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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
One of the hardest things for victims of sexual abuse and rape to do is to tell others about what happened. After the initial shock, most simply go silent, not knowing where to turn, who can be trusted, what help is available, and where and how to find it. By writing Sexual Assault Watchdog, Heidi Carlisle hopes to change those facts. And what are her qualifications to provide such information? Her most important one is the fact that she herself is three times a victim of sexual violence and knows the difficulties she faced in surviving the abuse, reporting it, dealing with police and the justice system, paying the financial costs of professional and other help, and the hundreds of other issues victims face, not the least of which is how to recover.
One of the best attributes of Sexual Assault Watchdog is its style: it is written in simple language that people of all social levels can understand. That’s important as victims of sexual abuse come from all walks of life, all levels of society, and both genders. Heidi Carlisle’s voice is clear, friendly, keen to help and encouraging. It’s also full of cautions, and those cautions are warranted: not everyone can be trusted; not all people are on the victim’s side; many victims aren’t believed; and far too many perpetrators go free. But Heidi Carlisle is not trying to frighten victims into even greater silence; on the contrary, she wants to alert all readers to the existence of a “rape culture”, a culture that abuses victims for the second time after the initial rape by dismissing rape as something that is no big deal and just part of daily life. For those who are, or have been, victims of sexual abuse, and I am one of those, this is a sad reality that is never forgotten no matter how many times others say “just get over it.”
What Heidi Carlisle offers victims is an abundance of resources and links that she has very carefully researched. She points out the differences from state to state and city to city in how reported rape is handled and strongly suggests approaching the nonprofit organizations for help. While this book is geared to US readers, even those in other countries will come away more enlightened about what services to seek in their own countries. Other information that is useful to victim/survivors in any country is found in Chapter 6: it offers a huge list of suggestions for recovering from the psychological trauma of being sexually abused. Another chapter offers advice on how to keep your identity and whereabouts secret if there is a fear that your abuser might come after you. Victims outside the US should look into similar possibilities in their own area.
What victims/survivors have in Heidi Carlisle is someone who really cares about rape victims, who thoroughly understands what they have experienced and their confusion about what to do next. Sexual Assault Watchdog is a lifeline to becoming a survivor instead of remaining a victim. Quite frankly I think Sexual Assault Watchdog should be distributed throughout colleges and schools. It is a sexual abuse and rape survivor’s manual long overdue.