All around the country right now Pole studios are providing a safe place to heal. With the current news once again illustrating how sexual assault is not a “big deal”, women are flocking to a place where they can recover from a trauma that they haven’t shared. The majority of women who have been assaulted are not as brave as Brock Turner’s victim. Most women don’t come forward because they feel responsible for what happened to them and don’t feel that there will be support (can you blame them, just read the Washington Post coverage which makes it seem like Brock is the victim by their word choices!) Instead these women cling to a steel dance pole and try to find their sense of worth. As an instructor, I’ve seen the signs of recovering sexual assault numerous times. What does this look like you wonder? Two of the most common are: a women afraid of her body; a woman hesitant to be “sexy” in any form because sexy means she asked for it. And at some point in her pole journey, a woman starts to trust herself again; she starts to take back what was taken. Pole gives her a chance to heal. Let me tell you a story:
She was 18 years old. She believed that Disney fairytales were real, men were kind and her prince would come. She had dated very little and was so excited when an older confident man was interested in her. The first two dates he was so charming. On the third date he planned a romantic trip on his boat and she was so excited to hold hands and watch the sunset together. Miles from shore she said no. But he didn’t listen. 
Back on land she told no one. She knew it was her fault, she went with him, she put herself in that situation and now she would deal with the consequences. She was raised Catholic and believed that you only had sex with your husband, so she dated him for a year. He was charming in public and verbally abusive in private. But she stayed because she was atoning for going on that boat. For a year he took away her sense of self. And no one knew.
In church one day the priest said something about forgiveness and she realized she needed to forgive herself. That god couldn’t have intended for her to be this scared all the time and she started working on a plan to leave him. Of course, it had to seem like his idea because she was terrified of what he’d do if she just left. So after a few months it happened, he dumped her, and she was relieved, she was free. The nightmare was done.
But it wasn’t. For seven years she walked around with this constant feeling that sensuality was wrong, that she was a bad person, and she was terrified of men. Then she walked into a pole studio. And she felt safe. She held on to the pole and tried to move her hips, she couldn’t do a hip roll because she was so scared that it would be too suggestive. But she felt safe, so she worked at it. The day she did a full fluid hip roll, she cried. Silent tears streamed down her face and her instructor looked at her alarmed and asked if she was ok? “Yes” she said with a smile because for the first time since the boat she trusted her body again.
To this day, 16 years later, she still doesn’t say the “r” word because it makes her have chest pain. To this day she is still afraid of being alone in a room with a man she doesn’t know and trust. To this day she still knows she was at fault for getting on that boat. To this day she is terrified to tell people because she is scared they will judge her or treat her like she is damaged. To this day she is worried that she is damaged. To this day she still can’t hear his name without panicking. Last night, this woman went to a pole studio at 1am because after reading headlines about Turner (she knows better than to read the full articles!) she was having nightmares. He wasn’t her attacker but seeing his face scares her. So she ran to the place she knew she would feel safe. And she proved to herself that she is strong. She proved to herself that though she is damaged, she isn’t broken. Pole got her through a rough night once again. And today, she feels a little more willing to accept her past.
I’ve seen versions of this countless times in my teaching. I would say about 1/4 of our women have confided sexual assault to an instructor or classmate because we provide a place where they finally feel safe. But this story is me. This story is why I love pole. It gave me back something I didn’t even know I had lost until it was returned. Maybe a few more bad-ass tricks and sexy hip rolls and I’ll be able to tell it in first person.