We Survived: Abuse Unmuted

Photo by Josh Nuttall on Unsplash

The silence and lonely experience of any form of sexual abuse, can leave its victim confused, ashamed and guilt ridden, which can find them being victims over and over again. Continuing a vicious cycle that can break the most beautiful of spirits. This reality is one had by 35-year-old author, Jheanell Reynolds, who chose to share the experiences she endured, from her teens to adulthood. She was sexually abused, she is a survivor and this is her story.

Jheanell describes her family of three brothers, two nieces, one nephew and her now deceased parents, with the admiration reminiscent of a sister, aunt and daughter. She was born and raised in Jamaica, until the age of sixteen, at which time she then moved to the United States. It was in Jamaica, at the age of fourteen, that Jheanell would first be sexually abused. A scenario that played out multiple times during her teen years, at the hands of varying family friends. The first of four incidences, is one Jheanell remembered vividly, and painted a picture for our interview.

HOW IT BEGAN

Victims of sexual abuse, usually suffer this indignity, at the hands of a trusted family member or close family friend, which was exactly the case for Jheanell. At the age of fourteen a well-known family friend would take Jheanell into a quiet area of a public building, with no regard of being caught, and invite her to sit on his lap. At which time, now that Jheanell can understand the moment, he was having an erection. Fourteen year old Jheanell, felt uncomfortable but described the moment as “not being sure what was happening”. After all, he was like family, she trusted him. There was no way he could possibly be asking her to do something bad. As Jheanell sat on his lap, he followed his invitation by exploring parts of Jheanell’s body with his hands. Areas, that made fourteen year old Jheanell uncomfortable, confused and ashamed. As his exploration continued, footsteps would be heard, and her predator would push her away and warn her not to say anything. That interruption saved Jheanell that day, if only for a little while. By the age of sixteen Jheanell would be subjected to two or three more acts of unwanted touching from this ‘family friend’, who took advantage of an already scarred and scared teenage Jheanell.

“I did not say anything to anyone about the abuse. I kept it from my parents, simply because I did not know what would happen, I did not know what to expect.” ~ Jheanell

After surviving these incidences, Jheanell had another emotional hurdle to overcome. The passing of her father. A short time after his passing, Jheanell’s mother would soon be approached by a person whom she trusted. This man would convince Jheanell’s mom that, his offer to counsel Jheanell, as she dealt with the passing of her father was in Jheanell’s best interest. Doing what predators do, seizing the moment that their prey is vulnerable. After, receiving the okay from her mom, the man offered to take Jheanell out to dinner, to have a one on one with her. Ignoring her daughter’s pleas to not go alone with this man, Jheanell’s mom assured her that it was O.K to go and that the man just wanted to counsel her. Reluctantly, Jheanell went along. They would arrive at what was Jheanell’s favorite restaurant at the time, where the man would turn down the well-lit table offered, and instead opting to sit in the area known for couples. Immediately Jheanell knew something was not right. And it was not. His hands stroked her back and quickly found their way on her thigh, then between them. Jheanell felt sick to her stomach, but just as before and interruption would save her. A waitress came to the table causing his hand to pulled away.

Jheanell then echoed a statement often spoken by victims of sexual assault. “ I was shocked and disgusted….I just wanted to home”. On returning home, Jheanell had the all too familiar talk with this man, asking her to not tell anyone, and so, Jheanell did.

It would be eighteen years before Jheanell would speak up about her painful teenage years. A disclosure she would choose to share with her therapist. Jheanell still remembers the day she had that session. She says, “I remember that day, it was almost as if when it finally came out it was like this weight just finally lifted off of me. She stopped the session and held me. I just cried and cried.”

According to the NCTSN (National Child Traumatic and Stress Network) Fact Sheet: Teen sexual assault is often not disclosed to anyone for many years. Some people may never disclose. When it happens, disclosure is often a process, not a single event. For example, an individual may first provide hints about an assault; if the response is supportive, then more information is shared. Over time, they may fully disclose the details of the event(s). Common reasons for not disclosing sexual assault include not wanting family or other people to know, being unable to prove the incident occurred, fear that police will not take it seriously, or fear of police hostility.

Jheanell would eventually, leave Jamaica and the people that hurt her behind, but the memories lived on.

At the age of sixteen Jheanell moved to the United States and began rebuilding her life, living like the average girl her age. She would go to college, get amazing job opportunities following her passion in Oncology, even trust enough to have a relationship. However, an all too familiar scene plays out. Jheanell would be raped not once but twice. First by an ex-boyfriend and second, by a guy she was dating. The latter of which took the road of slipping something into her drink. To speak on how broken and guarded Jheanell must have been, would be remiss of me, but what I can speak to is the emotion in every word as she shared during our interview. I could hear the break in her voice as she spoke about her experiences and the pause in her sentences as she reflected on a moment. Even after Jheanell was taken advantage of time and time again, she never spoke up about any of it, beyond her therapist.

“It was certainly the shame that kept me from going to the police.”

FROM VICTIM TO SURVIVOR

Today, Jheanell is an author and advocate against sexual abuse. Her debut book aptly named Wounded Survivor will be live by the time this article is published and available on Amazon. It walks the reader through young Jheanell’s life growing up in Jamaica and her life after, as a survivor.

Jheanell did note that now as she walks in a space of healing, she is very aware of the fact that sexual abuse is widespread not only in America and Jamaica but globally. For Jheanell the need to have a space for these victims to come, to heal should be more readily available, noting the need for victims to not only feel safe in sharing their experience but to also know that positive change and help will follow. Jheanell drew an example of the rise of the #metoo movement, with that definitely a “step in the right direction”, in terms of support and removing some of the stigma of being a victim of sexual abuse.

Jheanell briefly shared and real-life example of why the need to have this space is necessary. She shared the experience had by a fellow victim, whom at the time of sharing her story, did not know that Jheanell was a survivor. This young lady spoke of repeatedly reaching out to authorities for help before becoming a victim, and being dismissed, ultimately leading to her experiencing her biggest fear. Being sexually abused. Jheanell could not be clearer, when she spoke on the necessity for us to have a space for these women to speak up, without fear of being dismissed or judged.

So, like the survivor she is Jheanell opened up her space and now acts as that support for this young lady who reached out to her, along with countless others that reach out to Jheanell via social media. Jheanell does for them what she knows helped her, she has become someone that just listen and understands, she sees them.

Jheanell’s openness to share her story and her willingness to be that ear that so many victims need, speaks to the beautiful spirit that is Jheanell Reynolds. Life after abuse can look different for many people. Some victims open up to loved ones after years of silence and receive the emotional support they so desperately need to heal. Some may join support groups and share openly amongst others that have been through similar experiences. Others may reach out and not receive positive reinforcement, leaving them to be both victim and vindicator. The one common denominator, the need to share your experience.

Jheanell knows the power of sharing your story and the positive impact it can have on your life.

JHEANELL’S MESSAGE

“As a society we need to begin with teaching our young boys that they cannot just take what is not theirs. No means No.”

When it comes to the justice system as it relates to sexual abuse, Jheanell highlights that, “It all has to start with everyone, especially prosecutors, to have more empathy for the victims, just imagine how you would want someone to treat a member of your family if they had been sexual abused. They need to change the way they view sexual abuse, It does something to that woman it does something to that young girl that leaves her broken and picking up the pieces for a long time. Making the argument that the sentence should fit the crime. When you have someone rape you and they get a sentence that just does not add up, it is like a blatant disrespect to what we go through.”

As for her message to victims/survivors out there, “Do not be silent, because you have no idea who else you are helping. The more we speak up the more these men cannot hide anymore, you must remember that you are braver and stronger than you think.”

For Jheanell she thinks of her nieces and nephew and does worry about the possibility that what happened to her, could happen to them. But she knows she cannot live like that.

CONCLUSION

Jheanell’s story was one that kept bringing to mind the fact that, just like Jheanell, many women and young girls endure sexual abuse daily in silence, fearing the shame, guilt and judgement of a society that should be more compassionate. Maybe as a society we are compassionate, but time and time again most victims are dismissed, overlooked, shamed, and further diminished from the moment they say, “I was abused”. Jheanell although picking up her own pieces helps others find the value in theirs, and if sharing her story could just add to the call to open up the conversation on sexual abuse, she will share it time and time again. There are many out there like Jheanell and all they want us to do is listen.

Special thanks to Jheanell for not only sharing but supporting others on their journey from victim to survivor.

Books by Jheanell Reynolds

Wounded Survivor: Personal Memoir on Surviving Loss of Loved Ones, Sexual Abuse and Illness (Mental and Physical)

If you are a victim or survivor, please

Contact Jheanell at woundedsurvivor@hotmail.com

Instagram — @_woundedsurvivor_

Twitter @AuthorJheanell

Additional Resources

NCTSN National Child Traumatic Stress Network

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Freelancer~Indie Author~ Founder of Sobé Kreative~Mom. I write stories that amplify the voices of everyday people. www.sobekreative.com or www.sabrewster.com

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Sharllah Brewster

Sharllah Brewster

Freelancer~Indie Author~ Founder of Sobé Kreative~Mom. I write stories that amplify the voices of everyday people. www.sobekreative.com or www.sabrewster.com

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