Smear Tests and Sexual Abuse Survivors
A couple of days ago I shared a video post on Facebook about the procedure of a smear test and how it is 'nothing to be afraid of', just a 'moment of discomfort' which could potentially be 'lifesaving'.
When I shared this, I wrote the following caption: 'I am sure it is worth two minutes of discomfort, when it could potentially save your life'. I felt as though this caption was positively encouraging for people who are afraid of being tested. However, my thoughts changed rapidly when a friend of mine left this comment:
' For sexual abuse survivors, it is a lot more than a little discomfort, unfortunately. I personally cannot have smear tests but know I should. Just don’t forgot it can seem like nothing for many but for some, it’s simply not something they can do.'
I am sorry to admit that such a thought never crossed my mind... After talking for a little while with my friend, I decided that this topic needed more recognition. Not so much because people are unaware of sexual abuse, or because people avoid smear testing... but because many people fail to realise how being sexually abused can have a lasting impact on the day-to-day lives of many people.
I understand that such a traumatic experience is bound to have lasting effects, especially on an individual's mental health. I also understand that it can make forming new relationships and being open and intimate very difficult and in some cases impossible. But I never thought about how it can affect people from taking part in certain activities or medical procedures.
For me, this short conversation with a friend has been eye-opening and it has made me want to write this post in order to help other people gain a little more understanding of the situations that other people may have faced in relation to sexual abuse and how this has affected their lives in various different ways.
Early this year BBC News published an article about smear testing and sexual assault survivors. Within this article, it talks about how a high number of women do not attend their smear test appointments due to feeling embarrassed, however for women who have experienced sexual assault, the mere thought of having a smear test can be terrifying, with the distress of the appointment outweighing the benefits of the test itself. Smear tests can make sexual abuse survivors feel:
- Unable to speak
As well as potentially reminding them, or giving them flashbacks of the abuse that they encountered, whether it have been yesterday or many years previous.
There is no set amount of time for 'getting over' being sexually assaulted. Such a traumatic experience can stay with someone for the rest of their life, who are we to tell someone to 'get over it' or 'it's about time to forget about it'? No one will truly understand how it feels unless they have been through it themselves (and I would not wish that upon my worst enemy).
Sexual assault is serious, no matter what scale it may be on and it is important to recognise that every survivor will 'cope' in various different ways. Some may go straight back into their day-to-day routine, others may not want to leave the comfort of their own home for a little while. There is no right or wrong way to deal with a traumatic experience.
After experiencing sexual assault, the individual may feel restricted when it comes to taking part in various activities or returning to their everyday routines. For example:
- Going back to work may be difficult, especially if your coworkers are aware of the situation. Or if you work with many men, or encounter a lot of strangers, this can cause anxiety and may even trigger flashbacks.
- Leaving the house can be difficult, especially if you are on your own. It can take some time for your confidence to reappear.
- If the abuse took place within your own home, it may be hard to stay there for a while, or you may find yourself wanting to reorganise your home or redecorate completely in order to make it feel different and try to limit the memories that are triggered when you see the room it may have occurred in.
- Having children may move to the bottom (or completely off) your to-do list. Being intimate with a partner may be scary, especially after experiencing such a traumatic event. It may take time to build up trust with others again, or you might decide that you never want to be intimate again. This is completely fine, you are in control of your body and should always do what is best for you.
- Smear Tests and other medical procedures can make you feel vulnerable and exposed and can be very distressing after experiencing sexual assault.
Due to the trauma that sexual assault leaves behind, it can make it difficult to take part in day-to-day activities. Going to the movies, watching TV shows they previously enjoyed, listening to the songs they used to love, going to places they used to feel safe in... can all become impossible to do.
I am sure this goes without saying; smear tests are important and they can be lifesaving... sexual assault survivors know this! Of course, they know this... but it does not make going to their appointments any easier.
Tips and Helpful Resources:
If you have experienced sexual assault and you find going for smear tests difficult, you could try speaking with your GP or nurse about your worries and concerns.
They may be able to help you by providing a doctor/nurse you feel more comfortable with (male or female). They may also provide you with a double appointment so that you do not feel rushed, they can talk you through the procedure and some may even guide you so that you can do the smear test for yourself, giving you more control.
If going to your doctor's surgery is too much for you, you could attend your local family planning clinic and have your smear test done there.
If you would like, or if you are in need of help after experiencing sexual abuse, you can find a list of useful helplines and online support here. You can also attend your local Crisis Centre, find your nearest one here!
How can you help and support sexual assault survivors? Find out here!
Some Last Words:
Thank you for taking your time to read this post, I hope that it has helped you gain a little understanding, or maybe it has helped you on a personal level.
If you have experienced sexual assault, please know that it was not your fault. No one has the right to hurt you in that way, or in any way for that matter. No one should ever make you feel violated, or too scared to speak. You are human, you are strong, you are loved. You deserve better. No part of the abuse you experienced was your fault, you did not deserve to experience such traumatic events.
I hope you are on the road to recovery, no matter how long that road may seem, I promise you it will be worth it. Keep going.
Please reach out to trusted loved ones and also professionals to make sure you receive all of the help and support that you deserve. What you have been through is nothing to feel ashamed of and you certainly should not feel guilty. The only person who should feel that way is the person who put you through that in the first place.
Take care of yourself, Have Hope Always.
And remember, you are never alone, there will always be someone there to support you.