Your Bill of Rights … for Survivors of Sexual Assault

‘Wow.  That’s a lot of rights!’

The first time I read this, I was sitting with a group of incredible women – all of them were beautiful, talented, intelligent, strong, funny – and they shared one other thing in common:  all were survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

As such, most (if not all) had experienced the loss of knowing and being able to honor some of their most fundamental rights as human beings.  We read this at the close of the group, and one of the women commented, “Wow. That’s a lot of rights!” with a huge smile on her face.  I agree; this is a lot of rights, and they are all YOURS, truly and fully (please read on … ):

Survivor’s Bill of Rights  (from WINGS Handbook, 2008, 2nd Edition)

  • I have the right to healing and wellness.
  • I have the right to make a decision or the freedom to postpone my decision.
  • I have the right to accept that I am human, make mistakes, learn from them, and go on with my life.
  • I have the right to participate in and enjoy sexual pleasure.  Even if I am not yet ready, I claim my right to know that this can be mine.
  • I have the right to joy and happiness right now, today, at this time in my life.
  • I have the right to my anger.  I have the right to turn it into my healing.
  • I have the right not to be numb – to feel any way I do at any given time.
  • I have the right to honor my coping skills.  I can choose what coping skills are still valid and necessary and change others at my own pace.  I can also revert back to them if I need to – they have served me well.
  • I have the right to be heard, to be validated, and disconnect from those who seek to harm or invalidate me, including my family of origin.
  • I have the right to protect and nurture my inner child – to re-parent her or him and to allow her or him to grow and play.
  • I have the right to love and support in all my relationships, to expect respect for my physical, emotional, and sexual well-being.
  • I have the right to safe touch, and to protect myself from all inappropriate behavior.
  • I have the right to love myself, be loved, and be accepted as I am, good points and flaws.
  • I have the right to set boundaries and limits, to say no to anyone including myself.
  • I have the right to grieve for my losses, and not feel guilt for that which was not my fault.
  • I have the right to grow and change, in myself, my relationships, and in all aspects of my life.
  • I have the right to learn to trust others and to trust in degrees as it is earned.
  • I have the right to forgive myself, and to choose whether or not to forgive my abusers.
  • I have the right to be ME.  To accept myself as a unique, precious, priceless individual who deserves the very best of all things.  I deserve to be the person I was created to be.
  • I have the right to see myself as a strong, courageous person who is reclaiming his or her own life.  I am powerful and determined.

If you are an individual with a history of childhood sexual abuse, or sexual assault in adulthood, I’m guessing a few of these really hit home as you read them.  It’s unfortunately quite normal for experiences from the past to sneak into the present moment, and to rob us of not only the ability to fully enjoy our lives, but even to rob us of our most basic human rights.

I encourage you to seek out the support of a trauma-trained therapist who can help you reclaim your life – and your many rights – as you heal from these past experiences.

If you are in the Denver-Boulder area, and are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, check out the WINGS Foundation, which runs therapist-facilitated support groups for survivors, both men and women.  If you are a survivor of sexual assault or rape as an adult, check out the Blue Bench (formerly RAAP), which provides prevention and care for sexual assault survivors.

And, a PDF of this Bill of Rights, for you, here: Survivor’sBillofRightsHANDOUT_KDunn_0913