Do you know that you have full body autonomy? If you do, do you know that there are people, many many of us, that either don't know that or are unable to maintain it due to their process within post-traumatic stress disorder? Read on and we'll discuss some indications of body autonomy, as well as a couple of ways that you can support others in your orbit who aren't well able to practice body autonomy.
Body autonomy is a fundamental human right to control your body fully and completely without any external force or manipulation. Any type of trauma can alter an individual's concept and abilities as it relates to body autonomy, but it is especially damaged by childhood abuse, severe and sustained captivity, and particularly physically violent assaults, including any type of sexual abuse at any point in time. It's heavy stuff that makes for heavy parcels that we carry. As with all things human-experience related (read: everything at life), I highly recommend consultation with and finding a therapist that can be with your process *in whatever way you have access to, which is highly individual. In the meantime, I'm going to list a few situations that might not closely resemble the ones that seem obvious.
Body autonomy looks like:
Not faking orgasms I did not know until I was in my 30's that not every woman faked her orgasms. I mean, I understood that people didn't fake it all the time, but no clue that there were women out there who actually did not ever appear to enjoy a sexual interaction when they weren't, in fact, enjoying it. Don't be a me...be a them. You have the right to total honesty about your body's reaction to another person's touch.
Not smiling or making pleasantries If your smile doesn't spread across your beautiful face effortlessly, and if you don't have the energy to engage in small-talk, then you're an actual normal human being who isn't "on" 24/7 and everyone can fuck off, really. Forever.
Requiring your loved ones to ask for permission before touching you It is so, so ok to change. Just because your mom has always pinched your backside, or it's expected that you give a really long hug to that one cousin, in no way means that you don't have the right to communicate your desire to respect your body autonomy and require their permission prior to them touching you. Expect a conversation, of course. But "just because" is bullshit.
If you're a young person, expecting adults that interact with you to fully respect your body autonomy and to defend it if another person doesn't Andrew Johnson, the high school wrestler who had his hair cut. The child who had their hair cut by a teacher as she inaccurately sang the Star Spangled Banner. A gamillion other children who have experienced fucking atrocities at the hands of an adult while other adults looked on, looked away, looked anywhere but at the child...no more. If you are a young person, I know that it often feels like you don't have autonomy of anything, especially your body. It is true that there are instances that you are required to do things that are feel/are harmful or feel/are unneccessary. I'm sorry, our system is broke. What you do have is the right to expect to be treated with respect during those instances, and the right to expect someone to speak up if respect is breached. You also have my promise that I will do all that I can to ensure you of that respect if you are in my care or I am witness.
Expecting all healthcare workers to ask permission prior to touching you, as well as fully explaining any procedure that is invasive (goes beyond the simple touch of a hand) to your understanding and to only proceed with the upmost respect of your body So, I'm going to be frfr honest...if I, a 19 year veteran of healthcare, with 16 of those years spent in emergency medicine, can say this to you, don't you ever ever ever believe otherwise. I have worked in situations, with other healthcare workers, and have witnessed some of the most atrocious behavior from those workers, the very people who are "mandatory reporters" also are occasionally predatory, racist, sexist, mysoginistic at worst and apathetic at best. It is basic best practice for any and all healthcare workers to be champions of and defenders of body autonomy. Period.
The purpose of my sharing this isn't to put some imaginary responsibility on you or on any single person to "stand up for their rights" because let's be real: we've each got our own shit, our own traumas, our own histories that inform and mold our innate response to our boundaries being crossed. My dearest hope is that in sharing this with you, you will never again question whether you were being too sensitive, didn't understand what the nurses really needed to get done, didn't understand policy, were being too aggressive when you asked for your boundaries to be maintained, or any other bullshit lie that oppressive people and systems would have you believe. When you feel violated, and the people you feel violated by begin to shift the blame to you, that is called gaslighting and it is wrong. The only determining factor in if someone's body autonomy has been violated is if they say it has, it has, end of story, proceed accordingly.
Here are some tips on how to be a responsible defender of others' body autonomy
Go in with a calm wind, not a hurricane squall. Save the extra for a time when it will be better utilized
Speak to the victim, calm and kind, and ask them what's going on
Pay no attention nor offer any engagement with the perpetrator
Physically remove yourself and the victim from the presence of the perpetrator. Take a walk. If they pursue you, keep walking. If you're in a school, go to the administration offices. If you're in a mall, visit the welcome desk. If you're on the street, a coffee shop. I know it's scary, but I also know it's the right thing to do.
Ask the victim about their support system, who could they call, and stay with them until someone comes to be with them. If they insist on being left alone, respect that as well, but never leave someone waiting on a ride or for their friends to come be with them.
Lastly, forever and always safety first. Your safety, their safety, the safety of those around. But I will say this: if you are a white person, as I am, you have been brainwashed into bias of certain types of people and may have a knee-jerk reaction to call the police. I've done that, several times. Be aware of that bias, study that, dig into yourself and your surroundings and your beliefs on the matter before you're actually in that situation. That way there will be knowledge that will back your actions that is sound and that you have planned for.