Trying to heal from the trauma of sexual assault

A screenshot from the "Accompanying Families" webinar. (Aileen Cevallos/YJI)

Quito, ECUADOR – In a webinar commemorating the one year mark of the Ecuadoran movement #SeremosLasÚltimas (We Will Be the Last), panelists discussed the healing process after sexual assault.

Titled “Familias que Acompañan,” which means “Accompanying Families,” the webinar is available on YouTube.

According to the movement’s website, Seremos Las Últimas started when two young women – who had, as small girls, been sexually abused by their gymnastics teacher at one of the largest gyms in Quito – decided to speak up about it.

The people in Seremos Las Últimas want to make sure victims of sexual assault receive justice and reparation, but most of all, they fight for all sexual assault to stop.

The parents of the girls, who are now women in the twenties, opened the webinar talking about their own experience and the emotional toll the whole situation had on them.

Ximena Caiza, the mother of one of the victims, said believing the victim is the most important step towards reparation. Far too often, sexual abuse victims are disregarded as dramatic, too sensible or because they don´t have a “sense of humor.”

According to Óscar ltamirano, the father of the other victim, 80% of sexual abuse victims are not believed.

The young women’s parents all stressed the importance of believing someone when they decide to speak up about sexual abuse.

Mary Herrera, another mother of one of the victims, talked about how she felt guilty after finding out her daughter was being abused. She felt irresponsible and powerless knowing she couldn’t prevent the incident.

As a mother, she reminds everyone that sexual abuse is no one’s fault, not the victims and not her families or her friends. It isn’t anyone’s fault except for the abuser.

Caiza said the next step is to search for professional help for the victim, as well as for the whole family. These kinds of incidents, which happen far too often, affect not only the victim but everyone around them.

And as the panelists said multiple times, the incident will change everyone’s life forever.

It’s immensely important to let the victim know that justice will be sought, Caiza said, but at the same time, life will go on. It is important to keep on having dreams and fighting. Being a victim should not define them, she said.

Finally, Caiza spoke about the strength of the women who are recovering from abuse.

A woman who decides to speak up about the sexual abuse she has lived is incredibly brave, said Caiza, adding that a woman like that can achieve anything, and it is important to let them know that.

At least one mental health professional on the webinar outlined some advice for those accompanying a sexual assault victim:

Time: Healing takes time, sometimes years or even a whole life. It is important to understand that healing emotionally doesn’t have rules and an order. The way people heal, and how long it takes, depends on the individual person.

Listening and confidentiality: For someone who accompanies a victim of sexual abuse, listening doesn´t mean trying to solve all of their problems. But it also doesn’t mean the listener should be completely passive. The best way to listen is to ask in what way you can help.

Collective Care: It is important to find time to take care of yourself, because helping others will affect you emotionally. It is important to find things that can distract you and that you have your personal space to breathe.

Transformation: If someone around you has lived through this kind of situation, it is important to know that most likely, your life will change forever. Your way of seeing society will change forever. When you know someone in this situation, you will put aside all of society’s excuses that justify rape culture. You will understand that there is no such thing as “just a little bit,” “Why didn’t she fight?”, “What was she wearing?” or “Where was she?” when it comes to abuse.

Aileen Cevallos is a Senior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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