A Guest Post from Casey
I have learned that I am a fantastic sprinter, not a marathon runner. My instincts are spot-on, when I listen to them, and I am good at managing short-term crises. It’s the longevity part that I find difficult to maintain.
I was unwittingly entered into what may be the longest marathon of my life when I was sexually assaulted on June 19, 2009 while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa. Sadly, I am one of the hundreds of Volunteers over the years who have experienced sexual violence while serving in the Peace Corps. And, along with many of the others, I went through a confusing maze of how to get proper support from Peace Corps following such a personal violation in unfamiliar terrain.
The man who assaulted me was someone I was supposed to have trusted. He was the brother to my host mother and he was also dating the office manager at the NGO where Peace Corps had placed me. My trust circle deteriorated as I realized that anyone who might help me held their first allegiance to this man. He was their brother, uncle, boyfriend, friend and community member. Why would anyone believe or protect me? I was the foreigner with a time-limited stay in their community.
In the aftermath of my assault, I discovered that Peace Corps does not have any accessible policies to inform Volunteers of their rights as survivors. It was with a fervent determination that last fall, upon my return to the US, I began the First Response Action online campaign to advocate that Peace Corps better support Volunteers who have been raped, assaulted or otherwise violated during service. Since that's an issue unto itself, you can read more about the First Response Action campaign here.
Two months after I got back to the U.S., I got an apartment and started working. Needing to provide for my own basic needs overtook my focus and my South African experiences fell down the priority list. These changes signaled the switch from sprint to marathon.
No one asked about the assault anymore – that was months ago, right? How could that bother me anymore? But it did. And not just the incident itself, but the ramifications of the event. This man who violated me not only suspended part of my spirit, but changed the course of my immediate future. Aspects of my personality changed. I met strangers with bitterness – particularly right before I left South Africa. I was suspect of nearly everyone. My trust in the goodwill of strangers had been ripped away and I was left raw. I focused on work, family and re-building my life in the U.S. and essentially ignored the rest.
It’s now been just more than a year since the assault and while I may be a better sprinter than marathon runner, I know I am in this recovery for the long haul. I began to create action steps towards ‘recovery’ that would help me get back – as close as possible – to the person I was before the assault. The steps are developed as the need arises.
For example, earlier this month I began preparing for my first trip out of the country since I was assaulted last year. I usually love flying, meeting new people and hearing their stories. I believe everyone has fascinating stories to tell if you just start the conversation. Although since the assault, I’ve closed myself off to new people in public. As I write this I am halfway through my trip and I am proud to say that I met and chatted with interesting people – a young American actor living in Scotland, a woman from Barcelona who fell into a forbidden love in Southern India and the most kind-hearted man who helped me from the airport to downtown Vienna through three train transfers and who smiled sweetly the whole time.
While this was only one trip, it helped to restore some of the confidence that I lost following the assault. I pushed myself to open up to people along my trip and I met amazing people with whom I had fantastic conversations and who showed me such kindness. I’m proud to have taken another step in the right direction. Heaven knows I still have many steps to go.
Casey works toward developing resources for survivors of sexual assault among Peace Corps volunteers. For more information on this work, please visit http://firstresponseaction.blogspot.com.