is continuing her advocacy work on several fronts. She’s fundraising for a documentary to support Covenant House.
“My plan is to sleep out for all 31 Covenant Houses across 6 countries to bring awareness to what they do for kids and how much they’re needed, because they protect kids who would otherwise be trafficked or heal kids who have been trafficked.”
She’s also working on an initiative involving kids who are disappearing from the foster care system and ending up trafficked.
Jump to Topics of Interest
2:00 Marnie’s journey from teen runaway to advocate
3:13 Should we put our past behind us, or is there value in telling our stories?
4:19 How triggers work
5:46 How the body holds memories
6:40 How to talk about it with family and partners
8:41 Trusting again
10:51 Finding the right therapist
11:51 Facebook groups for survivors
13:23 How does culture need to change?
14:09 The MeToo movement
15:25 Marnie’s documentary and advocacy work
Marnie is the author of MISSING: A True Story of a Childhood Lost. She has been featured on over 100 major television and radio shows in Canada, the United States and Europe, including CP24, Breakfast Television, Global News, The Marilyn Denis Show, Young Justice, Here and Now CBC, NewsTalk 1010, and the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse. A child who belonged to no one, missing at the tender age of 13, she spent years living on the streets where she experienced the worst of humanity firsthand. Marnie has since become an advocate for the missing, working to change the perception of runaway children so they might finally get the help they desperately need. Learn more about Marnie.