Sexual Abuse Awareness Week My name is Lucinda and I am an Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA) for Next Chapter. I have been here since September 2020 and have already met so many survivors of domestic abuse and hopefully helped them on their journey to a life free from abuse. Focusing on sexual abuse, I’d like to speak to you today about a client I have worked with called Chloe* and her perpetrator Joe*. When I first met Chloe, she didn’t consider some of what she experienced to be sexual abuse. She now works closely with CARA (Centre for Action for Rape and Abuse) and myself and has an understanding now what Joe had done to her as unacceptable and illegal. *name changed for confidentiality Chloe's Story I have been working with Chloe for several months now and she was referred into Next Chapter by CARA (Centre for Action for Rape and Abuse). CARA had already been supporting Chloe around the sexual abuse she had experienced in her relationship with Joe. Chloe explained that she was often pressured into sexual intercourse by her ex-partner Joe. She took medication for a medical condition that would make her tired and drowsy and did not feel like having sex. Joe would go ahead and do it anyway. He would say that he is irritable as his sexual needs are not being met and that it is his fault that he has been ‘forced’ to watch pornography as she was not meeting his needs sexually. Chloe would explain to him that her medication and condition would make her feel tired and she did not want to; however, Joe was repetitive and would not stop blaming her for his behaviour until she completed the sexual acts/intercourse that he wanted. Often Chloe would complete these sexual acts for him but felt numb and upset that it was happening. She worried that if she did not provide him with the sexual acts he required, that he would go and have an affair and it would be her fault as she could not meet his needs. Chloe’s medication would sometimes make her so drowsy that she would fall asleep in the middle of the day. On occasion she woke up to find Joe having sex with her without her knowledge or consent. Chloe would explain to me that she wanted to kick and scream and tell him to stop however her body would just freeze and she would lay there, staring at a small bump in the wall until Joe had finished and left the room. This is a common response to trauma; the fight or flight response. This is a natural reaction that cannot be controlled. Just because Chloe didn’t scream or shout no or kick Joe off does not mean she consented for any of this to be happening to her. I once spoke to a counsellor who explained the Flight or Fight response to me. It is a part of your brain that reacts to emergency situations. She always explained it as coming downstairs and finding a bear in your bathroom. Now this is a literal example however when Chloe woke up to find Joe having intercourse with her that was the ‘bear in her bathroom’. So, this part of the brain tells your body to conserve energy from all your other body parts and focus on this ‘bear’. And whether it decides to fight the bear or freeze or even run that is something that is decided before any conscious thinking takes place. If your brain has decided to freeze or run then it has decided this well before you can think it through. And by freezing does not mean consent is given, an asleep or unconscious person cannot give consent. Chloe had recently had a baby and required stitches to her intimate area. This is not uncommon when a baby is born and can take several months to heal fully. When Chloe felt ready to have sex with Joe, she told him that she was a bit apprehensive due to the stitches. Joe began to penetrate Chloe however was too rough and Chloe told him that she was in pain, to which Joe would stop for a few seconds and then continue to be as rough as he was before. When Chloe then told him to stop, Joe did not. Due to the stitches, Chloe found many different sexual positions painful or uncomfortable. Joe would tell her that she is not meeting his sexual needs and he may have to look elsewhere and possibly cheat on her; and that would be her fault as she could not provide him with what he wanted. This would really upset Chloe and she tried to find other ways to meet his sexual needs without her being in physical pain. Joe would sometimes find alternatives that were a lot worse than the original idea and convince Chloe that she should just carry out his idea in the first place as the alternative was far worse. When I first spoke to Chloe she told me that she didn’t think of these behaviours as sexual abuse or rape as she had been in a relationship with Joe. It led us to have a discussion about what makes a healthy sexual relationship... What is a Healthy Sexual Relationship? A healthy sexual relationship requires both parties to be aware of each other’s likes and dislikes and respects each other’s boundaries. In a healthy sexual relationship neither person should be pressured or forced into doing anything they do not feel comfortable in doing and consent can be withdrawn at any point and this is respected accordingly. Rape and sexual assaults do happen in relationships and if something isn’t comfortable or not wanted then regardless of relationship status should not happen. In healthy sexual relationships there will be communication in regards to likes and dislikes and these boundaries are respected. Chloe is still working with me today however she receives support from CARA and has been allocated a counsellor to help her process the trauma she has experienced from her relationship with Joe. She is also about to start a program (virtually) with Next Chapter called Healthy Relationships which will further her knowledge and aid her recovery further. If you feel that you may have been raped or sexually assaulted, then there is an organisation called CARA (Centre for Action for Rape and Abuse) who can be contacted on 03000 037 777 who can provide counselling and support specifically for sexual offences.