1. Who are you?
My name is Sheena LaShay and the best way to describe who I am is to say that I am energy. I am spirit and soul wrapped up in my body. When I'm not being influenced by metaphysics, I'm a writer, dancer, daughter, sister and siren.
2. Does Sexual Assault Awareness month and Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention Month hold any significant meaning to you? If so, why?
I never knew about the significance of April until a few years back. Now this month serves as an intentional time of remembrance, education and focus for me. While I advocate towards education and abuse prevention all the time, this month provides more focus and clarity with many organizations uniting to present a powerful message. I like that. This month is significant to me because abuse and assault happens everyday. It's a gross, hedious given of the times we've always lived in where we repress, silence and hurt people sexually and until it stops, I can't be quiet. I use this month to be even louder and in people's faces. :-)
My story is complex and varied. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. It happened for 7 years of my life. There were adults aware of the abuse and they were complacent and wanted to silence me, one being my pastor at the time. He demanded my silence in the name of god. Eventually I reported the abuse but my case files went missing. I was frustrated and scared and all the years of abuse were downgraded to battery to which my ex step father never served a day in jail despite his confession. I'll never understand how that all went down. But this is only part of my story. It has affected parts of my life and in the past it was a hindrance to me living fully. That isn't the case anymore.
4. According to some statistics, very few people report abuse & assault crimes. Why do you think that is?
I can't speak for everyone. I'll speak for me. I didn't report my abuse because at first I didn't know it was abuse. I didn't report it because I had been groomed to know my place as a child and that meant to be silent, never share the family business and to always listen to authority, i.e., my ex step father and my pastor. I didn't report it because I knew DCFS would take me from my home and put me in foster care. I didn't want to leave my home. I didn't report it because I was scared. I felt shamed, dirty and nasty and I didn't want to talk about these things in public. I didn't report it because I wasn't empowered to use my voice and I didn't know I could live my life on my own terms.
5. Do you think abusers, rapist, molesters, pedophiles and the likes can be reformed, healed or changed?
I don't think people change. I think our choices change. I also think sexual desires, fetishes and actions at their core remain the same for people. We like what we like. And some men and women like to screw around with children. There is something about it that gets them off. And some people like violence and they like to try to take and possess other people's body. They want control and power.I don't think the desire for control and power goes away. What separates one person's desire for control or power, is the difference choices they make and the different ways they express those desires. . Rapist, abusers and molestors.....I don't think there is much hope for them. This is because rarely do they have to face what they did. Rarely do they view their actions as wrong. And even if they are wrong, rarely does the world acknowledge that. We blame victims. We remain hush on the topic and we downgrade 7 years of sexual abuse into a battery charge with no jail time. When we do that, we provide no incentive for a sexual deviant to ever change their actions. They just get better at getting away with it.
6. What do you want others to understand about those who have been victimized?
I want others to understand that there is no possible way they can understand what the person has gone through. Its kind of like if you lost a loved one. All those other people, unless they've lost a loved one too...they just don't get it even if they read all the books on it and go to a seminar on it and read a blog post on it. The scope of what abuse and assault does is unimaginable unless you've gone through it. Be that as it may, I think if you know someone who has been abused or assaulted, you need to listen. You need to be sensitive. You shouldn't be pushy or judgemental. And you shouldn't make assumptions. I can't begin to tell you all the well meaning friends who would say things like, "You're going to always have trust issues." Comments like that are not life affirming. If you're going to say something, make sure its life affirming to that person.
7. Whats been the most difficult thing to deal with as it relates to what you’ve experienced?
The nightmares were difficult because at the time I couldn't figure out a way to control them. Its different if you're at home and then you start thinking of a memory. I have enough will power to change my mind. But I haven't figured out a way to control my dreams or nightmares. I'll take any tips. It's also difficult that I have to continue seeing my ex step father. He is the sperm donor to three of my siblings and if he knows I'll be at a public family event, he shows up to cause a scene...in the name of jesus. It's really grotesque, annoying and honestly it tries my patience. I remain civil and keep my distance but there's only so much a person can deal with. The other thing that was difficult was fixing my relationship with Spirit. It's easier for others to name Spirit, "God." You can use whatever word works best. But I was raised to fear a personified version of God. This looming, authortative figure that would send me to hell if I didn't behave. I was wrapped in that kind of thinking for such a long time. It took me a great deal of time to find my way back to my own spirituality.
8. How have you dealt with your own personal rage at the traumatic things that have happened to you?
I like to write. Writing is emotional for me. It's healing for me. It's how I make sense of the world. So I wrote everything that was inside of my head. Before, when I didn't know any better I used horrible ways to deal with my rage. I turned to whiskey and to men and to complacency. I thought that was me "dealing." Then I channeled my rage through some intensive therapy sessions. I wrote some very angry letters that were never sent. I wrote very dark plays and poetry. I sobbed. Really, I just explored my dark side. I had kept my emotions locked tight and as a kid I wasn't allowed to be angry or mad. I'd get in trouble for that which honestly is a load of bs. Children should have the freedom to experience every emotion just as adults do. So as I grew older, I gave myself permission to feel and to express my feelings whether they were happy or full of rage. And in just using my voice and expressing myself, I found the darkness came out of me and was channeled in other ways.
9. What was an unexpected thing that aided in your growth and healing?
Theater was so healing for me. I studied it n college and was a part of a theater company and it ended up being the catalyst to my healing. In theater I had to engage with my body and it forced my issues to surface. In theater I had to trust people and be intimately connected with them. I had to be vulnerable and transparent and work on scenes the scared me or excited me and it just helped me work out my own physchosis. I remember one time doing a Shakespeare sonnet...the one that starts with "Farewell thou art to dear for my possessing..." And in working out the sonnet physically, I made this bench into a bed, put a pillow on it and covered it so it looked like a sleeping figure. And I, myself pretended to be a crouching, dark creature that circled the bed like a vulture or demon and as I did this I spoke that beautiful sonnet, "Farewell thou are too dear for my possessing..." and later the sonnet says, "For how do I hold thee but by thy granting." In doing the scene with that sonnet, while academic, I was also able to deal with some issues. I was channeling the horrible spirit of my ex step father by pretending to be the creature and that pillow figure was suppose to be the kid version of me and what I wanted was for someone to know I was too dear for their own possession and to not hold me unless I granted it but that's not what happened. It also worked well because Shakepeare is holy for theater people and saying that sonnet reminded of how my ex step father would kneel beside me and pray each night after he finished abusing me. Just loud enough for me to hear. So, ugh, that's a long explanation but basically I wasn't expecting my theater work to do more than give me a different perspective on life and to help my life as an artist but it also ended up aiding in my healing.
10. What encouraging words do you have to offer for anyone who has ever been abused or assault?
Often those who are abused feel hurt, dirty, broken, unloved and tainted. Those are all lies and you possess the power to change your mind on how you define yourself. Your victimization wasn't your choice but remaining a victim of your circumstance or past is your choice. You can thrive past your victimization. You are already whole. It's about you realizing that truth and living in it. Understanding that comes in phases. It may take years to view yourself through a holy lens but even when you don't know it of yourself, I know it of you. You are whole. You are amazing. You are pure, full of love and absolutely precious.
11. What have you learned considering your experiences?
I have learned the importance in empowering people, especially children. Beyond the first time my abuse happened, it continued because I didn't know the power of using my voice. I didn't know that I had the authority to say no, even to my parents. I didn't know that I could ignore that family's rules of keeping quiet about "family business".
I didn't know that sometimes the pastor, even ones ordained by god, can still be wrong. I didn't know that I mattered and my experience has given me a keen insight on empowerment and children.
12. What do you think is the most important thing the world needs to hear?
You change your world by changing your mind. You are powerful, holy and whole.
13. What brings you ultimate joy?
My little sister's giggles. Popsicles. Traveling. Journals and Books. Well, those are all things that just make me happy. What's important, even more than joy is finding a place of center and balance and I get there by meditation, spiritual studies, being in tuned with nature & my self and living in community with others full of love, respect and empowerment. Oh chai lattes, hot or cold bring me joy too & all things Dr. Seuss.
Sheena! I have read your answers several times, and each time something new jumps out at me. I love your honesty in answering why you did not report the abuse at first, and I also love your encouraging words for survivors and your list of joyful things (I always think of you when I see something Dr. Seuss).
The dreams and nightmares - I experience these, too. I actually have very lucid dreams, and normally I can change things, but when I have nightmares that deal with the memories or abuse I can't always control them even when I am fully aware that I am in a dream (we should talk about this sometime). Thank you for coming up with these great questions, and sharing your answers here. One last thing, I love love love that picture of you in the graveyard, it speaks to me powerfully on many levels.
To find more Sheena: check out her blog Sociology of Sheena, watch her on YouTube, and tweet at her (sidenote: Sheena and I met on twitter).
You can read more answers to these questions from some of my favorite people:
Noelle ~ Survivor and Christian Feminist
Nissa ~ Mother and Dancer
Tracie ~ Writer and Seeker of Joy (that is me!)
Jackie ~ I am a Woman; Strong and Capable
Vanessa ~ Designer and Survivor
-If you suspect that a child is being abused, or if you are a child or teen who is being abused, you can call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.
-Get involved in sexual assault awareness and prevention.
-If you have been the victim of sexual assault and need help, or you want to help a loved one, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.