To be raped or sexually assaulted is like having your soul murdered, one sexual abuse survivor noted. It feels like someone taking a knife and stabbing your soul over and over until nothing is left but the bloody remnants of what was once self-worth and self-love.
Nora Salem says in ‘The Life Ruiner’, her own essay about abuse, that,
‘Perhaps the most horrifying thing about nonconsensual sex is that, in an instant, it erases you. Your own desires, your safety and well-being, your ownership of a body that may very well be the only thing you felt sure you owned.’
Every person who has been sexually violated responds differently to the crime – some become horribly depressed while others become very angry. All emotions are fair responses to rape or sexual assault.
The trauma of being raped or sexually assaulted can be shattering, leaving you feeling scared, ashamed, and alone or plagued by nightmares, flashbacks, and other unpleasant memories. But no matter how bad you feel, it’s important to remember that you weren’t to blame for what happened and you can regain your sense of safety and trust. But how?
Recovering from sexual trauma takes time, and the healing process can be painful. But with the right strategies and support, you can move past the trauma, rebuild your sense of control and self-worth, and even come out the other side feeling stronger and more resilient.
A UK woman, Gwynneth Pugh–Jones was an eighteen-years-old nurse in training when she endured a traumatic experience that made her feel as if she could “never turn her eyes to God again,” but she had become good friends with a man whom she has chosen to keep anonymous.
Choosing an evening when he knew all her housemates would be out at work, the man took her out for dinner, walked her back home and charmed his way inside.
“I was a Christian and I had quite strong views about sex before marriage. I made it very clear to him what my beliefs and values were, but unfortunately he abused those values,” Gwynneth told Premier Christian.
For six horrifying hours, she was subjected to a vicious attack at knifepoint. She was raped and burned with cigarettes.
Afterwards, she remembers sitting in the bath for hours, trying to feel whole and clean again.
Despite the serious crime committed against her, Gwynneth didn’t share her ordeal with anyone because it was not safe to talk about rape back then.
“When it happened to me, there weren’t the reporting mechanisms that there are now; safe houses, places set up to receive someone who has experienced rape,” she says.
Instead, she chose to pour her energy into becoming the best nurse she could be. It wasn’t until 14 years later, when Gwynneth was married and expecting her third child, that she became overcome with worry that her attacker might hurt someone else, worst-case scenario, her daughters.
So she approached a friend who was a police officer and asked him to search their records, and to her surprise, the man was listed on the database, having recently been arrested for assaulting a minor.
She soon met with the man’s hurting sister who at first couldn’t believe that he would commit such a pernicious crime to anyone. A compassionate Gwynneth told her that her brother had also attacked her when she was just 18. This was the truth the sister wasn’t ready to take.
It was six months later when her brother had been found guilty and was now in prison on suicide watch that the woman came back to apologise Gwyneth. She said he was specifically tormented by his memories of abusing a Christian lady that he used to know.
“He was so distressed and ill from the enormity of what he had done. That was his biggest struggle, realising the consequences of that, and how it must have affected my life since then,” says Gwyneth.
The sister soon asked Gwyneth what she “deemed was the impossible question,”; to visit her brother in prison.
Gwynneth asked God what she should do and sought legal advice before deciding to visit him.
“I did have some things I wanted to tell him, and I rehearsed what I was going to say, but as I sat in the chair across from him, all of that disappeared. As I looked at this almost unrecognisable man in front of me, just absolutely broken, God showed me how he saw him, and it was a true moment of godly compassion. He showed me this man restored. He showed me him as a prince, as a brother, someone with absolute true value. He showed me him looking well.”
Putting aside her own fears and anger about what he had done to her, Gwyneth visited a further five times over 18 months, each time sharing her faith and talking to him about God’s grace. At the end of that time, he became a Christian.
“It was a huge relief because he found peace,” Gwynneth says, explaining that she asked the chaplaincy team to take over his discipleship from that point onwards, giving her space for her own healing.
Meanwhile, he confessed to more crimes and his sentence was extended.
Gwynneth decided to stop visiting the prison, but some years later, she heard on the grapevine that he had developed a life-limiting disease.
A phone call from the prison service swiftly followed, in which he asked if she would come to pray with him.
“At first I really was unsure about going in, and it took probably two weeks to make a decision. When I went in, he had been moved to a hospital on compassionate palliative grounds, but he still had a prison guard with him. I sat down and did as he requested: I prayed with him; prayed peace over him; spoke love over him; and while I was praying with him, he died. It was such a privilege to be able to pray him home even though we’d had such a difficult journey together…it was true compassion to be able to do that.”
After he had died, Gwynneth was handed a letter that he had written. In it he explained how he could never thank her enough for forgiving him and for the compassion that she had shown towards him “and how that had released him to be able to get on with his life,” she says.
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