BREATH, STRETCH, SHAKE...
Mind & Body
Both mental and physical health are massive components to consider after experiencing sexual assault.
One of the best things I have done for myself was acknowledge that I was not ok. To this day, I still have moments where I feel myself slipping and I take a mental health day to relax and rejuvenate my mind. Mental health should be treated just as physical health. I’ve also picked up meditating on top of my transparent conversations with God.
It took months for me to actually verbalize that I was raped, and from there I sought professional help in therapy. Although my therapist and I were not a match, simply taking active steps to better myself made a world of difference. I’m still looking for the right therapist today.
Because of my fragile mind, fear of society’s judgment, and a tight grasp on to my manhood, I did not see a medical doctor immediately after my attack. I should have. Even with my vast knowledge surrounding sexual health, stigma and denial of what happened to me stopped me from making a completely rational decision. PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) should have been an instant go-to since I was potentially exposed to HIV. PEP is taking antiretroviral medicine (ART) after being potentially exposed to HIV to prevent contracting the virus. PEP must be started within 72 hours after a recent possible exposure to HIV. Every hour counts. This may be politically incorrect but think of PEP as the “Plan B Pill for HIV”.
Today, I’m on PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis), a daily pill I take as a preventative that substantially lowers my risk of contracting HIV. While on PrEP it is mandatory to see my doctor every three months for a full HIV STD/ STI screening. Whether on PrEP or not, getting a physical and full screening is imperative. It’s recommended to go regularly twice a year.
Being sexually assaulted was a huge turning point in my life. I realized I really need to exercise both physical and mental self-care. As I continue to go through this journey, I’m no longer afraid to find the answers, do the research, and ask the uncomfortable questions.
Here are a few questions I got some great answers to…
As someone who works in the medical field, you’ve seen different cases of people who come in from experiencing sexual assault trauma. How important is it to see a doctor post-rape? Why?
HL: The most important reason to see a Doctor post-rape is safety. I’ve seen cases where the person who was raped also contracted an STD that had been untreated for a substantial amount of time. Going to the Doctor as soon as it happens and then coming back for check-ups to confirm your status will only help with the healing process. The follow up to that is so you have physical evidence of the rape that occurred so that it could be used to help press charges against the rapist.
What are some of the laws in the medical field that protect rape victims? Compliance? Reporting? Confidentiality?
HL: I was a Charge Nurse in both Adult and Child Psych Clinic and one thing we would do is have very small tear off’s with rape hotline and abuse hotline numbers in the bathroom. That way a person needing help could discreetly take one (Since sometimes the victim’s rapist was maybe a family member that was accompanying them) and make a call. It was also mandatory to report rape if the patient told us about it and was a minor. We would do this anonymously and chart what was said and forward it to the patient’s Physician. We would strongly encourage an adult victim to report the rape, but because HIPAA we can’t report it ourselves. The particular place where I worked, this was put into a “sensitive charting” area in the Electronic Medical Record and unless you were authorized personnel would be able to view that specific chart. Anyone looking into it will be terminated.
Have you ever had to treat a man who identified as straight who verbally said he was raped (by man or woman)? How did that make you feel? As a professional what was said to comfort him?
DM: Yes, -as a friend- I have sat and spoken with heterosexual men who are victims of sexual assault (rape) where the culprit was male. In those conversations one thing was recurrent. The man felt the need to continually say he was not gay. The possibility of being viewed as gay seemed to be more of an issue than the actual assault. To me, it spoke volumes and shed light on the power of homophobia. Society has placed such a negative stigma on being gay (especially within the Black community) that the men would rather deal with the trauma via their own efforts than risk potential exposure and ridicule by seeking professional help. I have noticed that heterosexual men were more unwilling to share/report their experience than their homosexual counterparts; which is quite damaging. The unresolved trauma plays a role in how these men navigate through relationships and some even become more promiscuous with women to prove their masculinity.
As an openly gay Black man hearing the reason why they would not report the incident made me question how they viewed me as a friend. Was I the ‘token gay’ that they felt comfortable around; yet, ensuring to distance themselves from others in the LGBT community? I heard their story, understood their dilemma, yet grew frustrated with the reason for not doing their part to get the culprit off the streets and behind bars. I honestly resolved within myself that one of the reasons that male-on-male sexual assault continues is because most male culprits act with the understanding that their violation will never be reported due to the stigmas surrounding the crime. For all intents and purposes, it is safe to say that the perpetrators of these acts are able to continue because society has not made it safe for the victims to report without their sexuality being speculated.
HL: Yes, I’ve spoken to a few straight men who were raped. I’ve also talked to gay men who were raped. In my experience, I’ve talked to more men raped by other men than men raped by women.
It makes me feel helpless. Personally, I’ve never been sexually assaulted so I can’t say I know how a person feels. By just speaking with them I find that the victim’s emotions and thoughts about what happened to them vary. Some straight men have more of an issue being secure in their sexual orientation, meaning some want to prove to everyone they are straight because of the rape. I’ve spoken to gay men that felt they may have been straight had they not been sexually assaulted. I’ve seen men also who weren’t interested in sex at all whether it was with a man or woman because the experience was so traumatic.
To comfort them, I try to be honest. No, I can’t say I know how you feel, but know that this was not your fault in any way. No matter what the situation was, don’t go to a place where you are accepting any of the blame. The person who raped you was greedy, selfish, and evil. That is not at all a reflection you and this doesn’t at all define you as a person.
As a Black people, we both understand Black family respectability. How do we fix that narrative for the sake of ourselves, mental health, and our children?
DM: The Black man is in peril. There are so many factors at play that hinder our individual growth and until we find a healthy way to create community and navigate around those barriers we will remain on the ever-rotating hamster wheel. I believe that change is in the dialogues we have yet to have as a village. Each generation had their set of challenges, unfortunately, it oftentimes feels as though many of them were left unresolved and passed down. It is time to collect ourselves and strategically sort through what was left to finish and begin the work of completion. Our bags are filled to the brim with ‘stuff’ and, as a result, our mental, physical and emotional health is suffering. This suffering plays a huge part in how we interact with our families. Leading from a broken place is a disservice to those trusting us to pave a way out.
I believe that Black men need to come to the table and iron through our differences. Regardless of age, sexual orientation, financial status, or education level, we should all be allowed to contribute to the change. We each have different influences and because of this, we are able to empower every facet of the Black community. Working together instead of against is the only way we will see a change erupt. If we do not finish the work from the past and give new directives for the future the only thing that will change are the faces of those on the losing end. Our children deserve a fresh start and it begins with us.
HL: I feel this has to be said… STOP PROTECTING SEXUAL PREDATORS!
I’ve seen where there is a family member who is known for sexually assaulting another family member and they are still able to be among the family and interact with family and everything is swept under the rug. “What happens in this house, stays in this house.” As a black woman, I’ve noticed that it’s the black women protecting the damn predator! It’s sickening! Not to mention how traumatic it is for the victim to know that they are not protected or valued because of the lack of protection and support in the matter. You can’t say you love me but when I tell you that an aunt/uncle/close family friend, etc raped/sexually assaulted me you keep that person around. Or better yet, accuse me of lying. It starts with adults being damn adults and not being so selfish because of the “shame” of having your child or relative being the predator. Encourage the victim to report them and get him/her the needed help so that they can begin to heal.
We have to be better about protecting our own and there is strength in numbers. No one who has gone through something as traumatic as rape/sexual assault should feel like they are all along in dealing with that. Be an advocate and show that person that there are still good people in the world.
*Thank you Donta Morrison and Hershe Lewis for your amazing insight!