• DoubleSilence
    Power (less/ful) Birth: A Sexual Assault Survivor’s Experience Power (less/ful) Birth: A Sexual Assault Survivor’s Experience

    Power (less/ful) Birth: A Sexual Assault Survivor’s Experience


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Power (less/ful) Birth: A Sexual Assault Survivor’s Experience

In the wake of the birth of my second child, I feel compelled to write about my experience in real-time, which is something I don’t typically do.  Birth is raw and messy, and my feelings about it are still raw and messy, made more so by the hormones and sleep deprivation that accompany new mama life. During this pregnancy, I read as much as I could about the intersection of sexual trauma and birth trauma, and didn’t find much available. This is why I’m sharing my story now before hindsight softens its edges. The birth of my first child was extremely traumatic. You can read the whole story here, but basically, he was born by a terrifying emergency c-section. I had dozed off to sleep during early labor, and was awakened by a team of doctors and nurses because his heart rate had dropped. In the span of 15 minutes, he was born, healthy, but I was completely traumatized. In that short window of time, several strangers had put their hands on me and in me, my body had been sliced open, and I was left alone in a recovery room without my husband or baby. The experience left me traumatized for months, and prevented me from really enjoying and being present with my son as a newborn. I felt emotionally shattered, and guilty for not taking comfort in the fact that “the baby came out all right.” When I found out I was pregnant again, I desperately wanted to have a more positive delivery. I’m a survivor of sexual abuse, and I’ve done a lot of work to process my experiences, my life, and my healing. I’m generally aware of the kinds of things […]

  • DoubleSilence
    The Double Silence Series The Double Silence Series

    The Double Silence Series

The Double Silence Series

When I gave birth to my son, I had no idea that birth could be traumatic. And as a survivor of sexual violence – even one who had spent 15 years healing – I went into pregnancy and birth without the knowledge and awareness I needed to make empowered decisions to guard against that trauma. As a result, my birth experience left me feeling powerless, vulnerable, and re-traumatized, which impacted the first few months of my son’s life. As I started talking about and sharing my personal experience and seeking out information about the intersection between birth trauma and sexual trauma, I realized there was remarkably little information available. At the same time, I was surprised to find so many women eager to talk about the trauma of their own birth experience, regardless of whether or not they were survivors. The Enliven Project seeks to inspire dialogue in new places about the double silence around birth trauma and sexual trauma. Our hope is that by shedding light on these issues, we can ensure that health care providers, midwives, birth educators, doulas, partners, moms, and expectant moms have a deeper awareness and sensitivity to how a history of sexual violence may impact birth experiences. All survivors should feel supported, present, and empowered in their birth experiences, regardless of what those experiences look like. For some, birth may be a healing experience. For others, birth may raise past feelings related to sexual abuse or assault. In any case, birth is an opportunity for healing and resilience if the appropriate systems and supports are in place. Through this project, we will: Increase awareness that childbirth may raise feelings related to past sexual violence, many times even for survivors […]

Walking the walk? A critical guide to analyzing your campus’ commitment to sexual assault prevention

In the wake of negative media coverage for colleges and universities being sued under Title IX, a number of institutions of higher education are announcing new hires in sexual assault prevention. These hires are receiving media attention, and there is no doubt that it’s a positive step forward for campuses.   However, one hire, one press release, and one positive news story is a baby step in a much longer journey to transform campus culture so that sexual assault can be prevented, victims feel safe to come forward, and survivors are empowered to seek both healing and justice.   As you read stories and hear news about colleges and universities hiring people into positions related to sexual violence prevention, take a moment to analyze whether this hire reflects an authentic and genuine commitment to change. Having worked in higher education for many years, I learned that real change requires the participation of faculty, administrators, alumni donors, and students, and often needs to be supported by outside experts or agitators. Because of the tenure system, faculty members have a lot of independence and autonomy – they can be influenced, cajoled, and pressured, but rarely ordered.  Students turn over every four years, which, in the life of a university that has been around for a century, is not a long time. Administrators, including the President, can find themselves stuck in the middle, with multiple constituents they are working to serve. I’ve also learned that publicity and media attention can be powerful motivators for all of these groups, if wielded skillfully.   Here are a few questions that you can ask your administrators that will provide more insight into the level of commitment your campus is making to […]

  • imagine
    Thoughts on Trauma: Boston Marathon, Aurora, veterans, and sexual violence Thoughts on Trauma: Boston Marathon, Aurora, veterans, and sexual violence

    Thoughts on Trauma: Boston Marathon, Aurora, veterans, and sexual violence

Thoughts on Trauma: Boston Marathon, Aurora, veterans, and sexual violence

Trauma has been in the news lately. We just passed the 6-month anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting in Aurora, and ongoing coverage of returning veterans facing PTSD, so there has been extensive coverage about victims, survivors, and bystanders throughout the news. One story, on WBUR, featured six nurses who provided triage care to victims immediately after the bombing. After the bombing, they decided to get matching tattoos to memorialize the victims and honor their experiences. One of the nurses noted, “Being there together has been a great support. We’re able to talk with each other when something upsets us, something that even close family members can’t really understand,” Her statement rang so true to me as a survivor of sexual violence. Community and solidarity with other survivors is an important part of healing and recovery, yet sexual abuse and assault are designed to make victims feel alone.  But survivors of sexual violence need the same thing that veterans and other kinds of trauma victims need in order to heal: Grounding in the reality of the traumatic event that took place. No one doubts that the marathon bombing actually happened or that a battle took place. To be seen, heard, and believed. No one questions whether a veteran or a witness is telling the truth about what they saw and how it impacted them. We listen to stories about traumatic events to create a shared narrative that helps us heal. Spaces of acceptance, honor, and healing. Victims and survivors come together to share their experiences, understand their trauma more deeply, and support each other on pathways to healing. Through vigils, memorials, walks, and community gatherings, we create spaces […]

  • It's Time for a Movement: Women
    On Cancer and Sexual Violence: It’s Time for a Movement On Cancer and Sexual Violence: It’s Time for a Movement

    On Cancer and Sexual Violence: It’s Time for a Movement

On Cancer and Sexual Violence: It’s Time for a Movement

  It’s hard to imagine, but less than 50 years ago, having breast cancer was a shameful thing. In my grandmother’s generation, women suffered – and died – alone, keeping their cancer a secret from family members and friends. The treatment available was crude and painful, and diagnosis almost always came too late. Prevention was unimaginable, and the word cure was rarely uttered among professionals in the medical and research communities. Other cancers that impacted men were equally taboo. There was virtually no discussion about prostate or testicular cancer, two cancers that take the lives of too many men, both young and old. Today, we can’t imagine a world without the pink ribbon, the yellow Livestrong bracelet, or hundreds of cancer walks, rides, and runs each year in small towns and big cities across the country. Private foundations, individuals, companies and the U.S. government invest billions of dollars in awareness, prevention, detection, treatment, and the possibility of a cure. Tens of millions of Americans rally for cancer patients and survivors, creating a powerful and hopeful circle of support, courage, and resilience. It’s exciting to think about how this kind of change and movement is possible.  It doesn’t take long to build momentum, awareness, and real investment that can transform a stigmatized, hopeless social issue into a powerful and hopeful movement. It’s time to bring this energy and focus to the movement to end sexual violence.   Sexual violence is as common, if not more common, as many types of cancer. One out of four women and one out of six men will be impacted by sexual violence in their lifetimes. Yet the movement is still the cancer movement of my grandmother’s generation. Survivors suffer – […]

  • RapeApologist
    5 Things to Consider Before Calling Someone a Rape Apologist 5 Things to Consider Before Calling Someone a Rape Apologist

    5 Things to Consider Before Calling Someone a Rape Apologist

5 Things to Consider Before Calling Someone a Rape Apologist

If you have entered into conversation and dialogue about the issue of sexual violence, you may have heard the term “rape apologist.” While this term hasn’t yet made it into Webster’s Dictionary, an apologist is someone who “makes a defense in speech or writing of a belief or idea.” A rape apologist is term used by some to describe an individual who defends a rape myth, like a victim is to blame for a sexual assault. Lots of people say and do things that reflect ignorance or misunderstanding about sexual violence. Most people don’t apologize on behalf of rapists. And most people don’t think that rape is actually okay. That’s why the term rape apologist really gets under my skin.  First, it’s name calling. Second, it infers a sense of conspiracy on behalf of some unknown tribe of apologists who are seeking to undermine the very concept of rape and sexual violence. Third, it turns a behavior or attitude into a permanent character trait. And finally, it’s a term of extremism that shuts down conversation rather than opening it up. Sometimes it’s easier to write people off completely than to consider the role you might play or not play in shaping their opinions and perspectives on the world.  But it’s really not that hard to avoid name-calling, and it’s really not that hard to start to engage someone in real dialogue – even about something as sensitive as sexual violence. Here are a few things to consider: What did the person actually say or do? Do you even know?  Many times, you might hear about an “offensive” comment second or third-hand. Go directly to the source. Find out what the person actually said or did, […]

What helping a blind man taught me to see

This week, I tried to help a blind man on the subway.  I say tried because whatever I did was totally not helpful at all, despite my best intentions. I was waiting to get on a busy rush hour train as I saw a man with a white cane exiting from the subway car. He was asking – to no one in particular – how to get to the Red Line. Lots of people were staring, but no one was responding so I said, “It’s to your right.” Of course, as I said this, he turned towards me so the Red Line wasn’t actually to his right anymore. It was behind him. Yes, but WHICH WAY? He said, sounding rather annoyed. Um, turn around 180 degrees but you have to go down a flight of stairs. He sighed, exasperated, turned to his right and proceeded to walk into a wall while I just stood there. FAIL. Luckily, a man more capable of helping than me approached him, gave him an elbow, and walked him down the stairs to get to the appropriate train. I stood there feeling helpless, ashamed, and kind of like a big idiot. How did I not know how to help a blind person? What’s wrong with me? It seemed like there were a number of ways one could react, none of which quite felt right to me: Be mad at all blind people and write them off, since this guy seemed annoyed at me when I tried to help. Conclude that blind people are basically un-helpable, and never offer to help again. Be scared of being unhelpful in the future and ignore the fact that blind people exist. Feel so ashamed […]

  • Reach for Change
    Anger, enemies, and injustice: What we can learn from Trayvon Martin and Edmonton’s “Don’t be the Girl/Guy” campaign Anger, enemies, and injustice: What we can learn from Trayvon Martin and Edmonton’s “Don’t be the Girl/Guy” campaign

    Anger, enemies, and injustice: What we can learn from Trayvon Martin and Edmonton’s “Don’t be the Girl/Guy” campaign

Anger, enemies, and injustice: What we can learn from Trayvon Martin and Edmonton’s “Don’t be the Girl/Guy” campaign

When an injustice occurs, it’s human to be angry.  Being angry is easy, and it feels good and cathartic.  But in order to actually address systemic injustices, we need to be mindful of the ways in which we allow that anger to shape our response. Today, on a summer Monday morning, there are two recent media stories  on my mind that evoke systemic injustices:  the Trayvon Martin case and the “Don’t be that girl” campaign in Edmonton, Alberta. The Trayvon Martin case has received considerable coverage, so I’ll spend a little bit of time on the story that has emerged in Edmonton. Both evoke the same questions about identifying the right enemy, whether “enemy” is even the right framework, and the ways in which we effectively or ineffectively use anger to create the change we wish to see in the world. Some time ago, Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton (SAVE) created a poster series, “Don’t be that guy,” that called out non-consensual sexual behaviors that constitute sexual assault. For example, one featured a photo of two men sitting on a bed and says, “It’s not sex if he changes his mind.” This series was provocative in that its audience was those who were committing crimes, not those who were victims of them. In response, Men’s Rights Edmonton created a poster series, “Don’t be that girl,” that calls out the fact that false accusation of rape is against the law. For example, one features a photo of a woman with a group of men and says, “Just because you regret a one night stand, doesn’t mean it wasn’t consensual.” MRE positioned these posters as a counter to the SAVE posters, and framed the campaign as an […]

  • TheTruthAboutMenandSexualViolence
    Convo-graphic: The Truth About Men and Sexual Violence Convo-graphic: The Truth About Men and Sexual Violence

    Convo-graphic: The Truth About Men and Sexual Violence

Convo-graphic: The Truth About Men and Sexual Violence

As someone who was sexually abused by both men and women and who has very close relationships with male survivors of sexual violence, I am both fascinated and troubled by the themes about gender and sexual violence in traditional media, blogs, and general conversation. All too often, sexual violence is viewed as something that takes place between men and women not something that impacts men and women alike. First and foremost, we’re stuck on the term rape, which is still a very gendered term. Until last year, thefederal definition of rape only covered the forcible penetration of a man’s penis in a woman’s vagina. So when we talk about rape – the Steubenville rape, the gang rape in India, or even the rape problem in general – it evokes male perpetrators and female victims.  Rape leaves out other forms of sexual violence that are equally troubling, like child sexual abuse, fondling, or being forced to engage in sexual behavior against one’s will. The overuse of the word rape and the gendered associations that go along with it leads us to conclude one of two things: Rape is a women’s issue because women get raped. This comes in many forms: Don’t get drunk. Don’t sleep around. Take Back the Night. Cover your drink.  Women are under attack, so learn how to fight back. Travel in packs. Don’t be alone at night. Wear rape prevention underwear. Rape is a men’s issue because men are the rapists. We need to stop raising our sons to be rapists. Men get away with rape. Men should stop raping women. Men rape women because they are men. There was even a recent meme that turned rape prevention tips on its head, but it was still all about men raping women. Some of these perspectives are […]

7 Pitfalls to Avoid When Dating a Sexual Assault Survivor

As a survivor of sexual violence, I always found it challenging to “come out” to a potential love interest about my history.  It never seemed to come up naturally in conversation on a date. There is no right or wrong approach to telling a date that you are a survivor of sexual violence. It’s a completely personal decision, and you have to figure out what works for you. In college, one of my big motivations for sharing my story publicly at Take Back the Night was to share it with the entire universe of potential love interests all at once, so I didn’t have to tell it again and again every time I met someone new. As the years went on, I experimented with many different tactics. Sometimes, I told people on the first date. Sometimes I told them BEFORE the first date. Sometimes I told them over coffee. Sometimes I told them after a second round of drinks. Sometimes, the relationship fizzled out before I had a chance to share my story at all. On the one hand, I never felt like I wanted to hide my history of sexual violence from dates, just like I wouldn’t hide the death of a parent or a bad car accident. Being a survivor—and the resilience that goes along with it—is such a deep part of who I am. I knew I needed a partner with an appropriate level of spiritual depth, emotional intelligence, and empathy to join me on my lifelong journey of being a survivor. On the other hand, it was a personal story and one that I didn’t necessarily want to share in detail with someone unless I saw a future together. Ultimately, I […]