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From the Outside Looking In: Top 3 Reasons Mosaic Georgia is on My Giving Tuesday Shortlist

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By Amanda Makrogianis Mickelsen
Marketing Project Manager Consultant

Some causes are loud.

And some work is done quietly and selflessly behind the scenes, firmly but compassionately making a difference to those in a vulnerable place.

People (understandably) don’t like to acknowledge, let alone talk about, the disturbing topic of sexual violence. But it happens all around us. And in a world fraught with injustice, it is comforting to know there are helpers—people who care, working to minimize the suffering in seemingly small ways that make the biggest of differences.

I have worked for Mosaic Georgia’s Sexual Assault and Children’s Advocacy Center as a project management and marketing consultant for over two years, after feeling compelled to move from the corporate space to causes that contribute to a more just and humane world.

I become a donor each year on Giving Tuesday. I’d like to share with you why.

Burdens Lifted

Mosaic Georgia helps to alleviate the tremendous strain that envelops the lives of survivors and their families.

I have learned in my time here that sexual assault is not an isolated occurrence for the victim. There is a cascading ripple effect that can disrupt and sometimes debilitate the victim’s inner circle.

I imagine a mother who has just discovered the unthinkable who, amid the tragedy, is faced with the towering responsibility of single-handedly finding a safe living space for her children and providing for them while navigating the array of complicated social issues now encircling her. Mosaic is a place where she can find resources and referrals for rental assistance or transitional housing…a place where she can then access the legal services necessary to obtain a protective order or a divorce…a place where her little one receives a comfort kit with items that help them feel a little more safe and comforted as they realize they cannot return to the place they call home.

I imagine the tremendous burdens lifted at a time of immense stress, pain, shock, and confusion.

A Staff of Everyday Heroes

Mosaic allows their clients to feel seen, heard, safe, protected and as comfortable as they can be in those critical moments during a trying time no human being should ever have to face.

Whether a medical clinician or the first voice on the other end of the phone, everyone on the staff is caring and dedicated in a way I have never personally seen at an organization. From the moment someone walks through the crisis center door to the moment they leave their first trauma-informed yoga class, the team rallies around them, providing professional and compassionate care.

Every. Single. Time.

I consistently see messages of praise come through from parents who are grateful for the kind and caring way their loved one was treated at our center. And messages congratulating and affirming each other for coming together during a most trying case to provide the team support required to bring exceptional care to someone in crisis.

Some are there because of a personal connection to the mission and some are there to simply serve others in a time of need. They are a bonded group, collectively offering their clients dignity and warmth after a traumatic experience.

I am not a survivor so I cannot personally relate to how it feels to be in this situation. I do know that as I’ve gone through some of life’s more challenging times, the caring support people who were there with a lifeline in the moment I needed it, made all the difference in the world. The situation felt a little more manageable, and the weight of the ordeal was lifted just enough to get through with ‘one foot in front of the other’.

In those moments when we are most vulnerable, those with the lifeboats are all we have.

And it is critical that those providing the lifeboats have the resources and support they need to keep doing what they do.

Healing is Not Just an Afterthought

At a visit with a local women’s group I heard Executive Director Marina Sampanes Peed speak to the grim reality that the majority of those who come through their center will unfortunately not find legal justice, and instead will likely have to find a way to come to peace internally with the trauma that is now a part of their being. This is a tall order. Flawed societal ideals result in inequities within our systems. Hence many survivors are faced with the undeserved and unfair reality that a sense of peace that often accompanies accountability for their abuser will not be a part of their story.

To address the need for internal emotional reconciliation, last year Mosaic unveiled a Resilience Center that focuses solely on the healing aspect of a survivor’s journey. From yoga to art to meditation, the Wholeness Collective program offers trauma informed healing programs, counseling sessions, and support groups for those ready to rebuild and reclaim their lives, including child-centered healing activities. It’s a beautiful thing to see those wounded by trauma come together to talk, share, laugh, cry, dance, drum, paint, sing – to heal in many shapes and forms. This important holistic component is not merely an afterthought but a solid pillar of Mosaic’s integrative programs and services.

Covering all the reasons a donation to Mosaic Georgia is worthwhile would make this much too long a read! I have shared just the top of my list.

This Giving Tuesday I encourage you to join me in letting the staff at Mosaic Georgia know their work is valued, and showing survivors that they are supported. A tremendous amount of financial resources are required to provide such comprehensive services to those affected by sexualized violence. Please donate today!

Mosaic Georgia is a Sexual Assault and Children’s Advocacy Center that provides crisis intervention and support services for victims of sexual abuse, assault and trafficking. Services include forensic medical exams, advocacy, forensic interviews, legal aid, counseling, education & training, and healing-oriented wellness programs. In Gwinnett County, clients come to the safe and private setting of Mosaic Georgia instead of the emergency room.

Our mission is to take action and guide change for the safety, health & justice of children and adults impacted by sexual violence.

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Someone’s Gotta Say It…

Nurturing Gratitude: A Lighthouse in Stormy Waters

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

“Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.”
Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture)

Finding peace of mind in a world filled with interpersonal violence is not easy. With the constant barrage of multi-media journalism, pretend-news and social media, it’s a challenge to stay informed about current events without overdosing on images of man-made tragedies.

People often ask, “How do you and your team deal with all the horrible things done to people who come to you for help? I don’t think I could handle it.” To say it’s a calling minimizes the effects on the helpers. Without an intentional counterbalance, the natural response can be to become numb and jaded about people, systems, and life. And truth be told, I wrestle with frustration about our collective refusal to invest in measures known to prevent violence.

For all of us, the cultivation of gratitude is a powerful tool and a psychological anchor holding steadfast in the turbulent seas of human suffering. The practice of gratitude builds mental resilience, and it has sustained my actual life and all the goodness in it for decades.

More Grateful than Thankful

Gratitude is nuanced, existing on a plane deeper than mere thankfulness. Consider thankfulness the immediate reaction to positive outcomes or narrow escapes — the meeting concluding early or the unlikely absence of traffic on I-85. Gratitude, however, is richer and more conscious — an appreciation that lingers and proliferates. It’s the recognition of ongoing goodness and the contributions of others, generating warmth and solidarity that extend far beyond the self.

For example, I am grateful for all the people who donate blood and platelets; they kept me alive for over a year. That gratitude arises each time I see a blood donation event in the community.

Gratitude, like love, is a practice as well as an emotion. It requires a conscious effort to see beyond the immediate, the loudest distractions. Observing and appreciating the positive facets of life develops mental resilience, even when overwhelmed with fear or pain. I called upon it in my darkest moments (sometimes teasing it out with some macabre humor).

The Science Behind Gratitude

Research within positive psychology corroborates the benefits of a grateful mindset. Studies indicate that practicing gratitude consistently contributes to mental well-being, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. By acknowledging the good, individuals combat the natural negativity bias, which, while evolutionarily protective, can be debilitating.

This shift is not about wearing rose-colored glasses but about recalibrating the mind to appreciate moments of kindness, success, and love that do exist amidst the chaos.

Exercise that Gratitude Muscle 

For personalities with higher levels of pessimism, the practice of gratitude may feel unsettling at first. Start simple: First: over a meal with another person or group, share one lowlight of the day and then three highlights. Invite others to do the same. When you spend more time and thoughts on the positive elements of the day, the meal will be tastier and you will leave the table more satisfied. Second: when you are in bed with the lights out, before you go to sleep, speak three things you are grateful for from the day. Let your mind rest for the night with those thoughts.

Gratitude allows those confronting or experiencing human suffering to maintain their humanity, find contentment, and continue their indispensable work. It is a choice to seek light and create an inner sanctuary of peace, from which we draw our strength.

Think of gratitude as more than a personal practice; it is a gift we share, through our continued hope and our belief in a better tomorrow. You’re welcome!

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The Art of Compassion: Mosaic Masterpieces Awaits You! 

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

Picture this: A quiet evening, you’re cozily settled in, deeply engrossed in that new bestseller or the latest binge-worthy series. Your phone buzzes, then rings. It’s a dear friend, voice quivering, entrusting you with a painful revelation – they or their child has experienced the unthinkable – the brutality of interpersonal violence/abuse.

Most people assume that a resource is available – through hospitals and local police departments. In fact, here and across most of Georgia, private, nonprofit organizations like Mosaic Georgia’s Children’s Advocacy & Sexual Assault Center, provide the direct services and support to victims of abuse and assault. Mosaic Georgia’s hotline 866-900-6019 is here for you.

What is it worth to you to know that help is available, 24/7, if you or your loved one needed it?

Interpersonal violence – be it physical, sexual, psychological – leave traumatic injuries that don’t just fade with time; they linger, hidden behind barriers of shame and silence. While we learn more about the neurobiology of trauma and make progress to lift the blanket of stigma, it’s community-based services like Mosaic Georgia that truly light the path to healing.

But why is this 24/7 support essential?

1. Immediate Support in Crisis: The aftermath of disclosure of violence is often chaotic, clouded with fear and confusion. An available helpline means immediate guidance, ensuring the safety of the victim and pointing them toward the right resources, whether medical, legal, or psychological.

2. Immediate Coordination of Care: Mosaic Georgia mobilizes a response team to provide advocacy supports, medical forensic care, mental health supports, and coordination with law enforcement.

3. Building Resilience: Lingering effects of violence affect one’s personal safety, ability to work or study, sleep, or focus. We assist with mental health and wellness care so people of all ages can develop their personal mental health toolkits that support and strengthen every aspect of their lives. We also provide no-cost legal services to access protection of their personal safety, and ensure their rights are not further harmed by the perpetrator.

4. Empower the Community: Knowing that help is always available strengthens the community as a whole. It empowers friends, neighbors, and family members to guide their loved ones toward the assistance they need.

How Can I Help?

People tell me they are glad that someone is doing this work, even though they don’t think they could do it. I feel the same way about surgeons and water reclamation experts. Here is a great way to support this mission and add to your art collection.

Our 4th annual “Mosaic Masterpieces”—an Art Auction & Happy Hour, not just for the art enthusiast but for every heart that beats for a compassionate community.

This event isn’t just an art auction. It’s a gathering that stitches together resilience, courage, and community spirit. With professional fine art, pieces by community leaders, students, and survivors, it’s a two-hour soulful experience.

By contributing – whether it’s through sponsorship, attendance, or art acquisition – you’re not just adding to your collection. You’re championing a cause, ensuring that every cry for help echoes with the comforting reply: “We’re here for you.”

Take a look at sponsorship opportunities, download a social media toolkit, contribute art, peruse our photo gallery from past events, or volunteer: https://www.mosaicgeorgia.org/mosaic-masterpieces/

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True Love After Trauma – Safety Tips for DV Survivors Seeking Healthy Relationships 

Ashia Headshot

By Ashia Gallo
Wholeness Collective Coordinator at Mosaic Georgia

Domestic violence (DV) is a soul-wrenching issue that affects millions of people worldwide, leaving lasting scars on both an individual’s physical and emotional wellbeing. While escaping an abusive relationship is a necessary and courageous step towards safety (click here for local resources from the Gwinnett County Family Violence Task Force), survivors often encounter significant challenges when trying to form new, healthy relationships later on.

Recovery is a complex journey that survivors of DV face in their pursuit of the loving and secure connections they deserve. Finding love after experiencing domestic violence can be challenging, but there are several important steps and solutions to consider before taking that next step:

Self-Healing

Prioritize your own healing and wellbeing first. Seek trauma therapy or counseling to address any emotional scars and trauma from the abusive relationship. Some of these scars may be well hidden, even to yourself. Healing takes time, and it’s essential to be in a healthy emotional state before pursuing a new relationship.

Support System

Building a strong support system with friends and family who can provide emotional support and understanding during your healing process is essential. This can understandably be a difficult step. One of the primary challenges for survivors of DV is the profound erosion of trust – trust of self and others. It’s because of this that having a solid support network is crucial for your recovery. Identify your people and confide in them.

Therapy or Support Groups

Consider joining support groups or attending therapy sessions specifically designed for survivors of DV. These environments can help you connect with others who have had similar experiences and provide valuable guidance. Mosaic Georgia offers Finding Hope Support Groups for women 18+ who are survivors of sexual abuse specifically. If this fits into your DV experience, you’re always welcome to join us.

Educate Yourself

Learn about healthy relationships, boundaries, and red flags for potential abuse. Knowledge is power, and that sense of empowerment can help you make better relationship choices in the future.

Take Your Time

There is no rush to enter a new relationship. Sometimes the potential comfort of a new emotional connection can feel like an easy fix – but moving on too quickly after a traumatic DV experience will likely not turn out the best for you long term. You don’t want to risk accumulating more trauma during your healing journey. Take as much time as you need to mend and build your confidence before seeking love again.

Set Boundaries

Clearly define your personal boundaries in a new relationship and communicate them openly with your partner. No hanging out in intimate spaces for six months? No kissing or physical affection until you initiate? Your dating rules are up to you, and anyone who truly cares for you will happily follow them to ensure your comfort. Boundaries help establish a healthy and respectful dynamic.

Trust Your Instincts

Listen to your gut feelings. If something doesn’t feel right in a new relationship, don’t ignore it. Rely on your instincts and take action if necessary. You’ve walked away once, and you can always do it again.

Online Dating Safety

If you choose to explore online dating, be cautious. Share personal information sparingly, meet in public places initially, and inform a trusted friend or family member about your plans to meet up. Also, pace getting to know the real identity and intentions of this stranger, and not just what they are presenting to you.

Legal Protection

Sometimes moving on can incite controlling ghosts of your past. If necessary, consult with legal professionals to explore options for restraining orders or legal protections against your abuser.

Finding love after domestic violence is possible, but it should be secondary to your journey of self-care, healing, and personal growth. Prioritizing your well-being and safety is paramount throughout this process.

It’s also very hopeful to know that you will smile again, date again, and love again. Our most beautiful connections sometimes exist on the other side of darkness. Wishing you so much luck in the quest for yours!

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When Love Hurts: A Look at the Realities of Intimate Partner Violence

Kendall Circle Headshot

By Kendall Wolz
Mental Health and Wellness Manager at Mosaic Georgia

What is the difference between intimate partner violence and domestic violence?

The term intimate partner violence more broadly encompasses violence within relationships, whereas domestic violence typically applies to individuals living within the same household.

In the 1970s and 1980s, women’s rights groups elevated the voices and raised awareness of crimes committed against wives by their husbands. In response to the campaigns, domestic violence shelters opened for women seeking refuge from their abusive husbands. Largely, people viewed domestic violence as a gendered issue- one where married women were the victims.

Because violence in relationships is not limited to heterosexual, married couples, the term intimate partner violence was introduced. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines intimate partner violence as “behavior within an intimate relationship that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including acts of physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviors” and the definition covers violence by both current and former spouses and partners.1

Intimate partner violence and domestic violence apply to adult victims, while the term “teen dating violence” recognizes that minors and young adults also experience abusive patterns in relationships.

But, he doesn’t hit me.”  

Intimate partner violence includes but is not limited to acts of physical violence. The Power and Control Wheel visually depicts the various ways it shows up in relationships.2 The outer wheel recognizes physical and/or sexual violence as a common occurrence. But the spokes of the wheel describe intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, denying/minimizing/blaming, using the children, using privilege, economic abuse, and coercion/threats.

Abusers use various methods to exhibit power and maintain control in the relationship. Without intervention, the cycle outlined in the wheel perpetuates itself.

What is the prevalence of intimate partner violence?

Intimate partner violence is more common than people realize and accounts for 15% of all violent crime. And according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence 25-50% of people in relationships experience at least one form of relationship violence.

  • About 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men report having experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • About 1 in 5 women and 1 in 13 men have experienced contact sexual violence by an intimate partner.
  • 14% of women and 5% of men report having been stalked by an intimate partner.
  • The cost of intimate partner violence over a victim’s lifetime is estimated at $103,767 for women.

Data from the CDC’s 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicate that among U.S. high school students, 1 in 12 experienced physical dating violence and 1 in 12 experienced sexual dating violence within the previous year. Female students and those who identified as LGBTQ or were unsure of their gender identity experienced higher rates of dating violence.3

Ripple Effects

Lives of victims are affected in numerous and damaging ways.

Emotional pain is at the forefront. This can manifest as distress, loss of self-confidence and self-esteem, anxiety, panic attacks, sadness, shame, guilt, internal tension, stress, anger or despair. Many victims experience post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD. In addition to physical injuries, emotional stress contributes to deteriorating health such as sleep and eating disorders, chronic pain, digestive issues, and weakened immune systems.

Humans are social beings, and their interactions fulfill a wide range of physical, emotional, psychological, and social needs.

Intimate partner violence causes a pattern interrupt.

Routine, healthy dynamics and interactions shift. A support network is crucial yet those living with intimate partner violence often lose the trust and esteem of loved ones which can cause isolation. Power imbalances also negatively affect relationships with children.

The broader societal implications of partner violence are extensive. For the victim, requiring sick leave and trouble focusing can lead to job loss. On the grander scale, there are public health costs such as strain on healthcare, social services, and the public safety and legal systems. Employers are affected through insurance costs and reduced employee productivity.

Effects on Young Bodies and Minds

Furthermore, intimate partner violence leaves lasting imprints on children who witness the abuse, and it places them at higher risk of being victimized also.

As many as 1 in 5 children witness intimate partner violence in their lifetime.4 One of the most concerning realities of the impact of intimate partner violence on children is that approximately 1 in 5 homicides of children aged 2-14 are related to intimate partner violence. Children growing up in homes where abuse and violence are normalized are more likely to use violence as a means of conflict resolution than their peers not exposed. Witnessing intimate partner violence as a child is an adverse childhood experience (ACE). Higher ACE scores are associated with a multitude of negative long-term outcomes including early death, chronic physical health issues, mental health challenges, and relationship struggles.

Shining a light on the realities of violence helps to bring about awareness. Intimate partner violence is all around us and needs to be exposed rather than shrouded in secrecy and kept behind closed doors. Talking about it, sharing (the uncomfortable) information, and modeling healthy behavior can help initiate a shift in the societal norms and attitudes that perpetuate violence in intimate relationships.

If you or someone you know has experienced intimate partner violence, there is help available. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788.

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Someone’s Gotta Say It

From Awkward to Empowered: Rethinking “the Talk”

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

Do you remember the whirlwind of emotions and questions that came with growing up? I sure do. Not too long ago, I was gently reminded that I’ve stepped into the “woman of a certain age” chapter in life. And what a vibrant chapter it is! As a proud mom of two wonderful grown-up kids, and having weathered life’s many unexpected twists, I often find myself reflecting on those pivotal parenting moments. Recently, a close friend (and a mom to some spirited youngsters) curiously asked about my journey through their hormone-driven teenage years. With a smile, I admitted, “You know, I thought I had all the answers and would be the perfect parent… until we brought our daughter home from the hospital. Talk about humbling!” 

As parents, our protective instincts are on high alert. From the rising cost of living and healthcare to the daily news about guns, active shooter drills, student debts, and challenges to our fundamental rights, it can feel a bit overwhelming. But amidst this whirlwind, it helps to start where you are, with what is in your control. Let’s begin with those heart-to-heart talks about the changes they are feeling.   

In this rapidly changing world, it’s crucial for adults to overcome their hesitations and ensure our children and teens are well-informed and equipped with facts about their bodies, sexual contact, self-confidence and communication skills.

Discomfort is Just a Feeling: You’re Not Alone

We’ve all been there. That slight unease when broaching certain topics with our kids. Most of us didn’t have great role models in the “birds and the bees” conversations (that I even wrote “birds and the bees” in 2023 should be instructive). Some fear that if you talk about sex, it will encourage them to act on that new information. As if they aren’t naturally curious about the body parts they carry with them already.  

Why Your Silence Isn’t Always Golden

Whether we like it or not, today’s youth are surrounded by sexualized messages – from advertisements, TV and movies, music, social media, and even pornography.  

Here is what we know to be true: Normalizing discussions about bodies, hormones, relationships, values, and consequences are protective factors that can reduce early risky sexual activity and sexual harms.   

Calling body parts the proper terms without blushing or whispering is the first step. Read this next section out loud: 

Start at the top:  Head, forehead, eyes, nose, lips, ears, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, chest, breast, abdomen, penis, testicles, anus, vulva (includes labia, urethra, clitoris, vagina), thighs, calves, foot, toes.  

If you can’t read or say these words out loud, your assignment is to work through your discomfort.  Parts are parts. 

The Danger of Secrecy and Shame

Kids can read the room. When adults avoid talking about human development or speak with declarative statements that shut down conversation, they create an environment of secrecy and shame. Parents who tell kids to “wait until marriage” (message reinforced to girls) for religious or cultural reasons, without educating about sexual activity, put their kids at greater risk for unintended harms. This creates a fertile ground for abusers. People who sexually abuse and exploit others thrive on coercion and secrecy. They manipulate their victims over time, creating damaging repercussions. The lifelong effects of childhood sexual abuse are many and varied, depending on the type, frequency and intensity of abuse, and child’s relationship to the abuser. 

Did you know 25% of girls and 17% of boys K-12 ages (in both public and private education) have experienced some form of sexual abuse? These statistics represent real individuals, often victims of people within their close circle. Their language used often in describing genitals and the sexual acts reveal a lack of basic education about their bodies. Concerns about pregnancy from non-vaginal intercourse are common

The Statistics Have Names and Faces

At Mosaic Georgia, for example, over 1,500 children and youth are seen each year for harms arising from sexual abuse or exploitation. We’ve worked with minors who became parents due to familial sexual abuse and commercial trafficking. The trajectory of their lives are forever changed because of sexual abuse.

Parents of these youth are often shocked that the abuse was happening and lament that they thought their child was too young to talk about such things. 

And there are as many adults who experienced sexual abuse as children, who later in life seek resources and support in their healing journey. Most victims hold their experiences in silence, fearing that “telling” will cause more harm to themselves and their family. Abstinence-only messages further inflict shame and guilt on young victims, contributing to mental health struggles, including depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts. 

Shifting Perspective: From Discomfort to Empowerment

Think back to your childhood. Do you remember the tingles, the whispers, the giggles, and the myths associated with s-e-x? Remember the confusion and perhaps even the fear?  

We can do better. Comprehensive sexual education goes beyond biology and mechanics to include the emotional and ethical facets. It’s about teaching respect for self and others, understanding boundaries and consent, and fostering healthy relationships. It’s about creating an environment where our children can grow up understanding their bodies, respecting and valuing a partner, and building meaningful, respectful relationships.

Parents as First Teachers, Schools as Allies

Parents weave a tapestry of trust, respect, and knowledge with their kids through everyday conversations. Spending time to listen, share, and even laugh about life’s mysteries will build bonds and trust. While parents are a child’s first teachers, there is no knowledge test to pass in order to become a parent. Parents have varying levels of knowledge, skills, and confidence to talk about human reproduction, pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood.  

Schools can bridge this information gap, ensuring all students have access to factual information and understand the risks and consequences of varied sexual activity. And the curriculum is a great basis for discussion between parent and child.  

A collaborative approach ensures that all our children receive consistent, relevant, and age-appropriate information. This shared responsibility can also alleviate some of the pressures parents might feel about having these discussions on their own.

Resources to Help

For parents who may be unsure where to start or how to approach these topics, there are numerous resources available. Organizations like Mosaic Georgia, among others, offer tools to initiate these essential conversations.  

There are more books and curriculum on-line that you can read first, then share with your kids. Sometimes it’s easiest for each to read on their own and then discuss together.  Like a book club for child/adolescent health.

Call to Act: An Investment in Their Future

It’s natural to feel discomfort, but let’s channel that unease into action. After all, our children’s empowerment and safety are well worth the effort. 

When we know better, we do better.

The path forward is paved with knowledge, empathy, and understanding. Let’s take the necessary steps to ensure that our children grow up with the confidence and tools they need to navigate the complex world of sexual health and relationships. After all, knowledge is not just power; it’s empowering. 

Thank you for reading this to the end. If you’d like to talk with me about protecting all our children, please reach out to marinap@mosaicga.org  Let’s be the best village we can be for future generations. 

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National Suicide Prevention Month: The Impact of Sexual Violence on Mental Health

Kendall Circle Headshot

By Kendall Wolz
Mental Health and Wellness Manager at Mosaic Georgia

“I feel hopeless.”
“I just don’t know how I can continue with this pain.”
“Sometimes I think dying is the only way.”
“I don’t really want to die, but I think about it all the time.” 
 

It is common for therapists to hear phrases like these when sitting with clients in the aftermath of sexual violence. The phrases reveal the depth of the pain that sexual trauma creates. Many clients who share these words struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms such as nightmares, intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, avoidance of reminders of the trauma, anxiety, and depression. The psychological impacts of sexual violence disrupt survivor’s daily lives.  

Real-World Aftereffects of Trauma

Take a moment to remember the last time you went grocery shopping. You probably got in your car, turned on the radio, drove to the store, picked up the items you needed, checked out, drove home, and unloaded the groceries.  

A survivor with PTSD symptoms may have a very different experience. A survivor may choose to go to a grocery store across town to avoid the possibility of running into their abuser at the local store. They may find themselves constantly looking in the review mirror for any indication that danger is nearby. If a vehicle matching that of their perpetrator pulls near them, they may experience a surge of anxiety and panic that lasts long after they realize it is just a similar vehicle not the abuser. As they browse the aisles in the store, they may find themselves frozen for an unknown amount of time when they see the type of chips they ate prior to being assaulted. When they finally return home, they barely have the energy to unload the groceries. This was a single shopping trip. While completing the shopping trip is a success for that survivor, they may also feel defeated because the previously simple tasks now require more than they feel they can sustain.

The Troubling Links Between Sexual Violence, PTSD, and Suicide Risk 

Research illustrates the significant link between sexual assault and PTSD. One study found that 94% of women who were raped experienced PTSD symptoms during the two weeks immediately following the rape. About 30% of the women reported continued symptoms nine months later. The National Women’s Study reported that almost one-third of all rape victims develop PTSD sometime during their lives and 11% of rape victims currently suffer from the disorder (1). 

The effects of PTSD can be unrelenting.  

Psychological distress, difficulty with activities of daily living, and disrupted sleep patterns often result in an increased risk of suicidal ideation and suicidal attempts. 

Left untreated, the symptoms of PTSD will often result in feelings of hopelessness which places someone at a significant risk of suicide. Eapen and Cifu (2020) found that among people who have been diagnosed with PTSD at some point in their lifetime, approximately 27% have attempted suicide. A body of research (2) provides evidence that traumatic events such as childhood abuse may increase a person’s suicide risk.  

When a client discloses in session one of the phrases above, the first response as clinicians often involves normalizing their feelings. It makes sense in the aftermath of sexual trauma that a person would not want to endure the pain that seems like it will last forever. It makes sense that they would experience feelings of hopelessness when their entire world has been changed. Clinicians strive to instill hope for their clients that with consistent therapy, the establishment of safety and a support system, and the regular use of coping skills, the symptoms that currently wreak havoc in their lives will decrease.  

Healing can and does happen following sexual violence. 

What to Do If You or a Friend are Experiencing Suicidal Thoughts

If you are experiencing suicidal ideation and are thinking about ending your life, know that you are not alone and there is help available. There are likely people you know, love, and trust who have also experienced suicidal thoughts. This moment of pain, despair, and feeling like there is no other way will not last forever. If you feel like your life is in immediate danger, please call 911 right away. If you are in Georgia, you can call the Georgia Crisis Access Line 1-800-715-4225. If there is a person in your life that you love and trust, reach out to them and let them know you are having these thoughts. If possible, avoid being alone. You can also call or text the Suicide and Crisis Line at 988. Reach out and let someone support you in this time of need. It does not have to be the end. 

If someone you know is experiencing suicidal ideation or is talking about ending their life, the same resources listed above are available. If they have shared their thoughts and pain with you, acknowledge the courage it took for them to voice their need. Remind them how important they are and how much you care for them. If they are unwilling to call the resources listed above, you can take the step and call for them. Trained crisis counselors can guide you in supporting your friend. If they are in immediate danger, call 911 right away. 

References

  1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and National Center for PTSD
    https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/type/sexual_assault_female.asp

     2. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and National Center for PTSD https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/cooccurring/suicide_ptsd.asp

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Toxic Wellness? How Mosaic Georgia’s Wellness Program Breaks Stereotypes

Ashia Headshot

By Ashia Gallo
Wholeness Collective Coordinator at Mosaic Georgia

WELLNESS falls among the countless misused (and misunderstood) ‘buzz words’ in our culture slowly losing their meaning. In a climate of extremes where you’re either a ‘narcissist’ or a ‘spiritual guru’, it became essential for Mosaic Georgia to do wellness thoughtfully when its Wholeness Collective programming launched in 2022.

The Wholeness Collective offers survivors of sexual assault, child abuse, and other traumas a space to explore healing modalities like art therapy, yoga, hiking, dance, and more through a rotation of free wellness activities. These events are complementary, not a replacement to the mental health services of our incredible Mosaic Georgia counseling team. The vision has always been to offer wellness programs as an additional support in the recovery toolkit of survivors on their journey back to wholeness.

The wellness industry, which boasts a multi-billion-dollar profit worldwide, often targets those seeking these types of psychological and spiritual supports. With its allure of holistic health, personal growth, and enlightenment, the wellness industry has captivated the masses seeking healing and a better quality of life. However, beneath the glossy exterior lies a disturbing reality – the toxic underbelly of the wellness industry.

What exactly is toxic wellness? And how does Mosaic Georgia work to combat these stereotypes?

Unrealistic Ideals and Body Image

The wellness industry at large often peddles an unattainable standard of beauty and health. I learned to practice yoga for the first time from a cis-gendered, able-bodied, thin white woman on YouTube (no shade, Yoga with Adriene is awesome!) in my early 20s to cope with the stresses of newly adulting. While Adriene is incredibly respectful and relatable on many levels, she also represents the typical, palatable aesthetic that we see repackaged over and over in many yoga, meditation, and fitness videos that rule the wellness media sphere – though they derive from historical, indigenous practices.

Progress has been made across industries to increase visibility and recognize contributions of diverse cultural and ethnic identities, but there’s still a way to go. It’s also not the existence of these stereotypically picture-perfect influencers and business-savvy “healthy lifestyle” gurus that are the problem – their dominance as the face of wellness culture is where the issue lies.

The Wholeness Collective aims to push back against these industry norms by offering a variety of activities, modalities, and facilitators who match the diversity of the survivors we serve. The originators of so many of the marketed wellness solutions we offer were not majorly white, young, nor skinny. So, most of our facilitators and teachers aren’t either!

Harmful Practices and Pseudoscience

Within the wellness industry, pseudoscience frequently masquerades as genuine health advice. From dangerous dietary trends to unproven alternative therapies, individuals are bombarded with conflicting information that can be not only ineffective but potentially harmful. Detox diets, for instance, promise to cleanse the body of toxins but lack scientific backing. “Spiritual teachers” advise clinically traumatized people on the types of books or retreat packages they should purchase to alleviate their emotional pain. The industry’s tendency to vilify conventional medicine can lead individuals to neglect necessary medical interventions in favor of untested remedies.

The Wholeness Collective believes that science is real and that our survivors’ safety comes before our goals or a desired number of participants. Our carefully chosen facilitators are trained in their crafts to teach in a trauma-sensitive manner, work with children, make sure all bodies are safe during movement activities, etc. All folks who need clinical-level intervention are referred to trauma therapists and/or other clinical professionals most appropriate for their needs. We are a support, not a substitution.

Promotion of Anxiety and Perfectionism

Rather than alleviating stress, the wellness industry can exacerbate anxiety through its emphasis on personal responsibility for one’s well-being. The constant pursuit of an idealized state of health and happiness can lead to a sense of failure and inadequacy when these goals are not met. The relentless pressure to optimize every aspect of life by yourself can result in burnout, anxiety disorders, and a perpetual cycle of dissatisfaction. Unproductive thoughts can include:

“Why am I not further along on my healing journey?

“If I’m not at peace yet, I must not be trying hard enough.”

“Why am I not able to keep motivated with exercise? I’ll never lose the weight…” 

“I cannot make it to these groups being offered. I’m alone and just not strong enough.”

The “wholeness” in Wholeness Collective represents our values of community support and nonconditional acceptance. We do everything within our power to eliminate barriers that many survivors face when trying to get help: hybrid group activities, transport assistance, childcare support, multiple forms of communication about events, etc. Though we do offer some affinity spaces (support groups for female sexual assault survivors only, youth-focused activities, etc.), inclusion is always our goal. You are accepted regardless of age, sex, sexual orientation, disability, race, or any other historically rejected identity. We are on this journey together.

Conclusion

While the pursuit of wellness is a noble goal, the emergence of toxic wellness threatens the very essence of well-being. At Mosaic Geogia, we seek to offer balance, authenticity, expertise, and self-compassion to survivors of trauma working to gain their sense of agency again. By raising awareness, promoting empowerment vs perfection, and prioritizing mental and physical health, the Wholeness Collective program works to mitigate the detrimental effects of toxic wellness and pave the way for a more genuine and holistic approach to well-being and trauma recovery.

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Kevin McNeil: Daring Men to Ditch the Mask

By Ashia Gallo
Wholeness Collective Coordinator at Mosaic Georgia

An interview with Child Advocate Kevin McNeil and Wholeness Collective Coordinator Ashia Gallo, MPA

Kevin McNeil wears many hats: former SVU detective, husband, author, businessowner, and motivational speaker and advocate against child abuse. Kevin is very open about his experiences of sexual abuse as a young man. His organization, The Twelve Project, aims to bridge lack of awareness around abuse with people’s desire to learn and to protect their children.

June is Men’s Health Month, which aims to encourage men to take charge of their overall health by implementing healthy living decisions. Kevin’s journey to healing his trauma and building a healthier view of his own masculinity made him the perfect Tesserae feature as Mosaic Georgia recognizes the unique struggles, coping mechanisms, and deadly silence of male trauma survivors.

What are some approaches you take to caring for your mental, physical, and spiritual health?

Truthfulness plays an important role for me. I avoid toxic positivity as a coping mechanism as opposed to facing how I feel. Acknowledging and honoring feelings first helps me to stay mentally healthy. Meditation, exercise, and isolation (with limits!) works well.

I encourage others to choose what works for them effectively. Everything doesn’t fit everybody. But expressing versus sitting with feelings is important. Feelings are a guide to wisdom.

Men should learn to be truthful with feelings and why they’re expressing them. It shouldn’t be to make others act differently – but to be real, and genuine. So much of our unhappiness comes from pretending. There’s a reason the Bible says, “the truth shall set you free”. Teach people to fall in love with your authenticity.

You speak openly about the “dark years” when you attempted to self-medicate and overwork to avoid addressing your own childhood abuse – how would you describe your mental health during that season?

I wasn’t even conscious of my actions or addictions. I used to cope with avoidance, loneliness, and inadequacy by grabbing something to drown it. Alcohol, sex, long work hours, etc. I wasn’t in a state of clarity. Only thing I felt was the dark side saying I wasn’t good enough. Then, more shame from using those unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Looking back, that’s how you learn! My dark side aided and guided me. If you avoid your pain, you’ll never meet your power. Don’t judge your dark places, embrace them. The trauma is still there sometimes. And the culture says men cannot be vulnerable about that.

When we are honest among one another, it becomes sacred space. I compared myself to Clark Kent, until I learned to kill the superhero.

What was the final straw that made you confront your childhood trauma?

My breaking point was watching a young boy tell his abuse story while I was a detective investigating his case. I realized I needed help. Children hold so much wisdom. We have it backwards – men can learn from boys.

According to the CDC, men make up 50% of the US population, but nearly 80% of deaths by suicide. We have heartbreaking pop culture examples, such as the death of beloved Stephen “tWitch” Boss from the Ellen Show late last year. What are your reactions to this?

Many men are very secretive, especially high profile men. Many times they don’t have people around them to say “you need help”. Suicide is an act of silence. We must be so honest it disrupts what it means to be a man in our society.

We work to create our lives to be seen a certain way. Then when we make it, and reality doesn’t match up, depression follows. We end up needing constant distractions, and cannot be free.

I was in football, the military, and became a detective to hide behind the uniforms and shields. We hide behind the titles and groups of men. The public image we’re expected to live up to is very frustrating. Life becomes a task. Suicide is the act, but the person has been killing themselves slowly by withdrawing, stopping doing what they love, etc.

Men don’t express how they feel. Even on the way out, many times they don’t express why they want to leave. They just know they can’t take all the emotions anymore. We express distress in subtle ways. And the culture isn’t trained to listen to men’s pain, so we miss opportunities to help them.

“Children don’t get traumatized because they get hurt. They get traumatized because they are alone with the hurt.” -Dr. Gabor Maté, Canadian physician and author.

Thoughts on men in therapy?

We treat therapy like an “option”. If we had more therapy offices than churches, we would see more positive change. It should be a mandatory requirement. Then again, I do understand that people who are forced to go won’t want to…

“Mental health” is becoming trendy and consumeristic. [As a society] we market things we don’t want to deal with. Even Men’s Health Awareness Month cannot compartmentalize these issues. Therapy allows us to go beyond awareness and into action.

We are also often too quick to treat what we should be listening to. We look for superficial answers and try to ‘fix’ things as opposed to ‘listening’. You can’t make things go away that you don’t fully understand. Therapy is an opportunity to confront the person you are and shape that.

What is the #1 message you’d like young men especially to know about dealing with emotions and traumatic experiences in their lives?

You are human before you are male. Maleness is a prescribed title. If they are not careful, they’ll live their lives out being something that they don’t have the capacity to upkeep. But being human is natural. Meaning is the currency in which you purchase your happiness.

To hear more about Kevin’s story, check out his Caring and Courageous interview on Mosaic Georgia’s Facebook page.

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SANE Spotlight: Remember the SANEs during National Nurses Week

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

Mosaic Georgia SANEs in action. From left to right: Melissa Drinkard, Kathy Carter, Teresa Bullard

As National Nurses Week is upon us, we call attention to a small but mighty forensic nursing specialty: Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs). SANEs are specially trained registered nurses who provide compassionate care to survivors of sexual violence including assault, abuse, and sex trafficking.

The SANE practice is at the intersection of health care and criminal investigation. Their patients are both people and evidence. They collect evidence, document injuries, and provide treatment and support to survivors in a way that is trauma-informed and respectful. When cases proceed to court, SANEs are often called to testify in proceedings.

Kathy Carter, director of Forensic Medical Services, is often asked why she chose to practice as a nurse in such a difficult specialty. Kathy shares her Why: “While I cannot end sexualized violence, I can offer trauma informed care to patients after an assault or on-going abuse which promotes a feeling of safety, empowerment and healing. This level of care can make a HUGE difference in the trajectory of the patient’s journey.”

Victims of sex crimes are more likely to report the assaults and participate in investigations after receiving trauma-informed care from SANE and advocates. Like all people who seek medical care, the experience is more effective when the care providers lead with listening and believing.

Mosaic Georgia was the first Sexual Assault Center in Georgia to develop the community-based SANE/medical forensic program. In 1993 (then Gwinnett Rape Crisis), we treated our first patient/victim of rape in our center. Over the last 30 years, our SANEs have provided more than 6,000 medical forensic exams to people ranging in age from 3 months to 90 years. The medical care is enhanced with victim and family advocacy, mental health services, and other supports in one location.

To respond to calls 24/7, the community relies on committed SANEs who go on-call after hours and weekends and respond to our center when needed. These are special people. If you meet a SANE, let them know you appreciate their dedication.

Mosaic Georgia’s SANE Success Institute professional education, peer review, and an online community for SANE practitioners. It is a lively forum of support and connection for SANEs across Georgia and nearby states. For more information, https://www.mosaicgeorgia.org/education-training/

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