Souyenne Dathorne is a 28 year old St. Lucian, and survivor of sibling sexual abuse. She is the founder of Surviving Sexual Abuse in the Caribbean – an online forum for women to speak out about their abuse, and co-founder of Prosaf – it’s sister website which is dedicated to dealing with sexual abuse and its effects on survivors as well as their families. Here she talks to Velika Lawrence, her co-founder at Prosaf about her desire to help other Caribbean women who are suffering in silence.
What is the main motivation behind Surviving Sexual Abuse in the Caribbean
Surviving Sexual Abuse in the Caribbean was created primarily to urge women to speak out about their experiences with Sexual Abuse. One of the main goals was to draw attention to the silent epidemic plaguing our Caribbean women; so many are taken advantage of sexually and nothing is done. I wanted women to feel freer to speak out, I wanted them to feel less alone in what had been done to them, and to know we are with them on their journey to recovery. So many victims/survivors don’t believe they have a voice. So many believe they are the only ones who have been through some form of sexual assault. I wanted them to know via our pages that this wasn’t the case.
What led you to pursue this project?
I think my desire to stop feeling like a victim was what pushed me to pursue this project. For many years I had told myself that I was past my experience of sexual abuse. I forced myself into believing that the sexual abuse suffered at the hands of my older brother was no longer a factor in my life. When I returned home (after studying in the US) and he did (as well), everything came back. It was at that point that I knew I had to deal with what had happened. It was at that point that I decided to start the facebook page to share my story and encourage others to do the same.
My greatest challenge was getting past people’s responses, or lack thereof. It was coming to terms with the fact that some would embrace him as the victim, and me as the villain. It was getting past the fact that not everyone would support my decision to speak out, or my encouragement of others to do the same. I have always been a persistent woman; knowing that once I’d decided to do something that I would do it, one way or the other. I knew that speaking out was one step on the road to recovery. It was telling him, and all the others like him, that I would no longer keep his secret, that what had been done to me was wrong.
As a survivor, how has this project changed your life thus far?
The major change (I have experienced) in undertaking this project has been having to face and address what had happened to me, how it has affected me, and the issues that have arisen as a result. It was accepting the shattering of all the illusions that I had created to get me through the past. I am still learning to accept that things were not what I thought, that people were not who I thought, and that the opinions, actions and reactions that I expected from those closest to me, did not play out.
The dawning of this project also meant that there were other women who shared their stories with me. It was hard to hear them suffer knowing that their options for help were so severely limited. That, more than anything has hurt. There is a desire to want to help, and knowing that the help is so limited was frustrating; knowing their support system didn’t provide support was angering. I have learnt how few resources we have available, how little people view this as a serious problem, how many are willing to turn a blind eye based on who the abuser is. Delving into the topic of sexual assault in St.Lucia and the wider Caribbean has been an eye-opener. I think this project has made me more passionate than I already was about ensuring things change, not only in St.Lucia, but in the wider Caribbean.
Who encourages you to maintain the mindset of a survivor & what does that mean to you?
There are primarily two individuals who have been a source of constant support and comfort through my decision to speak up and out and advocate for other survivors. My boy-friend Christopher Hackshaw, and in many ways someone I consider a second mother, Laura Lau.
I am glad that at the times when I feel crazy, overwhelmed and saddened that they are there to hold and comfort me. As a survivor of sexual abuse I struggle daily with trust, self-esteem, self-worth, sadness and the list continues. It has meant more than they will ever know to have them in my life; knowing they understand what I go through on a daily basis, understanding the pain and hurt that I deal with.
What are your short-term goals for addressing Sexual Abuse through Surviving Sexual Assault in the Caribbean site?
I would like to create a support center for women in St.Lucia where they can feel comfortable speaking out about their experiences with sexual assault. I would like to provide a place for them to learn about the resources they have available to them and educate women on the signs of sexual abuse so they can protect & help those younger than them.
I want to empower women so they know they have a right to say no. So they know that if they are assaulted that they have a right to seek help. I want to create a network within the Caribbean that provides support for survivors of sexual abuse.