Sexual Violence

Heartspoken: You Already Survived

Thank you to So Lucky To Be Me Tees for providing the gear for this shoot - and a powerful message of hope and strength for women!    

Like Peanut Butter: Finding My Path

“You understand yourself so well, why are you here?” It was the beginning of my freshman year of college when the therapist I had been seeing for a couple of months asked me this question. I was silent for a moment and finally responded, “Because I can’t stop hurting myself.” It was true. Since I arrived on campus, I was on a downward spiral of starving, purging, over-exercising, drinking, and cutting.  The cycle started Monday morning when I woke up promising to be good for the week by sticking to my “diet” of 750 calories per day and working out at least once a day if not twice.  I’d usually make it until Wednesday, maybe Thursday, when I’d fall off the wagon with a bowl of pasta or slice of pizza at a study night.  Angry at myself, the slip would turn into a night of drinking, resulting in more feelings of self-hatred, shame, and despair.  And then I’d wake up and start the cycle all over again.  I was drinking 12 cups of coffee a day to keep myself going, and had a full class load and busy college schedule. The therapist was right though. I did know exactly what I was doing and why I was doing it - I knew that controlling my body and what went into it was about being sexually assaulted.  I knew that cutting myself was a distorted way of feeling something real.  But talking about it didn’t seem to help.  It was like I could hear myself telling her these things and hear them at the same time. I was scared but I didn’t know what to do.  I knew this woman couldn’t help me.   Luckily, [...]

The First Time I Told Anyone

I’ve referenced telling my story for BARCC in previous posts but haven’t actually told it here. This is the 5-minute version I tell at speaking engagements. Obviously, condensing a 25-year journey into 5 minutes is no easy challenge, but here it is: When I was eleven, my parents, brother, and I went to visit my grandparents in Oregon. I loved visiting my grandparents. My grandmother was full of energy and creativity - we would wake up early and go pick blackberries by the ocean, talking about life and sharing stories. My grandfather was somewhat of a mystery to me, but I had great affection for him, especially because he was sick with Parkinson’s disease. On that trip however, in the summer of 1988, my grandparents molested me. My grandfather felt my breasts while my parents and brother were out for a walk. And my grandmother took a bath with me where she touched me Inappropriately. Now, this wasn’t the first time I was sexually assaulted nor would it  be the last time, but it was the first time I told anyone. That night, I told my mom what had happened and I remember that all the color drained from her face. I thought she was mad at me, and I felt scared about what was going to happen. She left the room, and I heard lots of talking and whispering. The next day, my dad sat my grandfather down for a talk. I heard muffled, intense voices. And then we stayed the rest of our visit. When we went home, everything went back to normal. Except I didn’t feel normal at all. Over the course of the next six years, I just felt worse and worse. I tried to cope with my feelings the best way I could, but I was just a kid. [...]

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    Heartspoken Heartspoken


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Rape makes you feel incredibly alone.  When your body is attacked, the only place to retreat is deep inside yourself.  The irony is that by protecting yourself in this way - protecting your body from any more pain or violence - you cut yourself off from love, which is the whole of the journey back.

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    Think rape sucks?  Here are 5 things you can do about it. Think rape sucks?  Here are 5 things you can do about it.

    Think rape sucks? Here are 5 things you can do about it.

Think rape sucks? Here are 5 things you can do about it.

Hearing a story about sexual assault can make you feel really powerless. Maybe you read my story here or heard a story at a Take Back the Night, and you felt moved, a little astounded to hear the words spoken out loud, supportive but a little lost.   Sexual assault is a crime of power and an assault on humanity that most people cannot bear witness to on a daily basis. So we push it to the back of our minds in lots of different ways, finding ways to separate ourselves from victims, thinking that there must be something different about them. And we go about with our daily lives.   The truth is that we all encounter sexual assault - or at least its aftermath - on a daily basis. If you talked to 4 women or 6 men today, chances are that one of them has experienced sexual assault. If you are not actively participating in ending sexual violence, you are a complicit bystander. It’s that simple. The shame around sexual violence breeds on silence.   I’m not suggesting that people don’t care. I’m suggesting that it’s hard to care and not know what to do. That’s why I made a list of five things you can do TODAY to turn the tide against rape.   1. Educate yourself. Learn the facts about sexual violence. Did you know that most assaults are committed by someone you know? Did you know that a sizable majority of assaults take place before the age of 18? Only 46% of assaults are reported to the police, and of those, less than 10% are prosecuted and lead to a felony conviction? Did you know that there is a [...]

Speaking out, speaking up

On Monday, I spoke at UMass Boston’s Take Back the Night as a part of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center’s survivor speaker bureau. The speakers bureau has been a great way to tell my story for the purpose of breaking silence, dispelling myths, and educating the community about the realities of sexual assault.   BARCC’s training for this program is excellent.  For me, I was comfortable talking about my experiences but the training provided some additional tips and approaches that open the door for questions and discussion - an important part of the education process.   Here’s the gist of it: I tell my story in 5 minutes.  No easy challenge for a story that spans more than 20 years and involves more than one type of sexual assault. But shortening it makes it easier to tell and leaves lots of time for questions and answers. I leave the audience some hooks so they feel invited to ask questions. For example, here are some of my hooks:      This was not the first or last time I was sexually assaulted, but it was the first time I told anyone.      There were some ways I coped that were unhealthy and hurtful - ask me to tell you more about them when I’m done      My therapist worked in many creative ways - not just talk therapy - remind me to tell you more about that. I make it clear that it’s MY story, and don’t make it about statistics, theories of violence, or anything other than just my story.  This frees me up to be the expert on my experience, and the BARCC volunteer who accompanies me can handle the rest.     By telling my story in this way, it breaks the ice for [...]

By |May 1st, 2012|Sexual Violence|Comments Off

If Hope Had a Color, What Would it Be?

One of the most powerful tools we can provide for survivors of sexual assault and abuse is hope.  When facing the pain and suffering that accompanies sexual violence, hope can seem like a distant joke.  As friends and family of survivors, as members of a community that does not tolerate sexual violence, and as survivors who have been fortunate enough to heal, we can collectively hold hope for others.   As we prepare to Walk for Change this morning, I am sending out a rainbow of hope to my sisters and brothers who are still surrounded by darkness:   1.  Just get through today.  Tomorrow will bring something new. 2. Feelings come in waves.  Ride this one out, and the next one might not be so rough. 3. You will be understood.  Keep talking until someone listens. 4. There are people cheering for you and you don’t even know it.  I’m one of them! 5. If you are breathing, you already know how to survive.

By |April 21st, 2012|Sexual Violence|Comments Off

Three reasons you should know (and care about) John Surma

As a survivor of sexual assault and abuse, I watched the media coverage of the allegations against Sandusky and administrators at Penn State unfold with fascination and disgust.  There were lots of stories published about lots of different people, and through it all, one person stood out to me:  John Surma.  While I am sure John Surma did not plan to get written into this terrible chapter in history, he handled it like a true leader and a hero.  The Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Penn State, John Surma, was a a voice of reason and responsibility and standing up for what was right and just.   Specifically, there were three things that stood out about his approach:   He was not a bystander.  So many people literally and figuratively walked by a child being raped by an adult.  John did not.  Passive bystanders compound the trauma endured by victims of sexual assault – it’s a secondary rape, and one that makes it that much harder to heal. He was accountable for his actions and the actions of people who reported to him, even when it was hard and public opinion did not support him.  He fired the beloved Joe Paterno, and insisted that senior administrators with knowledge - or that should have had knowledge - of the abuse resign.  And once this was completed, he offered his own resignation so that the community, the survivors, and Penn State could move on.  That takes some major courage. He didn’t act like it was OK.  He didn’t minimize what happened.  He didn’t feel sorrier for football players or coaches or university administrators than he did for the survivors themselves.  He approached the situation [...]

By |April 20th, 2012|Sexual Violence|Comments Off
  • Walking for Change in 2009
    Walking for Change Walking for Change

    Walking for Change

Walking for Change

I love the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center’s annual Walk for Change.  It’s an event for survivors of sexual violence, their family and friends, and advocates.  This year, I’m walking with my husband and 8-month old baby boy.  I want to teach my son how to be a compassionate friend to people who are hurting, and to be a fierce advocate on behalf of others.  I don’t want him to feel helpless in the face of trauma or tragedy.   I didn’t have a choice in what happened to me as a kid.  But I did have a choice in how I kept going afterwards.  So I put one foot in front of the other and just kept going.  At times, I didn’t know why I was walking or where I would end up, but I just kept on keeping on.  Here I am, over 30 years later, standing on my own two feet, ready to help guide others into healing.   It’s hard to know what to do when someone you love is impacted by sexual violence.  It’s a horrible thing to think about and try to understand.  But helping is actually not that complicated.  You can walk with survivors through to the other side.  You can speak up when it’s time to speak up.  You can stand up when it’s time to stand up.  And you can support organizations like the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center who advocate for survivors every single day.   You can walk or you can stay still.  It’s that simple.   Please support our little walking team, and learn more about the great work of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center!  

By |April 15th, 2012|Sexual Violence|Comments Off

Magic wands, the meaning of life, and safe distances

One of the things that provides my life with a lot of meaning is sharing my story with others, in hopes that a piece of my experience might help transform another person’s life.  Currently, I am a part of the Survivor’s Speakers Bureau at BARCC, which means that I went through a day-long training on telling my story of sexual trauma to different groups of people.  Thanks to this brilliant training, I can now summarize a 15-year story of sexual trauma and healing in 5-minutes in a way that allows time and space for lots of questions.   The questions are, by far, my favorite part.   Here are my top three:   The magic wand:  What is the one thing I could do or say that would make it all better? I get some version of this question almost every time I speak, and it’s adorable.  Oh, and I wish there were some secret sauce, a spell of some sorts, a magic touch that could dissolve the pain of sexual assault.  Unfortunately, there isn’t.  The only thing that you can do is to be present with your friend and witness his or her pain.  Breathe with them, cry with them, rage with them.  And hold the belief that there is a new day tomorrow, an end to the tunnel.   My therapist was trained in the Hakomi method, a therapeutic style that involves practicing loving kindness and mindfulness.  This was especially helpful to me in my healing, and it is this spirit that I work to maintain in the face of others’ emotional trauma or pain.  Emotions can only be felt in the moment.   They rise and fall like the tide, and they will always [...]