This month is Child Abuse Prevention Month as well as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I reached out to a few of my close virtual friends and asked if they would mind sharing some of their experiences, stories and opinions regarding these topics. Today’s feature is on the amazing, sweet and graceful Nissa.
SLY: Who are you?
Nissa: My name is Nissa. I am a mother and a dancer. I’m happily married to a wonderful, kind man. I am also a survivor of childhood sexual violence.
SLY: Does Sexual Assault Awareness month and Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention Month hold any significant meaning to you? If so, why?
Nissa: SAAM and Child Abuse Prevention Month are a time when we can work together to heal, raise awareness, speak out and make art in support of victims and survivors. I first became involved in 2001, when I was living in a small college town in Northern California. The university has a very active artistic community, a women’s center, as well as a sexual assault and domestic violence center that is very involved with the community. I spoke at Women Take Back the Night and participated in The Clothesline Project. I attended many events of speakers, authors, educators. I took self defense, and loved it. I ended up joining the speakers panel for the sexual assault and domestic violence center and told my story regularly at the police department as part of training for counselors and crisis workers. I was then invited to join the speakers bureau for Calcasa (California Coalition Against Sexual Assault). I have continued my involvement in many ways over the years. I made a video for the My Name Is Project. I have taken the Stewards of Children training. These activities were very healing for me.
SLY: What is your story?
Nissa: This is a complicated and emotionally difficult question to answer in a public format. There was a lot of abuse in my childhood. When I was 10 months old my mother was getting out of an abusive relationship with my biological father, and she started dating a man who eventually assumed the stepfather role. He was in my life for 7 years, and that was the only “father” type of relationship I had, although there was actually nothing “fatherly” about it. He started off gaining my love and trust with superficial gestures. Then he progressed into grabbing me when I was in my underwear and crossing my boundaries while rough housing with me. He trained me to keep his secrets, and to become tolerant of abusive behavior. That progressed into very intense and violent sexual assaults that were ongoing while I was 5, 6 and 7 years old.. He used me as nothing more than a sexual object. He terrorized me in very cruel and sadistic ways. He had complete control over my life physically and emotionally. I felt like I was a worthless piece of trash to be discarded.
SLY: According to some statistics, very few people report abuse & assault crimes. Why do you think that is?
Nissa: There are a lot of reasons why people don’t report sex crimes. The reasons depend on the individual. But, speaking for myself I didn’t report because I felt a lot of shame about what had happened. I didn’t want to tell anyone or talk about it. I didn’t want to be made to feel like I was a victim. I really did think that if people knew what had happened that no one would ever be able to love me. I blamed myself. I believed what the abuser told me about how people would hurt me and how he could harm me if I told. The abuser had convinced me that I just had to take it, that I deserved it, and that if I told anyone what he was doing to me that they would laugh at me (just like he laughed at me). I wanted to be a “good girl” and to be loved and I was under the impression for a long time that my ability to be loved was dependent on me protecting the abuser.I thought I deserved to be abused and I didn’t know that it was a crime. I was afraid of the police because they are authority figures, and I had learned to fear them.
After a long time of working out those feelings I was able to look at the abuse from an adult perspective, instead of from a child’s view. I realized that if I don’t report it, that he will continue to abuse for as long as he wants and never face any consequences for his actions. It became very important for me to report it, to do everything I can, and to make sure he faces what he did. I want the chance to stand up for myself. I want to stand up to him and be able to say all the things I felt as a child, but was too little to be able to articulate back then. I want to take a stand for everyone that he abused, so they know that what he did to them was wrong. I’m saying it was wrong and it is not okay. It is a crime. A very serious crime. I have now learned to let go of my fears, and to trust in the process of justice.
SLY: What do you want others to understand about those who have been victimized?
Nissa: We don’t want to be victims. We struggle with Post Traumatic Stress, but it does improve over time when we work on it. It is something we always need to be aware of because we have strong emotions, anxieties, triggers, feelings of low self worth, and challenges. To this day I start to tear up when I think about what I went through. That does not mean that we are defective or irrational. We can actually have a very strong ability to be even-keeled and rational because we have a lot of practice and experience managing very strong emotions. Our intelligence helps us survive, so we nourish ourselves intellectually. Facing our emotions can give us a love of authenticity and reality. It is fine for people that benefit from religion, but it is not a necessity for everyone, and the most important thing is to follow a path that works for oneself. We were abused, but we can still be sex-positive. Healthy sexuality is actually very important to healing and prevention. We do not hate men. We do not think all men are abusers. We can trust people, and we can trust our own instincts.
SLY:Whats been the most difficult thing to deal with as it relates to what you’ve experienced?
Nissa: The way it caused me to feel about my body. Wanting to reject my body. Not wanting to be looked at. Feeling pain in my body. Feeling nauseated by food. Needing to learn to embrace the joy of my body. This is a lifelong process and I am always working on it. Being a dancer makes it very important. And also the self blame has been very difficult to deal with. For a long time I believed that I was a bad person. I am glad that I have finally been able to let that go.
SLY: How have you dealt with your own personal rage at the traumatic things that have happened to you?
Nissa: I allowed myself to feel it without fearing the anger. I allowed myself to work through it and say it out loud (yell it out in a field). The anger and rage must be faced because as a child that was a very strong emotion and I was not allowed to express it. Facing the anger allowed me to reclaim my sexuality. Facing the anger is a very deep part of healing because I finally got to say what I felt during the abuse and could not say to the abuser. Reporting the abuser to the police has also helped me to further face the anger I still had left. I want the abuser to know that I told. I’m not keeping the secret anymore.
SLY: What was an unexpected thing that aided in your growth and healing?
Nissa: My relationship with my husband. He is very emotionally intelligent, aware and supportive. He helped me learn to say no by having me practice with him in fun ways. That way, my yes was more passionate because I knew how to say no.
Becoming a mother and giving birth naturally and at home, I felt like I had fully reclaimed by body and my sense of home.
SLY: What encouraging words do you have to offer for anyone who has ever been abused or assaulted?
Nissa: It is ok if we think a lot about what happened because it has had such a strong impact on our lives and we kept it secret for so long. But really, it does not define us. We have many passions, strengths and joys in life that have nothing to do with the abuse. Cultivate those aspects of your life. But, also it’s ok that the abuse comes up a lot more than we would like it to. It’s ok to be honest with the people in our lives and to tell them when it is on our mind and the ways it comes up. Being a parent can bring it up a lot. When I was a new mother I felt a lot of anxiety because the feelings were triggered a lot, and I felt better when I allowed myself to talk about it.
SLY: What have you learned considering your experiences?
Nissa: I’ve learned about the nature of psychopathology, cruelty, suffering, violation, manipulation, violence, deception, betrayal, the nature and depth of human ignorance. I’ve learned things I never wanted to learn about. I have also learned about compassion, resilience, human kindness, humanity. I’ve eventually learned self-compassion and that I can trust myself. And as I began to trust myself, I became more comfortable trusting others. I’ve learned about insight. I’ve learned that, given what I have experienced I can only find my deepest joy by facing it, healing, gaining insight from it. But, it did not “happen for a reason”, and I did not need it to happen.It happened against my will, so I deal with the aftermath with an attitude of willingness, and seek depth and authenticity to become free from it’s hold on me. I’ve learned that we all need to find what works for us. No one can do that for another person.
SLY: What do you think is the most important thing the world needs to hear?
Nissa: Listen with your heart and learn. Don’t place judgement on another person’s pain. Encourage human kindness, empathy and ethical intelligence.
SLY: What brings you ultimate joy?
Nissa: Being out in nature, in the fresh air, being physically active. Gratitude.
SLY: What’s your favorite quote?
I have a lot of favorite quotes, but for this context I am going to choose: “If we face our unpleasant feelings with care, affection, and nonviolence, we can transform them into a kind of energy that is healthy and has the capacity to nourish us. By the work of mindful observation, our unpleasant feelings can illuminate so much for us, offering us insight and understanding into ourselves and society.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
SLY: Who inspires you? Why?
Nissa: So many people inspire me. With regards to this topic, Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing and talks have always stood out as a deep support when I needed to hear from someone that has experienced deep suffering, and then fully and fearlessly faced the emotions, and learned from that. What he has to say is down to earth, and a very effective way to face and heal from trauma.
Oh Nissa, thank you for such powerful, healing words in this interview. I’m so grateful for your openness, your bluntness and power. I really appreciate you gracing us with your presence. Please feel free to stop by any time.
If you would like to share your story or anything at all, please feel free to contact me at sheenalashay [at] gmail [dot] com. Have a great day!
This month is Sexual Assault Awareness month. Every day I’ll be writing all types of posts regarding this issue and my personal experiences.
I create videos as a way to share my story. You can watch three related ones by clicking the titles below.
If you are a victim of abuse and assault and you would like to seek help or report your crime, please find all kinds of resources at RAINN. If you would like to share your story with me privately, be featured this month either publicly or anonymously or you just need an encouraging word, please shoot me an email at SheenaLaShay [at] Gmail [dot] com.
I write my heart out. You can read some of my musings by clicking the titles below.