The Latest Sexual Assault Nightmare

Close up of a person's eyes looking afraid

By: Giselle General

Trigger warning: Trauma flashbacks, nightmares, violent sexual assault

I’m sharing this in time for Sexual Violence Awareness Month, which is in May. If you have experienced sexual violence, there is help. This is just one of the many amazing organizations that can provide support and healing. https://www.sace.ca/

On Easter Sunday, my husband and I decided to go to bed like it’s a regular Sunday. He is working the next day while I have the day off.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I had a horrific nightmare. Having nightmares related to sexual assault is not new to me, I’ve had them on and off for a few years. But this was such an expected curveball.

I was captured, together with other people, in what looked like a room in a building located in the mining village where I grew up. There were no other clues or signs that indicated where I was, just the people I was with. I was with N (a childhood classmate), his mother C and a few people whose faces I can’t figure out.

Our captors look like soldiers, and they were rounding up the people they have captured. I don’t hear any sounds from the others, because I was paralyzed in horror as I realized what they were doing to the younger women like me. The soldiers were taking turns raping them.

And then, came my turn. My vantage point shifted from what was happening around me to just seeing how my face, my eyes looked like. I can’t tell who or how many men were violating my body. I can’t tell where it hurts, what body parts or tools were they using. Did they have a gun pointed at my head? Were they yanking my hair so they can access my mouth? Am I getting struck by sticks, ropes, or knives? Was the pounding in my vagina or anus so rough my body shook uncontrollably? I don’t know, I couldn’t tell.

From my vantage point, I see just my head, sometimes bouncing and shifting in direction, likely because someone or something was ramming inside me. Am I lying down, am I tied up, am I sitting up, am I being straddled, carried or thrown around? I can’t tell.

Everything around her face – my face – was fading away. And my eyes – her eyes – came to focus. And I know that look. The flash of horror from knowing what is about to happen, then the silent scream of taking in all the pain happening all around my body inside and out, and how much being violated is ripping my soul. And then, the resignation and escape, when the brown of my eyes lost sparkle and life, still wide open but fading into dullness and numbness. My head bounces more roughly, the invasion getting frantic. My mind trying to tell me “he’s almost done, it’ll be over soon”.

The next thing I know, I’m thrown into the ground, my body naked, grime and mud on my arms, legs and knees, my belly feeling hollow and raw. I lay them stunned for a few minutes, and then I tried to crawl on my hands and knees, forcing myself to sit up. As I painfully manage to do so, I look down between my legs. There’s a pool of blood on the dirty floor, slowly growing in size.

I frantically crawled to the end of the room, where my fellow captives were. I locked eyes with N, who was sitting beside his mother. As I get closer to them, C had a good look at my battered, broken body and my lifeless eyes. She then pulled my in her lap, the way a mother would for her child. I scrambled to touch the blood still coming out from between my legs and weakly asked “I’m not that broken, am I?” She said “no you’re not!” and pulled me closer, as if giving me permission to seek refuge in her arms. I crawled closer to her lap, and wept.

Silhouette of three Soldiers Walking

And that’s when I woke up, shaking, crying and breathing hysterically. It shook the bed so much that it woke my husband, who swiftly took me in his arms. This is nothing new to him, although I can tell for sure, the first time in at least a few years.

What’s even more messed up is that it’s not the sexual assault that distressed me so much to wake me up. It was when a motherly figure, one that I don’t have anymore, tried to give support and comfort. The reminder of what I don’t know, of what I will never have again, is what hurt more, enough to shake me awake.

It wasn’t until the morning when I was about to prepare for lunch, alone in the house, that I realized that it has been fifteen years since the sexual assault incidences that happened to me took place. It felt like so long ago, but at the same time, it doesn’t.

Another realization that made me pause is the gruesome scene that came in my dream. The sexual abuse I experienced was with a known person, and involved more blackmail and quiet threats. No tools, weapons, or violent physical injuries occurred. I think that subconsciously, the knowledge that rape and sexual abuse are common tactics in war came up on the surface that night.

During that week I had a surprise. Turns out, my next therapy appointment is for that upcoming Sunday. It was a relief knowing that I’ll have my phone call in just six days instead of thirteen. Telephone therapy went well overall, and this was the last thing I brought up. He confirmed something he had said in the past, the reality of how trauma works. Triggers can be unexpected and can pop up anytime, and it will affect me in varying degrees for the rest of my life. Hearing this a few times in the past, it feels more reassuring every time. Because it means I’m not flawed or weak or bad for having reactions to these again.

But with all that said, I’ll be glad if it is five years or more before I get a horrific nightmare of this sort!

Pecha Kucha Speech Transcript: I made it out alive! My first attempt running for Edmonton Municipal Election during COVID

Giselle delivering a speech at the stage of Metro Cinema in Edmonton

After a long hiatus no thanks to the pandemic, it seemed fitting that my first in-person speech activity was with the same event where I did my last in-person speech from 2019. It’s with Edmonton Next Gen for their Pecha Kucha night! This is the transcript of my speech titled “I made it out alive! My first attempt running for Edmonton Municipal Election during COVID”

  1. That was nothing to sneeze at! It’s a phrase I never heard before, until after the election day. 5180 votes, Second place against an incumbent, with limited funds and during a pandemic, was apparently noteworthy.
  2. You should feel proud, I was told. How do I feel? Not that. I felt gratitude, inspiration, motivation and energy. Most of all, huge relief that I made it out alive, uninjured, not severely traumatized.
  3. There are many “typical” things you need to prepare for when running as a candidate, your platform, who to ask to volunteer or donate, the GOTV plan, short for Get Out The Vote, print and online communications and more.
  4. In 2016, I attended my first elections 101 program, hosted by the city for women who want to be involved in municipal politics. A current city councillor (born & raised Canadian white guy) did his energizing pitch that we, women, should run.
  5. In the Q and A I raised my and asked, ummmm sir, councillor may I ask, is it safe to run for politics in Edmonton, in Canada? Do I need to worry about getting killed and my dead body floating in the River Valley?
  6. He was shocked and reassured me it IS safe to run here. A fellow workshop participant told me, wow, I was worried about social media trolls, I didn’t even think about actual threats to my life. For me that was top of mind.  
  7. From then on, in the other workshops and campaign toolkits I accessed, I realized it gives some fundamentals, but won’t be sufficient to help me run a campaign that aligns with my values and will keep me safe, healthy and uninjures.
  8. Immigrants and visible minorities have a steep learning curve about the political culture here. It’s even worse when you came from a country where politicians, journalists and activists do get murdered on a regular basis.
  9. When a candidate knocks on your door, what comments do you make? I got “Do you have kids?” “What’s your background?” “Are you Native?” “I love the Filipino caregivers!”  Do male or white candidates get these also, I wondered.
  10. I know that all it takes is one violent incident to cause permanent injury and harm. I had to constantly think, I can protect and defend, administer first aid,  call 911 quickly when things go very wrong for me? 
  11. I have a very difficult time asking for help and this stems from a lot of personal trauma as an immigrant and an orphan. It’s a huge challenge to overcome and that was important, since the area for ward sipiwiyiniwak, where I was running, is massive!
  12. Campaigning during COVID added more concerns, on because of the increased prevalence of Anti-Asian racism. I can’t change how I look. I’m someone who looks visibly Asian, wears a mask, and also gets misidentified as Indigenous.
  13. The volunteers who were my fellow immigrants had additional fears that was tough to overcome. The big one, dropping off flyers in mailboxes. Despite my reassurances that it’s permitted. They skipped the ones that says “no flyers or no soliciting”
  14. They’re worried about getting yelled at as ignorant, rule breakers, they’re afraid of harassment. They’re worried about my reputation too. The tradeoff, better for people to not know me, than being angry at me after seeing an flyer they didn’t want.
  15. As someone who can’t drive and with a weak leg, I carried heavy supplies and went to neighbourhoods on foot, car and bus. Which shocked bus and uber drivers, seeing a candidate who’s literally living like an average person.
  16. With that said, many people donated and shared their time and talents. People doorknocked and flyer dropped with me in hot summer days and rainy afternoons, dealing with hazards on streets. Sidewalks and front lawns, across older and developing neighbourhoods.
  17. People I’ve never met until the campaign reached out through email and social media, who helped remotely and positively talked about my candidacy to others. Trolls were very few, but supportive people, thank goodness, it’s abundant.
  18. The next day, after the election I got a message on Twitter from a competitor I’m on good terms with. Like me, he didn’t win. His message said “well that was a waste of time”. And that’s one huge thing I disagree with.
  19. For me this is just part of community service and being an adult. Within  a week, I resumed my volunteer duties with my neighbourhood, ethnic community, and the city. I went back to my nonprofit job, booked a massage, and an appointment with my therapist.  
  20. I’m alive, uninjured and not severely traumatized. I plan to share my insights, and campaign templates to anyone who wants it. And if I’m fortunate enough, I might be healthy enough, wiser and equipped for a future candidacy. TY.

This post will be updated once the video of the presentation is available. Thank you to Edmonton’s Next Gen, the organizers of Pecha Kucha Night that takes place three times a year, for the opportunity to present, especially for something as significant as your first in-person event since COVID started. For more information such as previous presentations how to support or participate, visit https://edmontonnextgen.ca/pkn.

Pecha Kucha Night Speech Transcript: Dating a Sexual Assault Survivor

Pecha Kucha is a presentation format where the presenter has 20 slides, 20 seconds, and it is strictly timed. This is the transcript of the presentation I made on October 30, 2019 entitled “Dating a Sexual Assault Survivor”

  1. This is us, Corey and Giselle. He’s a white guy, born and raised in Edmonton with a complete family, and middle-class upbringing. I’m an orphan girl from a mining village in the Philippines, immigrated as a teenager, and bounced around different homes.
  2. The sexual assault incidents happened during my final year of high school in the Philippines. That same year, I moved to Canada in Aug 2007. It’s a tough year. Let’s say that there wasn’t enough support for me during this difficult time.  
  3. When you date a sexual assault survivor, disclosure will not come immediately. It took me two years since we started dating to feel safe enough to share as much detail as I can. It was a risk. I even told him he can break up with me afterwards.
  4. If you are the lucky one who actually had sex education in school, you may have to be the one to introduce terminology and concepts to your love one who experienced sexual assault. If you do this, be informative and non-judgemental in your approach.
  5.  In his case, he quoted to me the specific Criminal Code of Canada section that outlined the definition of sexual assault. He made it clear that he knows  what happened to me IS indeed, sexual assault – full stop.
  6. It is so important to make your partner feel that you believe them. If the culture, the environment they lived in doesn’t believe in sexual assault, if the people surrounding them didn’t believe either, your reaction and support will make a BIG impact.
  7. If there are other causes of trauma, things can get complicated. I’m also an orphan, and that influences my viewpoint in life in good and bad ways. But with time and support, these can be worked through simultaneously.
  8. In my case, I have a very difficult time asking for help about anything, big and small. It comes both from having to be independent because I’m an orphan, and from not getting the help I needed after I revealed I was being molested.
  9. If the perpetrator will be around, you need to have a plan. There was this trip to the Philippines, where the perpetrator and I will be in the same space during this family gathering. My partner made sure the perpetrator would stay FAR away from me.
  10. Doing your own research about the other challenges your love one experienced is really helpful. In this case, he did a lot of research to help him understand the different types of problematic family dynamics that I experienced but he didn’t to through.
  11. If they finally go to therapy, just be there for them. I went to therapy two years ago for about 8 months.  After every appointment, he’s ready at home with some cuddles and  conversation. We call it “follow-up therapy” – in bed.
  12. And, speaking of bed. When you get intimate, if they say no. LISTEN! If they want to change something, understand them and do it. This takes a lot of courage to say. It usually means that something is REALLY scary or REALLY painful.
  13. Your relationship CAN be the opportunity to realize that vulnerability is worth it, that you CAN be accepted as who you are. A chance to see that sex, intimacy and pleasure can go hand in hand. That saying no is not a deal-breaker.
  14. In many ways, they are experimenting with the idea of consent, which wasn’t there when they were assaulted. The question in their mind is “this time, do I have a say?” “Will I get heard if I actually say something?”
  15. In the summer of 2010 had our first kiss in his car, he actually asked “can I get a kiss goodnight?”. I actually liked it! I like being asked, being consulted, my input being valued. Turns out, consent is sexy.
  16. Reproductive health tasks from pap smears, STD testing, seeing a doctor, ultrasounds is a big deal. Being comfortable to do all these things is a victory. Encourage and celebrate it. And proactive with your own reproductive health as well.
  17. The survivor is primarily responsible for their healing and their journey. As the significant other, you will be there for support, patience and a little bit of push when needed. But this needs to be at their own pace and time. 
  18. It’s also worth nothing that trauma is not a complete excuse for awful behaviour. I’m relieved that I was confronted for my immature reactions and poor decisions, and we managed to talk it out and solve it as a couple.
  19. After 9 years of dating, I proposed to him in July and he said yes! And we just had our wedding last month in Edmonton! I’m grateful for him being in my life and supporting me in my healing process.
  20. This is my journey, other survivors and their loves ones may have a different process, and that’s completely okay. We want the same things for our selves and our love ones, acceptance, being cared for, being cherished for who we are.

This post will be updated once the video of the presentation is available. Thank you to Edmonton’s Next Gen, the organizers of Pecha Kucha Night that takes place three times a year, for the opportunity to present. For more information such as previous presentations how to support or participate, visit https://edmontonnextgen.ca/pkn.

Sexual Assault Survivor Gets a Boudoir Photoshoot

By: Giselle General

CONTENT WARNING: Sexual Violence, Sexual Assault

Back view of woman sitting on the edge of a bed.

One’s bedroom should be a place of rest, escape, peace and comfort, after a long day of exhaustion, activities and responsibilities. The darkness of the night should be an opportunity of calm solitude, an end of a long day, a pathway to a new morning with the hope that the new day will bring about new adventures and experiences. One’s womanhood and the journey to become one can be uncertain and confusing, but should be one that is filled with discovery, curiosity, and optimism, as one transforms physically into adulthood.

Sexual assault, rape, abuse, molestation, however you want to call it, regardless of how it happened, not only defiles one’s outlook in their life and their bodies, but also taints one’s soul with an indescribable amount of fear and pain.

There were roadblocks to be had, that dragged on and weighed me down for months and years, and clouded the vision of myself, my body, my behaviours, and motivations. From having difficulty articulating how I’m feeling physically, emotionally, and sexually in my romantic life, to feeling uninformed and afraid to learn about reproductive health. From nightmares about being raped with scenarios more gruesome than what I have experienced, to daydreaming while taking transit on what I would do if I get assaulted again, but this time in public.

The journey to healing started online, thanks to the increased discussions about sexual assault. Simultaneously, my current relationship played a huge role, from being believed after I shared my story, to having a voice and being heard when talking about issues related to sexual health and sexual activities. And then a few years ago, the healing became more professional-based, when I finally went to therapy to address the mental and emotional entanglements caused by this particular traumatic event, as well as others.

But there was one thing I mulled about for a very long time, and that is addressing how I view my physical body. The conventional assumption of “she must have looked or dressed a certain way which is why she got assaulted” is one of the key messages I wanted to debunk in my mind and heart. Mind you, during the assaults, typically I was wearing pajamas and clothes of my deceased parents as my sleepwear back then. This is the biggest reason why this assumption enrages me.

Finally, after some time hemming and hawing, browsing through several photographer’s websites, and convincing myself that my budgeting skills are on track, I finally booked the appointment. I chose for the photoshoot to be done on a rented studio, with a wide variety of backdrops for various effects. Many of the backdrops depicted typical parts of a house, just more glamorous looking: the bedroom with pristine sheets, a fancy bathroom with a clawfoot tub, elegant couches and plush chairs, and brick and pastel painted walls. I purchased a few outfits to help me have a theme in the photos, I had my hair done by a hairstylist but chose to not have makeup on. Finally, I told the photograher I’m okay with being a bit of a daredevil with some surprise poses.

It was hard to articulate how enjoyable and empowering it is to feel calm while practically semi-nude in front of a stranger. It is particularly freeing given that my sense of trust was broken by someone who is definitely not a stranger. I felt a bit awkward when I was asked to do certain movements, because part of the approach is not holding still for a certain pose, but instead, to do things such as move your arms and hips in a sexy way while standing, or play with your hair while imagining that you’re feeling like a superstar on the bed right now. But soon enough, the awkwardness transformed into playfulness.

The biggest surprise of all for me, is how I looked like in the photos she captured. When I was doing a ‘movement pose’ such as walking into the door ready to ‘have some fun’, she was pressing the shutter button non-stop while saying ‘oh wow! yes that’s good!’. Fierce, confident, alluring, vixen, all womanly, and not even needing to act like a skinny model while doing so.

When I picked up the printed photobook that was part of my package, I had a bit of a chat with the photographer. I was amazed at how many of the clients the photographer had, were indeed, survivors of sexual violence. Our conversations touched on perception of women in general, the “male gaze” and how it impacts our own perception of ourselves.

In the very visual way we live our lives these days, I figured, using that to my advantage is worth it. It was pretty neat to turn something used to objectify women, professionally photographs, into an opportunity to challenge unhealthy views about one’s self. I feel inclined to do this again, perhaps in five to ten years, to celebrate any transformations in my body, while celebrating my personhood and womanhood. This is something I definitely would encourage other people to consider, particularly if their trauma affects their outlook of their physical bodies and their vision of themselves.

My Contribution to Sexual Violence Awareness Month

By: Giselle General

May is Sexual Violence Awareness Month. It seems like every week, month, or day is dedicated towards something that it can be hard to keep track, this is something I’m not complaining about at all. Sometimes it can be something fun and casual like National Puppy Day, or something deeply important like Black History Month. I feel fortunate that in Canada, Alberta, Edmonton and other places worldwide, there were opportunities to talk about this important (and terrible) issue, give support to those affected, and have conversation on how to be aware and put an end to this.

The issue is a bit personal to me, since I myself have been a victim/ survivor of sexual assault. I purposefully used both words because these horrific act definitely have harmed me, and that should not be discounted one bit. At the same time, similar to the other life hardships that life threw at me, it is something I have survived from and changed who I am, hopefully for the better. The month had provided me with tangible opportunities to meaningfully participate.

Attending a Fundraising Gala

It seems like fundraising galas are everywhere, and attending them is actually pretty cool. I attended the fundraising gala for the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton at the Edmonton Convention Centre. While giving a hefty donation or a regular monthly donation is not within my budget at the moment, I figured that doing a one-time activity and donation is still something.

When it comes to food, I’m not picky anyways, and simply welcome the opportunity to have something different from my regular routine. This gala was a bit special as well, as I managed to join a table with other people who are actively involved in Edmonton. Some people at the table were familiar faces and names, which is thrilling! The keynote speaker, a gentleman who is a lawyer, was wonderful! What I appreciate most about the keynote speaker is that he addressed head on some of the misconceptions that surround sexual assault, from the act, to how survivors behave, and to how a perpetrator can look like. As someone who is part of the legal community, I also appreciate how he humanizes the flaws of the legal system. ‘These are human institutions with people who care‘ he said. I think that when we don’t get the results we are seeking, this is something that we forget in the midst of our anger, pain and discouragement.

Attending an event with a host who is also an auctioneer was a first for me, and seeing how the on-stage sign language interpreters keep up with the host was entertaining! I was blown away by the generosity and disposable income that some people have. Hearing the thousands of dollars being announced during the live auction bids made me gawk, and the tables of items available at the auction tables made me hope that lots of funds are indeed going to support the organization. After this, I definitely feel more inclined to make time and attend more fundraisers like this.

Educating Myself and Learning More Stories

There are lots of ways to make this convenient, specifically through social media. Simply following a few pages that talk about feminism, social issues, storytelling/artistic ones like Humans of New York, give a steady stream on my social media feed about stories and insights that people have. It can be heartbreaking, empowering, informative or hopeful depending on the story or the article. What I know for sure is that it is a reminder of how these experiences are common and universal. My goal is to spread awareness, reduce stigma and victim blaming, and seek out comfort for myself and others.

Evaluating What I Learned from Therapy

It has been almost two years since I went to therapy, and the effort to diligently apply what I have learned is going well. Other positive and healthy habits are being integrated in my life day by day, which also feels very promising. One thing I know is that it will take the rest of my life to remind myself to not be so outcomes-focused in my approach in life, and that is okay.

Also, as it turns out there are times when these calming or self-regulating techniques do not work and I’m not panicking about it. That really is the bigger victory. The calm that comes from accepting that I am a person that grows, changes and that have some weird quirks is liberating. I’m as messed up as anybody else, and this is not a crippling idea anymore.

The dictionary definition of internalize is “to incorporate (the cultural values, mores, motives, etc., of another or of a group), as through learning, socialization, or identification.” This is the biggest victory of my therapy experience, to internalize that it was okay to feel angry and sad and hurt about being treated poorly, to internalize that is is okay to set aside time to acknowledge these feelings, to internalize that there is a way and I deserve to process these feeling and release them, to internalize that I deserve all those good things I life that I didn’t have for a while.

I encourage anyone to find a cause you care about that has a date/ week/ month dedicated to spread awareness, and take it as an opportunity to spread awareness, provide support, and improve ourselves.