Sexual assault has been a pressing issue since accusations of big-time movie maker Harvey Weinstein surfaced almost a year ago. Since then, accusations upon accusations have come out, and Bill Cosby, a Black man considered to be “America’s Dad,” was the first to be jailed among those accused.
For some, a conviction is the end goal. Once they’re convicted, it’s almost as if the victims can take a breath of fresh air. But there’s no way to convict the trauma victims continue to experience.
So, what do they do?
Julie Mansfield is one of the roughly 321,500 Americans who has experienced sexual abuse. Unfortunately, some survivors aren’t able to thrive after their experiences. But Julie has.
In 2013, she wrote a book titled “Maybe God Was Busy,” and afterward, she started an organization in Miami called Give Me Dignity that helps young women and girls through sexual trauma.
But before she could heal others, she first had to learn to heal herself.
The Start of Abuse
Mansfield, one of seven children, was born and raised in Jamaica. She came to the U.S. as a teenager.
“The sexual abuse started when I was only 8 years old, at the hands of my mother’s youngest brother,” Mansfield said.
As a teen, she was the first in her immediate family to migrate to New York to live with her maternal uncle.
“I was also repeatedly raped by the same uncle with whom I lived in New York,” she continued. “My mother’s brothers were not the only ones to abuse me, as I was also raped by a church member and a voodoo practitioner before I left Jamaica.”
As Mansfield got older, she began to realize she needed help.
“I sought therapy for years, and only when I attended a group therapy session did I really [begin] to heal,” she shared. “See, for the first time, I saw men as victims of sexual abuse, not just as perpetrators as was my view before hearing their own stories of rape and abuse.”
According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), About 3% of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. 1 out of every 10 rape victims are male.
‘Not My Fault’
One thing that really helped Mansfield on her journey to healing was understanding that the abuse she’d experienced was not her fault.
“The second most important thing is finally believing it was not my fault and I shared [no] blame,” she said. “Learning self-care techniques was also crucial, as was knowing healing is not a destination but a journey. I still have triggers that can be debilitating, but that’s when self-care and blame/shame reassignment become necessary.”
Mansfield’s book came out of her journey of healing. It has a 4.8-star rating on Amazon, 4.4-star rating on Goodreads, and has been featured on Smile Jamaica and Miami’s local CBS station. Although her book has achieved success and has helped others, writing a book wasn’t something she set out to do.
“‘Maybe God Was Busy’ is literally the emptying of my head and some of the retrospective journey,” Mansfield said. “I would come home and when my head felt like it would literally explode, I started writing. And with my permission, one day, my then husband asked to read. He knew my story, but not some of the details. He encouraged me to publish it as it would definitely help others. And as for the title ‘Maybe God Was Busy,’ as a child being abused, I was convinced God was busy helping those who needed more, that my suffering was low on the priority list.”
The success of her book sparked the idea to start Give Me Dignity.
“I would go on book tours and almost everywhere I went, someone was saying ‘Me Too’ long before Hollywood,” Mansfield said. “I would try to help each as best I could but soon got overwhelmed. I had to give structure to how I helped without wounding me. Give Me Dignity helps restore dignity so violently stolen by sexual abuse.”
Now, Give Me Dignity hosts fun events and has created a sense of community for the young people involved. She helps them to understand that healing is a process.
“First, the realization that healing is not a destination but sometimes a lifelong journey of peaks and valleys,” she said. “I wish it was that we just get up one morning, flip a switch and be healed. Self care is crucial. Learning how to love yourself, how to release yourself from guilt, shame, blame and betrayal are critical. And it’s not just talk. There [has] to be physical applications. Like [positive] affirmations and changing the internal dialogue. Just as important is therapy with a qualified practitioner specializing in sexual trauma. Group support is also key.”
Group support is primary among many survivors of sexual abuse. Having one person speak out oftentimes prompts others to do the same and share their stories.
“There is a strange camaraderie among survivors as childhood sexual abuse is an incredibly isolating experience where you feel like you are the only one experiencing the horrors.” Mansfield said. “There is a weird comfort in knowing someone knows exactly how you feel, and that you are NOT alone is empowering. It’s a club no one wants membership in, but for those of us unlucky enough to be forced in, it’s comforting knowing that though we may have suffered alone, we heal together.”
As her life goes on and she continues to help others, there’s one thing Mansfield wants victims of sexual trauma to know: “Life can get better, you can thrive after sexual abuse/assault. It doesn’t have to destroy your future but there has to be a commitment to healing. It starts with knowing it wasn’t your fault.”