Whereas in physical traumas the fallen vase breaks into two or three pieces, it is sometimes not possible to count the number of pieces that the vase breaks into after sexual traumas. In this sense, Kintsugi can be a form of Japanese art that can narrate the experiences of sexual trauma and the healing process.
Sexual trauma occurs as a result of one form of violence that is perpetrated by the strong to the weak. A form of violence that involves sexuality can have far more complicated consequences than other forms of violence. When the Australian author Germaine Greer said in May 2018 “Rape is not a very big deal, a man can’t kill you with his penis” she caused a great commotion. What I get from what she said is that sexual assault is a form of using power. Physical assault which is not deadly can cause similar effects. However, in sexual assault, is not the case. The references to sexuality following sexual assault and the ways in which the person who has been attacked and the society perceive this form of assault can result in deeper wounds. I wish that the human beings cognitively process and experience sexual assault as if it is not a very big deal. If there were no concepts such as honor, if the person who is experienced the assault does not feel shame afterwards, if there was nothing dishonorable about it, then the way physical and sexual violence are perceived might have been similar. The wounds opened by sexual assault might have been less painful. If this were the case, then sexual assault would be a bad experience that is not very difficult to deal with. Unfortunately, this is not the case since it is not easy to change the perceptions pertaining to sexual assault overnight. Even for those who say that sexual assault should be seen as such, it is not easy to deal with these perceptions. We all have been born, bred and raised in a society where these perceptions are prevalent.
It is this aspect of sexual assaults and sexual traumas that differentiates them from other forms of traumas. Therefore, the wound sexual assault opens has many dimensions. Just like a porcelain vase falling into many pieces when dropped. Whereas in physical traumas the fallen vase breaks into two or three pieces, it is sometimes not possible to count the number of pieces that the vase breaks into after sexual traumas. In this sense, Kintsugi can be a form of Japanese art that can narrate the experiences of sexual trauma and the healing process.
Kintsugi is based on a 500 years old ancient Japanese philosophy which claims that nothing really breaks. Using the Kintsugi technique, the artists combine broken ceramics with gold and silver to create works that bear the original and unique traces of lived experiences. In this art form, the traces left behind by the broken pieces are not hidden, on the contrary, they are emphasized. Kintsugi art is based on the wabi-sabi understanding. Wabi-sabi does not see or regard any aspect of life as a flaw; on the contrary, according to this view, life is precious with all its components.
Disappointments can turn into happiness
Is it possible to apply Kintsugi for human wounds? In some physical injuries, the wounded tissues are repaired in such a way that the tissue becomes stronger than before. Some worn out bone tissues are replaced with metal prostheses and the bone tissue where the prosthesis has been implanted becomes stronger than before. Could there be a similar situation for emotional fractures?
Kintsugi has been used in the world of psychology-psychiatry to describe mental sufferings and the healing processes from these pains. However, sexual trauma is one of the psychological states that Kintsugi narrates the best since sexual traumas usually cause injuries that cannot be easily repaired. It causes deep wounds in multiple locations.
Sexual trauma causes many wounds since it is a human-induced trauma which is most of the time perpetrated by those who are familiar, kept hidden for a long time due to moral issues, and has not been talked about in the field of mental health for so many years. The wound should be repaired carefully, meticulously, and delicately. The process of repair, whether it is undertaken by the traumatized person and those who love that person or by a mental health professional, is a laborious and elaborate process that has to be handled with care.
Many things wound the person who experiences sexual trauma
To begin with, it is not possible to think of sexual trauma as an experience that is independent of power relations. It is a form of violence that is always perpetrated by the strong to the weak. Therefore, women, children, and animals are often subjected to this form of violence. It is almost always men who perpetrate this form of violence. Research have shown that sexual assault is for the most part perpetrated by a male member of the nuclear or extended family against a woman or a child member of the same family. Usually, it does not happen for once. It continues until the woman or the child can somehow manage to protect themselves.
Protecting oneself is not an easy thing because trauma by its nature causes disruptions in mental processes that can provide suitable and working solutions. Even if you are the smartest and the most skilled person in the world, it might not be possible for you to resolve and get out of it. Even if you have the strength and a method and you can suggest solutions to someone else who is in a similar situation, you may not be able to figure a way to undo your own traumas. And in some cases, there is no way out.
This means that the persons whom the woman or the child is expected to trust in the family and whom they are dependent in order to survive economically become the perpetrators of sexual assault. When this happens, physical and mental pain is accompanied by a deterioration in the basic norms a person has. The answers given to questions such as “Who is a reliable person? Could it possible for someone on the one hand to perpetrate sexual violence, and on the other, show love and be on one’s side during difficult times? How and between whom is sexuality to be experienced?” would get mixed. As the age of the person who experiences sexual trauma gets younger, the person gets confused on many issues such as relationships, survival, loved ones, people, sexuality…
After sexual assault, women tend to blame themselves. Why did this happen to me? Although she does not want to ask questions such as “What did I do to deserve this?” linger around in her mind. In fact, as a species, when something happens to us, we tend to ask the question “Why me?”. This is to a certain extent related to the view that some people see themselves as omnipotent and at the center of everything. When it comes to sexual trauma, other social perspectives are juxtaposed to this perspective. What is appropriate for a woman to wear, where should a woman be at what hours? Or even to what extent a woman can laugh or about what a woman can talk? All these questions have answers which are not given by the women themselves. Almost all ways of being a woman are determined by unwritten social rules. How a woman should act on the street, at home, in bed is determined. “If a woman does not obey these rules, she deserves to be harmed, and even exposed to sexual assault”. This is of course the male-dominated point of view, but women who experience sexual assault, even if they know the truth, cannot free themselves of the tendency to blame themselves since they have been living with this perspective in this society. Additionally, during sexual assault, perpetrators often say things such as “you wanted this too” or “you deserved this”. With these words, already existing thoughts and feelings of guilt increase even more. This guilt can be one of the reasons for deep wounds.
Additionally, a woman or a child who is exposed to sexual trauma finds it very difficult to seek help. There may not be any people to ask help from, and even if there are people who are available, it can still be very difficult to ask for support. Because sometimes it is not possible to think healthy and in no other form of trauma the one who is exposed to violence feels more embarrassed than the one who perpetrated the violent assault. Furthermore, since the perpetrator is someone whom the one exposed to violence knows, the person whom one can ask for help also knows the perpetrator. What will the person who is asked for help think? Will that person believe the one who is seeking help? If the perpetrator is a member of the nuclear family, will the family break up? If not, would anyone from the nuclear family try to kill that person? Many other questions such as these can come to mind. For the most part, people who are going through the trauma try to tell what happened to someone in the family indirectly. In such a case, either what is meant to be said is left incomprehensible, or much worse, it is not accepted. The person who tells what happened is not believed. However, this person who does not believe what is being told is usually coded as a trustworthy and helpful person by the survivor. The definition of who is a trustworthy person would change for the one whose words are not believed in or accepted. Being left alone without any support and not being understood by others constitute one of the major wounds experienced.
Another dimension of sexual assault is the risk of contracting an infectious disease or getting pregnant. Sexual trauma, which is already a very difficult experience to cope with, gets all the more complicated in cases of pregnancy or disease. Pregnancy and its consequences will cause one of the most difficult wounds whether or not the baby is born.
That said, a sexual trauma is not a deep wound. It is an event that can cause many wounds simultaneously just like the vase which shatters into pieces when it falls to the ground. For this reason, each piece must be cautiously repaired with care.
It can be said that it is not easy to heal all the spiritual pain and suffering of a person. Like the wounds in the body, many things such as the depth, size, and the shape of the spiritual wound determine how it could be repaired and healed. Sometimes wounds heal without leaving any traces and leaving one stronger than before, but sometimes, it is no longer possible to use the wounded area as before. This process, which is related to the wound, is also shaped with the type of repair. Just like in Kintsugi, every broken piece is joined with other pieces with special care and if there is no missing piece, almost all of the wound in our soul would heal. After sexual traumas, if all the parts that cause the wounds are recognized, accepted and put together, then a healthy and happy sexual life, which might even be more pleasant and pleasurable than before, is possible. As Kintsugi does with the pieces of a vase, life, experiences, sexuality, and every breath that is taken can become more precious.
Yıldırım, M. H., & Güvenç, R. (2017) Cinsel saldırı sonrası adli makamlara başvuran olguların ruhsal belirtileri ve travma özelliklerinin değerlendirilmesi. Anadolu Psikiyatri Dergisi, 18(4), 330-338.
World Health Organization (2003) Guidelines for Medico-Legal Care of Victims of Sexual Violence.
Translator: İpek Tabur
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan