Houston-based author/speaker reaches into the darkness of personal despair to offer a light of hope to victims of assault and abuse.
A sexual assault takes place in this country every two minutes, though it is estimated only about 30 percent of the assaults are reported and only one assailant in 16 will ever spend a day in jail. In addition, statistics tell us five children in America die each day from abuse or neglect. Seventy-five percent of those are less than four years old. Most know their attacker.
In an effort to shed light on the darkness surrounding these two equally prevalent and pervasive issues, April is designated nationwide as both Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month. For international speaker and author Shannon Deitz, first raped when she was 17 and then again while in college, these national awareness campaigns are an opportunity to reach more people with the message that the abuse need not define the victim.
Having endured not only the anguish of being abused as a child and assaulted twice, but also the self-judgment, condemnation and feelings of worthlessness that most often accompany such violations, Deitz knows firsthand just how detrimental sexual assault and child abuse can be to emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Today, her primary goal in life is to help other victims regain a sense of self-worth.
“Both sexual assault and child abuse are so distressful to most of us that we don’t even want to think about them being present in our society,” Deitz says. “This makes it almost impossible for any victim of assault or abuse to feel comfortable enough to speak out, which is, of course, exactly what they need to be able to do. Be it a child, a teenager or an adult, anyone who has been abused needs to be able to speak about what has been done to them without question or judgment.
“But instead of being made to feel safe talking about it,” she adds, “more often than not, they are made to feel as if they are the ones at fault. As a result, they tend to repress the experience, stuffing it down deep inside and allowing what has happened to define who they believe themselves to be. They begin living out a victim mentality where nothing good can ever happen because they think of themselves as unworthy or not good enough to deserve it.”
According to Deitz, survivors of sexual abuse are three times more likely to suffer from depression, 13 times more likely to become addicted to alcohol and 26 more times more likely to develop an addiction to drugs. The shame, despair, depression and inability to cope with the painful events lead them to seek other ways to block out the memories and dull the pain.
Deitz believes the annual focusing of public attention on sexual assault and child abuse throughout the month of April can be beneficial in aiding all victims of abuse. “Survivors want to know they are being heard and that they will be safe and protected,” she says. “They do not need to be silenced because their situation makes others feel uncomfortable or is too hard to hear. To the contrary, they need people around them who are willing to listen and willing to stand up for them if they choose to go public. During this national month of awareness, the more people will become tuned in to just how prevalent this problem is in our country, the more beneficial it will be for everyone.”
While the month of April will most certainly be marked by a series of prevention and awareness-raising directives designed to grab public attention, Deitz knows that a mere thirty days is not enough and it cannot stop there. Passionately sharing her own story every day through her blog and speaking events in hopes of igniting a desire in others to do the same, Deitz remains optimistic as she strives to offer hope and rekindle a sense of self-worth in every victim of abuse she meets.
Emphasizing the importance of openness, Deitz tells victims, “If you have suffered abuse at any point in your life and it has debilitated your marriage, your intimate relationships and your friendships, or even caused you to distrust others in general, then I want you to know, as one survivor speaking to another, that you can overcome this. The more you talk about it, the more you will heal. And though the experience will never totally disappear from your past, it will become a chapter in your life that you can eventually close.
“At the time when the sexual abuse was taking place,” she advises, “you were not able to fight back. Now, you are. If you cannot talk about it or want to remain anonymous, at least write it all down in a journal. Do whatever you can in whatever way you can to get it out. Every single time you release the abuse from the depths of your memory, you are giving that little child or that woman or that man a voice and allowing them to finally fight back. You don’t have to be specific, reliving every vivid detail, but you do need to be willing to admit that it happened. In that admission is where your freedom will be found.”
For those who know someone who has been abused or assaulted, Deitz encourages them to be good listeners. “Being able to share their story with others serves to help prevent future abuse from taking place. If there is a survivor in your midst, be willing to listen. Be willing to hear their story.”
Deitz should know. It was her willingness to share her stories with others, first through her award-winning book, Exposed: Inexcusable Me, Irreplaceable Him,and later through subsequent speaking engagements, that led to her own transformation. Today, Deitz continues reaching out to those who are suffering through her speaking engagements, her blog (Just Show Up) and her ministry website.