Guest post by WAVAW Volunteer, Nicole Wayara
I am fortunate to have been supported by a whole lot of awesome people throughout what I still believe was the most mentally damaging experience of my life. Almost two years later, I still have the odd flashback about my sexual assault. It’s not one of those things that glares in my mind when I close my eyes to go to bed at night, but every so often I may be ‘triggered’. This is a term to describe how flashbacks can hit your psyche through remembrance after you’ve experienced violence. Triggers may not even be overt or obvious, they could be as simple as your thoughts wandering into the darker spaces of your mind and memories, or could happen because of a one-off glance you happen to receive by someone as you are just going about your daily life. I think the most extensive impact that my assault has had on me is my awareness to how I take up space in public; how I navigate it; and how it makes me feel.
For the most part, my experiences in public spaces haven’t been exactly ‘neutral’. By that I mean, they have not been without the catcall or leering stare, intimidating presence or man who seems to be following my route home. Those are experiences that I’m sure many bodies have had. Add the fact that being a black woman in Vancouver is some kind of novel commodity (i.e. there’s a relatively small Black/African population in Greater Vancouver, but we’re still here!) and that my racialization somehow sexualizes me, and I would say I’ve had some experiences that a lot of non-racialized and non-feminized bodies would not be able to identify with. I’m aware of how I’m perceived, to say the least. I can sense when I’m walking alone at night if certain bodies around me feel as though I am an intimidating presence, yet on the other hand, I’m cognizant of the way that I am often sexualized. So I’m unsafe in a couple ways, and that’s my lived experience and reality.
In a bout of anger throughout my journey towards survivorhood, I have continuously promised myself that I will not let my assault govern my life. I will not let it determine what I could imagine for my future, where I go or spend my time, and who I will ultimately be. In my journey, I’ve used a whole lot of anger and channeled that into motivation to be kind to myself and pursue my own kind of self-justice and self-reconciliation. And I’m lucky because not everyone who experiences sexual assault can do that. I identify as a victim and a survivor at the same time, because I refuse be one or the other at all times. Sometimes I am strong and brave and full of my own self-worth and knowledge. Other times I feel as fragile as the morning after my assault. And it’s all ok! I’ve come to accept that the multiplicity of feelings, states and understandings of myself after my sexual assault are actually all normal, healthy ways that my body and mind are fighting and surviving.
One way that I can do that is by getting up in the morning and living my life. I have this new found ability to fast-walk like I’ve never had to before, and to find the best lit sidewalks for a good kilometer radius. But actually, I have had to really trust myself, my intuition and instincts of self-preservation every single day I have left my house since my assault. I’m taking up space because I refuse to relinquish any more power to those who wish to threaten my security, my safety and my peace of mind. So I’ll walk to work. I’ll go to my favorite bar, I’ll go for a run by myself, because I deserve to be able to do those things. I’ll just do them with my power walk, keys ready and my eyes straight ahead. I’ll journey through it all in my own way.