Survivor Karlee Edison shares her story during Sexual Assault Awareness Month
Stories that Matter presents Karlee Edison, a survivor of sexual assault. Karlee was sexually abused when she was a child. Karlee wants other victims of sexual assault to know that: “You are so capable of conquering this. You are so much more than your trauma."
 
Please share your story about sexual abuse (please give as much information as you would like) 
In support of #sexualassaultawareness month, I’ve decided it’s time that I finally share my story to help raise awareness about a topic I am very passionate about. In the summer of 2007 (my 4th grade summer before 5th grade), I was sexually assaulted at 11 years old by a very close family friend. I had kept my abuse a secret. I was humiliated, blamed myself, and I still didn’t really understand what happened to me. I made my little sister promise the next day to never tell anyone. Until one day, I broke down and now my family knew. They took action. Going through the legal system while being in 5th grade took a great toll on my childhood. One day I had to be in an office having my story recorded while I was questioned by a detective; and the next day I had to be back in elementary school trying to make friends. I kept it all a secret. I lied about my absences and I never confided in anyone; not even my own family. I was going through the legal system as a child with absolutely no concept of justice or what was truly done to me. I blamed myself; I felt like I tore apart my family. I had developed terrible sleeping problems. I was having horrible vivid nightmares and paranoia. I then attended childhood sexual assault therapy at the safe haven in my town. This is where I was diagnosed with PTSD and OCD. I begged my mom on our back deck to not make me go. But the truth was; she was trying her best. She was doing all she could to get me the help and support I needed. But the court system failed me. It failed my parents. It failed my family. My perpetrator wasn’t placed in prison because they believed, “he would end up raping again” as said in my trial. He took a plea bargain and was sent away for a short time of “mental evaluation”. That was it. He was free. He still lived two roads from me and all I had was a restraining order. He would sit at the end of his driveway knowing my school bus would stop at the house across the road. I kept that a secret too; I knew calling the court house wouldn’t do anything. I was terrified of him. I soon left therapy and over the next decade,(2007-2017) I deteriorated. I had drawn further away from my family and I faked it the best I could at school. One of the most profound differences in my emotional state was the fact that I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel angry. I didn’t feel; anything. I kept my secrets; the assault, the court process, everything. What I didn’t realize; my mental health was deteriorating fast. By leaving therapy and withdrawing inward, I was destroying myself. In high school, I was terrified of losing my virginity. I didn’t trust anyone and I went along with rumors about me to make it seem like I knew what I was talking about. I’d rather be falsely accused of sleeping around than for someone to find out about my secret. At 19 years old, I was ready to finally have sex. I quickly realized that something was wrong. Sex was painful. I went to my OB/GYN where I was diagnosed with Vaginismus and Pelvic Dyspareunia secondary to my childhood sexual abuse that likely caused physical trauma. I spiraled. Not too long after; my relationships around me suffered. In September of 2018, my mental health had bottomed out. I was experiencing depression to a degree I had never felt before. I was self harming and not eating along with suicidal ideations. My family found out and did all they could. They brought me to a hospital. I was placed on an outpatient program and I got the medication that I severely needed. Here I am; in 2021. I can’t express how grateful I am to be here. I am so incredibly lucky to have a family that not only believed me, but fought for me everyday. I know I have a long way to go, but I’m so thankful to be on this journey today. I may still struggle with my PTSD, OCD, body dysmorphia, sleeping disorders, and vaginismus; but I won’t let him win. He may have gotten away free but I will continue to fight the consequences of his actions from 14 years ago. I will not give up. Childhood sexual abuse can have life-long consequences. We need to listen to children, teach them about consent and their bodies, and give them the support and the help that they need. I can finally tell my story; no more secrets. I am not ashamed anymore. This is MY STORY.
What are some of mental challenges that follow along with sexual abuse - how do you cope?
Sexual Abuse has endless mental challenges. With this trauma, survivors often feel humiliated, guilty, isolated, and broken. These feelings can manifest in the form of so many different illnesses and they differ from case to case. Those who are sexually abused can have trouble with intimate relationships, reacting to triggers, working through traumatic events, etc. It is really hard to pinpoint specific mental challenges because of how damaging these events can be on a person's psyche. 
 
My sexual trauma and my vaginismus has heavily affected my intimate relationships as an adult. I still have tendencies of shutting out those I love and isolating myself. However, I currently cope with this by trying to be more patient with myself and partners. I make sure to be honest with my partners immediately and communicate openly of the feelings I am battling. I try to stay hopeful and remind myself that I can learn to trust again. Being vulnerable can be one of the most terrifying jumps for a survivor of sexual abuse; but it can be possible. It may take time, but patience can be worth the wait.
 
What tools, tactics, people, have you used to stay uplifted and get through these tough situations? 
I am lucky to have a great support system who openly support and love me. My parents always fought for me when I didn't have a voice at only 11/12. As for my little sister, she was always my rock and made sure I was never alone. I wouldn't trade them for anything. I am here today because of their support.  
I have also formed a very close relationship with my OB/GYN. She has become my bestfriend and my mentor. She has helped me find my voice and finally talk about my vaginismus and sexual assault openly. 
I also put most of my energy and time into my education and work. I have always felt productive when I'm learning. It keeps my mind occupied and helps me feel accomplished. I think I just enjoy working towards a specific goal to keep me concentrated. Lastly,  thoroughly enjoy gaming, reading, taking care of my multitude of plants, and spending time with my cat Sashimi and dog Kiarra.  
What would you tell other people that have experienced sexual abuse - to motivate then to stay uplifted?
It may take time and patience, but begin to build your support system. It may be online, gaming, webcam, with family, with friends, at school, work, or anywhere. It will be worth it. Having a support system can help keep yourself grounded even in the toughest of times. Also, dive into what you are interested in whole heartedly. Whether it is artwork, reading, your schooling/ job, your pets, working out, cooking, etc. Keep your mind busy. Do what you love and make sure you always allot time for these activities. You deserve it. Give yourself time. You are so capable of conquering this. You are so much more than your trauma. 
 
What does this month mean to you - sexual assault awareness month? 
Visibility. Sexual Assault can be an uncomfortable topic for so many. But this month erases censorship and allows so many to use their voice. Through SAAM, survivors have a chance to feel heard, believed, and loved. I have met so many unique and beautiful individuals through this month. I am so unbelievably grateful to be involved and welcomed. 
I think this month also opens up the conversation of how to teach our children about consent and autonomy over their own bodies. It can be a difficult topic, but it is our responsibility to give them the information they need. We need to be open with our children so they can come to us in times of distress and so they can feel heard. 
 
Is there anything else that you would like to add? 
My account and messages are always open to survivors and those battling with sexual abuse, PTSD, OCD, or vaginismus. I believe you.

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