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.