Welcome to the second part of The Pixel Project’s May 2015 Inspirational Interview with Brooke Axtell, Director of Communications and Engagement for Allies Against Slavery and the Founder of Survivor Healing and Empowerment (S.H.E.). In this part of her interview, she continues the discussion about domestic violence in the NFL and how to help adolescent survivors of sexual assault.
You can read the first part of her interview here
6. There have been recent cases of high profile American footballers committing domestic violence and their acts not being condemned by the NFL. Why is it so important that celebrities and organisations in the public eye speak out against crimes against women?
When powerful companies and institutions speak out against domestic violence, they affirm the value of survivors and challenge a cultural climate that normalises partner abuse.
7. There’s an excellent article you wrote in 2012 for Psychology Today on ways in which we can help teen survivors of sexual assault. What are ways in which we can help prevent the sexual assault of teen girls?
The most effective prevention strategy is teaching girls and boys about the importance of consent, respect and sexuality rooted in the pleasure of healthy relationships.
We also need to engage boys in conversations about how masculinity is constructed in our culture and discuss the ways violence and domination is tied to ideas of manhood. They need alternatives to oppressive masculinity and a path where they can express their power by being of service and creating justice in their communities. We can encourage them to build, not destroy. We can affirm the expression of a full range of emotions and model life-giving intimacy.
8. In “What I Know of Silence” you talk about how shame kept you from reporting the man who abused you. Shame seems to be the biggest reason women do not report abusers. Is there a way to move passed shame?
Yes. Release from shame begins with speaking your truth, bringing everything into the light, so it no longer has power over you. The process of recovery is one of cultivating self-compassion. Shame cannot reside in the places where we choose to offer empathy to ourselves.
9. Again, in your essay “What I Know of Silence”, you spoke about attending a recovery group for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and “began to recognise how the beliefs I formed as a little girl coloured everything I touched”. Initially, survivors will blame themselves for the acts of abuse committed against them. For any one blaming themselves at this very moment, what can be said or done to help them understand that they are not at fault?
Blaming ourselves is a way to gain a sense of control over something we could not control, our experience of abuse. It is one way to make sense of the violence and why it happened to us. But it is a lie. The brutal reality is that we are subjected to violence because someone made a choice to violate us and we cannot truly take back our sense of control through self-blame.
When you finally accept it was not your fault and you never deserved to be harmed, you will find your tenderness, vulnerability and grief. On the other side of this heartbreak, your inherent sense of value and power is waiting for you. You are not to blame for someone else’s choice. Be gentle with yourself as you find your way back to your wholeness.