Rape Victims in Breastfeeding Families Are Suffering in Silence

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Alongside this Breastfeeding Awareness Media Campaign, I have had the opportunity to use my photography to help another important and very personal campaign, Red My Lips. This International Non Profit Organization runs a month-long campaign during April, raises awareness of Sexual Violence and Victim Blaming around the world. They have mobilized followers since 2012 by using temporary tattoos and this year the have asked their “warriors” or survivors and supporters to wear red lipstick for the entire month. “It’s not about vanity,” says Founder, Danielle Therese, “it’s about visibility!”

According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest International Network:

1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape).

17.7 million American women have been victims of attempted or completed rape.

9 of every 10 rape victims were female in 2003.

Red My Lips 2015 - Copyright Vanessa A. Simmons

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Using red lipstick, is significant because when victims see others posting photos on social media with the #RedMyLips hashtag, they can feel the support and understanding of the pain that they have endured. So you may be wondering why I am breastfeeding in the image above? I myself have experienced rape within a previous relationship before I was married to my husband. Since I first told him about he incident, 14 years ago, we haven’t spoken about it much. I was invited to the Red My Lips 2015 Facebook Event in early February and realized the booming support of rape victims from over 500k participants. I felt overwhelmed with emotion to participate and share my story with Danielle. She immediately told me how my story resonated with her and how she experienced similar feelings during her own experience. I have been inclined to share it ever since as it was incredibly liberating to share my story with a fellow survivor. I AM A WARRIOR and I refuse to be silent any longer.

It Happens Within Relationships

In 2001, I was taking some time off from Middle of Tennessee State University after a bad modern dance injury when I slipped and fell on my back. My best friend and I were roommates and moved from the dorms to Nashville to find full time work for a short period of time. After ending a stagnant long distant relationship, I decided it was time to date locally. I fell for a newly divorced co-worker. I became very close him and his family over a short period of time and we started discussing our personal goals, our love for each other, and marriage. I was unsure about returning to the dance program at MTSU to pursue choreography with the injury in the back of my mind, so we decided it would be a good opportunity for me to move in with him and see if it was what we really wanted. One night, we were planning a romantic evening. While he was downstairs, I received a phone call from an ex-boyfriend, who was checking in to see how things were going for me in Tennessee. I chatted with him for roughly three to four minutes told him i was in a relationship and living with my partner, and ended the conversation calmly as my partner was walking into the room. In an effort to remain completely transparent, I told him who I was speaking to and the nature of the call. Surprisingly enough, his reaction was to push me onto the bed. I asked nervously, “What are you doing?” He simultaneously pulled down his shorts, as I struggled and yelled “STOP, NO, STOP!” Then he entered me forcefully.

As the act occurred, I went into shock and silence fell over me. I stared at the wall and tried to wrap my head around what was happening to me. I didn’t make a sound the entire time. We had never before been in a physically violent situation so his behavior was unexpected and unwelcomed to say the very least. This was the first man I had ever considered marrying, a sweet and kind man, who always opened doors for me, who invited me to church, was involved in the community  and was very close to his family. And this situation happens in relationships more than we even know. It took me some time to release the confusion as to whether it was actually rape. My friends were pointing the blame on me for being so honest with him and I had no support to turn to while in Nashville. I returned home to San Diego as soon as possible and was finally able to deal with the reality of the incident. I never told my family, however I did utilize counseling services to help me move past the anger and lack of trust that began to consume me. There, my counselor validated me, she looked me in the eye and told me that I had been raped that evening, but that I was not broken, or damaged goods, that I was still precious and worthy of love and very much capable of giving love to another when I felt ready.

Having someone take the most intimate part of you without your consent is not only considered rape, of a woman or a man, but it is the first step to tearing down one’s image of self, sexual nature, and their whole future idea of family. Birth and breastfeeding can feel very similar to these feelings when the experiences are negative and come without the necessary support that families need during such imperative moments in life. Thankfully, I had very good birth experiences, however breastfeeding was a struggle from the very beginning, with my first baby. Allowing my body to be offered up at any given moment to fulfill the needs of my child was extremely difficult to do. After dealing with cracked and bleeding nipples I was unable to “trust my baby” at the breast and suffered from many sleepless nights because of it. Many times I have struggled with poor body image, not feeling beautiful and exaggerating my weight gain after children based on media standards, yet from my husband’s perspective, I was perfect in every way.

I am very blessed now to have been married for 9 years with 3 wonderful children and I hope that my story and images will inspire you to share and make an impact for the #RedMyLips campaign in support of breastfeeding families who may have also been affected. I wanted to share my story with you, with the hope that I will make an impact in the entire breastfeeding community, including the fathers, as we stand with those who have experienced rape and victim blaming. My goal is to help fundraise to help them to continue to support women AND men who have suffered from sexual violence. I have chosen to speak out…will you?

Red My Lips Self Portrait

After nursing my baby to sleep, I set up some lighting equipment,and put together these images for RML:

Red My Lips 2015 - Copyright Vanessa A. Simmons

Red My Lips 2015 - Copyright Vanessa A. Simmons

Red My Lips 2015 - Copyright Vanessa A. Simmons

 

 

Red My Lips Street

I also produced and photographed a candid session in downtown San Diego with other warriors:

Red My Lips 2015 - Copyright Vanessa A. Simmons

Red My Lips 2015 - Copyright Vanessa A. Simmons

Red My Lips 2015 - Copyright Vanessa A. Simmons

Red My Lips 2015 - Copyright Vanessa A. Simmons

Red My Lips 2015 - Copyright Vanessa A. Simmons

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Comments
  1. Thank you so much for sharing. I too am a Ghanaian – American, first generation, I was raped while on active duty in the army, by a fellow soldier, I believed was a friend.

    I am now happily married and pregnant with my second child and have been suffering flashbacks from my rape. With my first pregnancy I had no flashbacks, I was able to enjoy breastfeeding my son. With the pregnancy being so much harder on me I have been getting help (therapy). Having sex is hard sometimes. I love my husband and trust him, but the violation of me unwilling makes it hard.

    My husband has been my support throughout, he loves me even when I can’t love myself. My parents have a hard time understanding what I go through, I have been diagnosed with PTSD-MST and am not allowed to work. So I am a full-time stay at home mom.

    So thank you for giving me the courage to share my struggle with you here.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you very much for sharing your story, and supporting other victims.

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