Having been sexually abused at a young age, Jayda Shuavarnnasri shares how she overcame the ordeal and the importance of proper sex education in schools that’ll teach girls how to gain control of their own bodies.
I was 20 years old the first time I decided to be open about the sexual abuse that I endured as a kid. It was the first day of my senior year of college. I was sitting in my group counselling class with about 30 of my peers and we were listening to our professor share his story about being sexually assaulted at his summer camp when he was young. His experience unexpectedly woke up my own memories; his story ignited my personal fears and my feelings of shame. When he opened the floor to the class to share their thoughts, despite the fact that I was shaking, I decided to raise my hand.
Through tears, I told the entire class, whom I had just met 45 minutes earlier, that I had been sexually abused by my aunt’s boyfriend for years – the same guy who had been abusing several other girls long before I started college. When I was 14, another girl had reported him, which eventually led to me serving as a witness at his trial. He had been convicted and served three years in jail, but I never saw him again after the trial. Although I was no longer a victim, it wasn’t until the day I shared my story in class where I felt like I was a survivor. Ten years later, I continue to advocate for a world that is safe for all of us to exist in. I believe a major piece to preventing sexual assault and abuse begins with giving young people access to information about their sexuality that empowers them to have control over their body and creates safe consensual connections.
THE EXPERIENCE OF SHAME
After trauma, many survivors deal with feelings of shame. Shame researcher, Dr Brene Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something that we’ve experienced, done or failed to do that makes us unworthy of connection.” Shame makes us feel wrong or at fault for our experience. Survivors can feel shame from believing that they caused the assault to happen or they can also feel shame for not ‘getting over it’ after it has happened. Shame can be debilitating and silencing, causing many survivors to never share their experience at all. This is why most survivors never actually report their sexual assault to anyone. Even though I had the courage at 20 years old to tell my story to my classmates, or share my experience with my followers on social media, in reality I still haven’t talked to my own family about everything that happened.
Shame still sits with me, especially when it comes to talking to some of the people I love most: my parents. In my heart I know that what happened to me was a violation that was not caused by me. But that doesn’t mean the shame from having been abused disappeared. Like many Asian cultures, my Thai family isn’t one to talk about things that are deeply emotional. It’s not that my parents don’t want to talk about it. As a family we simply don’t have the tools to communicate something so heavy.
CULTURE FORMS OUR PERCEPTION
After nearly a decade of learning and supporting survivors of trauma, I am a firm believer that comprehensive sex education is the shift our society needs. Sex education isn’t just about how to use a condom or preventing a sexually transmitted infection. Comprehensive sex education involves providing medically accurate non judgemental resources so that people of all ages can make informed decisions about their own bodies. It means providing information that is not based on fear or shame, but instead encourages people to explore their bodies so that they know what feels good – and what doesn’t. Comprehensive sex education also teaches people to communicate what they are feeling about their bodies. When I think back about my own childhood experience, I often wonder how different it would have been if my parents taught me that my body was my own. I often wonder how different my life would have been if my parents began teaching me the concept of consent early. What if I got to decide who I had to give a hug to or was allowed to give me a kiss? I also wonder if I would have spoken up sooner if we didn’t live in a society that shamed victims for coming forward. And I wonder how different the lives of every survivor would be if the world gave us control over our bodies and our experiences.
SHIFT THE CULTURE
The more I started sharing my own story and thinking about how different my life could be if I had proper sex education, the more I realised that there were so many other women who were having the same experience about their bodies. It didn’t matter if they identified as a survivor of sexual assault or not, or if they identified as women or non-binary. We had the shared experience of never being taught to feel empowered in our bodies. We never received comprehensive non-judgemental education about our bodies and instead, we were taught fear-based sex education that made us feel shameful. When we teach children to feel shame about their bodies and shameful about exploration, we take away their opportunity to explore pleasure.
Lifted from the print edition, February 2020.
Compiled by Yang Mei Ling Photography Jayda Shuavarnnasri