Victim to victor: a local perspective

Image via dontrunbabygirl on Instagram
Image via dontrunbabygirl on Instagram

Jodie Ortega ignites conversation from sexual abuse

By Aaron Guillen, Staff Reporter

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Margaret Atwood stumbled upon these insights after talking with her male and female friends about why they feel threatened by the opposite sex. While men were afraid of failure or making idiotic decisions, women were afraid of physical violence or their children’s safety.

Margaret’s words inspire and drive the women of today to change that viewpoint—one of whom is New Westminster’s Jodie Ortegas. Ortega, a self-proclaimed feminist, has been making leaps and bounds in hopes of building a future with less sexual violence, simply by sharing her story. She is breaking her silence, through the use of platforms such as TED Talks, and contributing writings to the anthology Trigger Points.

Ortega is a survivor of domestic violence, childhood sexual abuse, and multiple isolated sexual assaults. At a young age, she was abused by her grandfather, who convinced her to withhold telling her family—and when she spoke up, a family meeting was held in which he showed no remorse.

“The only words he had to defend himself was: ‘We were close,’” she recalled.

Over the years, Ortega has grown up and learned to surround herself with people who support her while she continues to journey through life, spreading her message of self-love and continuing the conversation around sexual abuse. Ortega has learned to take feedback in stride, especially since it can be mixed.

“As a woman of colour I face unique experiences that I doubt my white colleagues/fellow public speakers face,” she noted.

After a public speaking engagement, she has received compliments on how well she spoke English, asked about where she learned to speak it, and her personal favourite, ‘Were you adopted by a white couple?”

“Locally, I experience a racial divide. After [any talk] it is mostly, if not all white men and women approaching me, wanting to thank me for my bravery in speaking out, wanting to know more about my activism work. They hand me their business card and suggest we meet up for coffee so they could tell me more about the work they do in the hopes that there will be future collaborations. They talk to me as an activist, and talk about me and my present work.”

However, Ortega has dealt with many strong opinions.

“The feedback I have received from Asian women has been mostly, unsurprisingly, negative. They talk to me like I’m still a victim, they re-victimize me through the things they say, (e.g., ‘What do you get from doing this?’ ‘How do you think your family feels?’) An Indian woman at an event approached me after my talk and whispered in my ear, ‘You have just shamed your entire family,’” she said.

Ortega went on to further discuss her angst with men and the roles they play in today’s rape culture and how it plays into an ongoing cycle.

“We live in a patriarchal society that continues to feed boys unhealthy machismo messages like: ‘Boys don’t cry,’ ‘Don’t be a pussy,’ ‘Man up!,’ ‘You run/hit like a girl,’—it’s not right,” she warned.

Additionally, there are a number of myths that make it difficult for a male survivor to break their silence. Some of these are that only gay men sexually assault/are sexually assaulted, that men can’t be sexually assaulted at all (by men or women), and that if a man has a physiological response (erection, ejaculation), then they must have wanted it.

“These myths minimize the seriousness of the sexual assault and actually allows the rapists to avoid responsibility for their actions,” she stated.

“For most men, to admit to being sexually assaulted is admitting to being less of a man. How you react if a survivor discloses abuse to you is very crucial. If it doesn’t go well (you dissociate yourself from them, you minimize their abuse, doubt them, etc.) the survivor can be re-traumatized and may not speak up again for a long time. The human response is so important.”

Ortega addressed the “breaking of silence” of anyone as a time that should be taken seriously.

“Campaigns, conferences and workshops based around spreading awareness about trauma are fantastic, but the only way to see radical change and eradicate rape culture is to keep the dialogue surrounding sexual violence an ongoing conversation,” explained Ortega.

“I encourage every person to reflect how we as individuals contribute to our society that is so tolerant of violence against women. I challenge you to call out symptoms of rape culture immediately when you see it. Call it out every single time until it loses its power, so maybe in the future there would be no need for campaigns because we would be living in a society free of sexual violence.”

Recently, Ortega has been involved with WINGS Monarch Place, a support shelter for women and children fleeing domestic violence, and Purple Light Nights, a domestic violence awareness campaign, to reach those that need a helping hand. In an effort to reach out to all women, men, and children in her former position, she provides the following words of advice.

“The first survivor step is knowing your self-worth,” she explained.

“You can never heal your wounds of trauma if you are currently involved in an abusive relationship. New occurrences of abuse will continue to add up to your trauma hindering your healing journey. It is necessary that, before healing, you move out of the negative relationship. You cannot survive in a relationship that constantly adds up more trauma and expect yourself to heal. What you allow will always continue.”