Tag Archives: Survivor


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Breaking the silence

Op-ed: What It’s Like Coming Out As A Sexual Assault Survivor, via advocate.com:

Until I told my mother I’d been raped, I’d never been so aware of the silence on the other end of a receiver. I called her the morning after the attack, and I counted the seconds of nothingness. The quiet felt how I felt, and the numbering gave me a rhythm and a sense of time I was trying to find again, like children filling their seconds with Mississippis. One, nothing. Two, nothing. Three, nothing. Four, nothing. Calling your parents during an emergency is a reflex we learn as children — from PSAs and after-school specials — but enduring the silence served another purpose. When my mother was younger than I, she was sexually assaulted at a rock concert, which she has been frank about with me since I was a kid. This is what we are born into, she wanted to say. Welcome to the world, baby boy.

I didn’t realize at the time that this was now something we shared — to add to our passed-down noses and eerily similar elbows. When I look at my mother, I see parts of myself that I love and other parts it’s difficult to face, my life distorted like in a funhouse mirror. At this moment, I was glad I didn’t have to see how I looked upside down in her reflection. Of course, I thought I knew what was at the end of the line, but I was relieved to hear her start crying anyway — tears of love, sorrow, and frustration. The love part, I knew, was easy. She would love me the same way she always had, with a devotion that often verged on socially acceptable obsession, the everyday pathologies of parenthood. She was mad about me. That could never change.

It’s the frustration that’s the hard part, knowing that you aren’t going through this alone. I wouldn’t understand this until years later, when I started talking about my experiences with sexual assault. I came out as a survivor in an open letter to my assailant; even though we would likely never speak again, I wanted to hold him accountable for what happened that night. He was the phantom that lived inside me, and sometimes I wondered if I made the whole thing up, a drug dream shared one night with a stranger, and I needed to exorcise him. The words made finally him real, even if I was still figuring out what I wanted to say. In my initial letter, I called him “the guy who molested me,” because it felt easier to write and I wasn’t ready for the alternative yet. It took years to be ready.

Before I posted my letter to social media, I was so terrified of what the reaction would be that I closed my computer and finished a bottle of wine to dull my senses; I didn’t want to feel anymore. It was like a part of me was being ripped out, as if I had to come out all over again. I was asking my friends to love every part of me — even my pain, those quiet moments in the bathroom the next morning when I didn’t know if I could live with this. Did I want to exist as a person who had such a fact about them? For me, coming out was finally answering that question, and the “yes” was overwhelming. My Facebook page poured over with love, the affirmations as infinite as a midday sky I was seeing for what felt like the first time. I stepped onto the balcony of my Paris apartment, and the cars barreling through the boulevard below kept moving as if nothing was different. It was just another day.

Of course, it wasn’t different. That was both soothing and sobering.

According to statistics, one in three women and one in 33 men in the U.S. will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime. That number never felt real to me until I shared my rage with others who had been through the same experience. I was grateful for the support of friends and loved ones, but I also found an unexpected community of people who were also survivors of sexual assault. Some were people I already knew; others I met through comment boards or email. Total strangers I only knew online proved so willing to open up to me about their experiences that I realized how necessary a support system was as survivors, the people who share our ghosts and know what it means to be haunted. They help the past make more sense to us, and through their struggles and their triumphs, they also show us what a future can be. This is the winter light we walk toward.

I don’t know where my rapist is now, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t still think about him. He’s in every line and poem that I read, like the inverse of a great romance. On cold days, I used look him up on Facebook to see what he was doing, knowing that he probably doesn’t even remember who I am. To him, I’m just some college boy he got high with one night, when he was too stoned and drunk to hear me crying and to take no for an answer. I used to wonder what he thought my tears meant, if he thought that’s how people make love, and I used to hope he was haunted too. I hoped I followed him everywhere, watching him bag his milk or iron his shirts. However, it took me years to realize he didn’t even deserve my ghost; he deserves nothingness. When you’re assaulted, it feels like everything takes years.

I came out as a survivor two years ago. I’m still counting, but the space between doesn’t feel so empty anymore.


NICO LANG is a correspondent and blogger for WBEZ (Chicago’s NPR affiliate), the cocreator ofIn Our Words, and a graduate student in DePaul University’s media and cinema studies program. He writes about LGBTQ issues in Chicago and contributes to the Los Angeles Times, Thought Catalog, and The Huffington Post.

Dating a sexual assault survivor

7 Pitfalls to Avoid When Dating a Sexual Assault Survivor, via The Good Men Project:

Sarah Beaulieu struggled to find the right way to tell people she was a sexual assault survivor. Here’s how you can support someone who opens up about sexual assault.

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 learned to open the door to my history a little bit at a time, in ways that tracked with the developing intimacy with the relationship. For example, I referred to “darker times,” or mentioned that I saw a therapist regularly. When I started volunteering at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center as a medical advocate and then as a survivor speaker, I found ways to drop volunteer experiences into the conversation. I found ways to start the conversation, and decided how deep I wanted to go based on the response.

As a survivor and as a human, I can only be the expert in my own experience. But throughout my decade of dating, I picked up a few pointers when it comes to encountering a survivor of sexual violence on a date.


DO educate yourself. If you have never encountered a sexual violence survivor, please, please educate yourself before going on any more dates.  One out of four women and one out of six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Chances are, you will go on a date with a survivor, so do yourself and your future dates a favor and start learning about the issue now.  There are lots of places where you can go educate yourself at a place like RAINNNational Sexual Violence Resource Center, or 1in6, and here’s a link to a fact sheet from the Center for Disease Control.  That way, you won’t put yourself in the positions of asking your date to be your teacher and you are much less likely to say something that will later regret.

DON’T assume it’s baggage. I remember the look I would sometimes get from dates, “Oh god, this chick has baggage.”  Newsflash: All humans have baggage, it’s what makes us human. Being a survivor of sexual violence does not make you inherently damaged. Sure, it’s a trauma, but with proper, professional help, survivors can live and thrive in the world. And like I now tell my husband when we go away for the weekend: I may have a lot of baggage, but I’m strong enough to carry it myself.

Don’t try to fix it. Even if this person is at the beginning of the process, you do not need to save or fix the person. Sure, sometimes the person sharing might be doing so because they need some help, in which case you can refer them to a professional. You are probably not a therapist. And even if you are, you are on a date, not in a therapy session. If you want to fix something, try fixing the issue of sexual violence by talking about it more openly, volunteering with an anti-sexual violence organization, or attending an awareness or prevention workshop or event.

Do say something. This might be obvious. But stunned, open-mouthed silence was something I encountered far too often. You might be afraid of saying the wrong thing, but say something, anything. Try saying thank you. Whether it’s the first time or the 50th time sharing a story of sexual assault, it’s a hard thing to do. This person trusted you—yes you!—enough to tell you, so be grateful—and pumped—that you are that kind of person.

Here are some other suggestions if you find yourself at a loss for words:

  • Wow, thank you for telling me that. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for you.
  • I’m so grateful you trusted me enough to share that part of your life.
  • No one has ever shared that kind of story with me before, but I’m really glad you did. I know sexual violence impacts so many people.
  • I’m so sorry that happened to you. What kinds of things helped you along the way?

Don’t put your foot in your mouth. If you have taken the time to educate yourself, you probably won’t say any of these things: What were you wearing?  Why were you alone? Were you drunk? Was there a condom? Are you sure? That’s can’t be true. Who was it? How can you still speak to your family? Why didn’t you report it to the police? That must make sex really hard for you. 

Do call to follow up. If you decide you don’t like the person enough to continue dating them, call them. Go the extra step to let them know that you think they are brave/courageous/insert true and positive adjective here but that you don’t feel that special something you want to feel in order to go out on another date. Don’t make your date wonder whether you thought he or she was damaged goods because of sexual violence.

Don’t blab. Keep his or her confidence, even if you don’t continue dating. While we continue to reduce the shame and stigma around sexual violence, it’s still a personal story. It’s not to announce to your friends and families, or to gossip about online or in person. Hold and honor this story with respect and confidence. It’s not your story to tell.

Now that I’m married, I don’t have to share my story on romantic dates, but I still meet new friends and colleagues all the time.  And while I don’t have to tell them about my history of sexual violence, I often do because I think it’s an important way to make the issue more accessible and personal. By doing so, I hope to make it easier for friends, dates, and regular people to talk openly about the things that make them who they are.


Responsibility of the community to keep children safe

Every Sunday throughout April, Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services will have a guest column in the SunJournal. Each column will discuss a different aspect of sexual violence, as well as prevention & education efforts.

Here is the 4th and final article from one of our our Education Coordinators!

I walk into a first-grade classroom with an armload of 30 makeshift hula hoops shaped like a raindrop rather than a circle. They are blue and have a mass of silver duct tape at the point of the raindrop shape.

The students in the class are smiling and quietly say to each other and to me “Space Ships!”

These “space ships” are one of the tools that we have been using since 2007 to teach the self-empowerment and personal space to children in elementary school. In some schools, by the spring of first grade, a child will have “played” with these space ships three times.

Teaching children about personal body safety and sexual abuse prevention is a careful endeavor. At Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services, we approach the issue by teaching different concepts that build on one another and create a firm foundation before we even start talking specifically about sexual harassment or sexual assault.

The first concept we teach is that of personal body space.

By using the “spaceships,” we take a theoretical concept and make it visual, so all the children can “see” it and understand it.

They can see that we move through our day and our need for personal body space might change depending on circumstance, or on which person we are interacting with.

The space ships allow the children to experience the concept of their own personal body space and respect the right of each other to maintain that space. This activity also helps children to understand and learn about healthy boundaries and consent — key concepts in sexual assault prevention.

By third grade, we focus our presentations on team work and interdependence. Using games designed to encourage the students to maintain their own individual personal space while being part of a group, we explore concepts of leadership, group dynamics and how to problem-solve in a fair and positive way so that all members of a team feel included and are safe.

We also talk about their responsibility to one another, which lays the groundwork for conversations about how to be a proactive bystander and help other students when it looks like they are being hurt.

Our presentations in fourth grade explicitly focus on gossip, rumors and bystander behaviors.

Again, using games to explore these concepts, the students are able to meet and address these potentially scary concepts in a developmentally appropriate and fun fashion.

We give the students a tube of toothpaste and ask them to squeeze it out onto a paper plate. We can then talk about what a mess it made. Then we ask them to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Of course they cannot get more than a dab back in the tube.

We can then begin the discussion about how words can make a mess and that, once said, they cannot be taken back. This helps us to talk with the students about bullying and what a mess it can create and how it cannot be undone.That lays a solid foundation for later presentations about appropriate Internet/social media use.

In fifth and sixth grades, we actively engage the students in conversations about Internet safety and harassment issues.

Because they have had all of the concept and skill-building presentations in prior years, they have the ability to apply those lessons to these very important topics and understand them in a more fundamental way.

Throughout these presentations, we talk with the students about the importance of getting help from a grownup when they or someone else is being hurt or in danger of being hurt. We help them to identify who those grownups might be, and what they should expect in the way of help from those adults.

All of our presentations can be presented as stand-alone material, but we find that they work best all together. Our presentations build upon each other, creating a framework of understanding, built year after year.

We believe it is the responsibility of the community to help keep our children safe from harm.

While it is the adults who should be responsible for sexual abuse prevention, our programs provide our children with the concepts and skills necessary to help keep themselves safe. And, they teach children lifelong skills that will help them each to understand and seek out safe, healthy relationships.

Bridget McAlonan is the SACC Education Coordinator for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services.

Crime show viewers more likely to aid sexual assault victims

How interesting!


From Washington State University News:

PULLMAN, Wash. – Viewers of prime-time crime dramas, like NCIS, CSI or Law & Order, are more inclined than nonviewers to see themselves intervening on behalf of the victim of a sexual assault, according to recent research at Washington State University.
Published in the January issue of the Journal of Health Communication, the study suggests prime-time television may be a successful medium for educating the public about sexual assault and encouraging positive responses, said Stacey Hust, associate professor in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication and lead researcher.
A once taboo topic on television, sexual assault has been depicted with increasing frequency in prime-time television programming, Hust said. Previous research indicates that crime dramas include nearly six violent acts per hour, about a tenth of which are related to sexual assault.
“Although content analyses have not established whether crime dramas portray individuals intervening in sexual assault, we knew from watching some of the programs that at least some episodes featured bystanders who intervened before the crime or who came forward to help after the crime was committed,” Hust said.  “We wanted to see if watching these programs was associated with bystander intervention.”
She and her colleagues fielded a survey to college freshmen to examine the link between crime drama viewing and intentions to intervene during a sexual assault. After controlling for previously identified factors known to influence intentions to intervene, the data indicated increased exposure to crime dramas was associated with increased intentions to intervene.
“Sexual assault is a particularly difficult problem to address with health communication campaigns, given adults’ discomfort with discussing the topic,” said second author Emily Garrigues Marett, a management faculty member at the College of Business at Mississippi State University. “This finding is exciting for health communication practitioners because it suggests that prime-time television may be a successful medium for educating the public on the issue and encouraging positive behaviors.”
This study’s findings are especially relevant given the prevalence of sexual assault in the United States. According to U.S. Department of Justice figures, nearly 1 in 6 adult women and 1 in 30 adult men will experience sexual assault within their lifetime.
“Increasing bystander intervention is critical to sexual assault prevention efforts,” Hust said. “Bystander intervention both creates an environment in which sexual assault is not tolerated and an environment supportive of victims—both of which are necessary to eliminate sexual assault.”
The full text of the article, “Health Promotion Messages in Entertainment Media: Crime Drama Viewership and Intentions to Intervene in a Sexual Assault Situation,” is available online here.

Break The Chain – One Billion Rising

It’s almost time to Break The Chains!

“Today, on the planet, a billion women – one of every three women on the planet – will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That’s ONE BILLION mothers, daughters, sisters, partners, and friends violated. V-Day REFUSES to stand by as more than a billion women experience violence.

On February 14th, 2013, V-Day’s 15th Anniversary, we are inviting one billion women and those who love them to walk out, DANCE, RISE UP, AND DEMAND an end to this violence. One Billion Rising is a promise that we will rise up with women and men worldwide to say, ‘Enough! The violence ends now.’ ”

Break the Chain Lyrics

Lyrics by Tena Clark
Music by Tena Clark/Tim Heintz

I raise my arms to the sky
On my knees I pray
I’m not afraid anymore
I will walk through that door
Walk, dance, rise
Walk, dance, rise

I can see a world where we all live
Safe and free from all oppression
No more rape or incest, or abuse
Women are not a possession

You’ve never owned me, don’t even know me I’m not invisible, I’m simply wonderful I feel my heart for the first time racing I feel alive, I feel so amazing

I dance cause I love
Dance cause I dream
Dance cause I’ve had enough
Dance to stop the screams
Dance to break the rules
Dance to stop the pain
Dance to turn it upside down
Its time to break the chain, oh yeah
Break the Chain
Dance, rise
Dance, rise

In the middle of this madness, we will stand I know there is a better world Take your sisters & your brothers by the hand Reach out to every woman & girl

This is my body, my body’s holy
No more excuses, no more abuses
We are mothers, we are teachers,
We are beautiful, beautiful creatures

I dance cause I love
Dance cause I dream
Dance cause I’ve had enough
Dance to stop the screams
Dance to break the rules
Dance to stop the pain
Dance to turn it upside down
It’s time to break the chain, oh yeah
Break the Chain, oh yeah
Break the Chain

Dance Break Inst.

Dance, rise
Dance, rise

Sister won’t you help me, sister won’t you rise x4

Dance, rise
Dance, rise

Sister won’t you help me, sister won’t you rise x4

This is my body, my body’s holy
No more excuses, no more abuses
We are mothers, we are teachers,
We are beautiful, beautiful creatures

I dance cause I love
Dance cause I dream
Dance cause I’ve had enough
Dance to stop the screams
Dance to break the rules
Dance to stop the pain
Dance to turn it upside down
Its time to break the chain, oh yeah
Break the Chain, oh yeah
Break the Chain

(Repeat chorus)

Survivor’s Words

Aftermath of a Flashback
By Anonymous  

It came with no warning, all the pain, sorrow, anguish, and horror.  The memory of rape is just as ugly as the rape itself.  Now that I remember, the hurt is hard to bear.  I must go on.  I have a son to feed, car payments to make, bills to pay, work to do, and school to attend.  The sorrow is like a dark, stormy cloud that is ready to explode its storm all over the place.  I’m tired of going on.  I must take responsibility for the running of my life.  I must use every ounce of energy I have just to get out of my safe bed.  I know I must live in today and trudge through this.  This is a part of the “healing” journey called recovery from rape.  Does my rapist go through this?  Probably not. He is happy in life.  I am not!  I’m angry that I have to do this while he sits back as if nothing has happened.  I wish I could too, but that is not a reality for me.  No matter how good I feel or successful I am, I will never be able to forget.  From time to time memories, flashbacks, and nightmares will happen.  yes I’ll go on with life, I’ll do my part to make this world better for survivors like me.  I may even have to arrange my life around all this stuff so that I can pick up the pieces of the rape and then move on.  Today, the weather fits me.  It is dark, damp, and ready to burst forth with tears, but holding them back until “the time is right.”  There is a chill that surrounds me.  There is also warmth in the air, it is a sign of hope that I’ll get better and survive.


(If you would like to submit a poem or story, for our blog, newsletter, and/or other social media sites, please e-mail SAVESoutreach@sapars.org.  Thank you!)

Active Listening

“The challenge is to listen with an open heart and mind, and to ask good questions, rather than to rush in to soothe, fix, advise, criticize, instruct, admonish, get defensive and do whatever else we do naturally that shuts down the lines of communication.

At its purest moments, listening reflects the art of being fully emotionally present without judgment or distraction.  Whenever we are fully present, we are not thinking about our work, or anything else.  We’re not judgmental.  Similarly, while listening, we are not formulating our response or considering how we might best present our case.  Our thoughts are not stuck in the past or wandering to the future.  We are fully open and receptive to what the person is saying without having to change, fix, correct or advise.  We are there with the person – and nowhere else.

We won’t listen well when our mind is already made up or when we have our own agenda.  In the latter case, we’re likely to be in a “talk-wait-talk” conversational mode (meaning we’re just waiting for the other person to finish talking so we can make our point) rather than a “talk- listen – talk” conversational mode.  As in all things, some folks have more natural talent at listening than others, but we can all get better at it.” 

– Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.

Active listening is important for all of our relationships (co-workers, family, friends, etc.), and it takes practice.  Sometimes, we miss vital information or feelings, because of the urge to jump in with our own stories.  If you find yourself talking with a survivor of sexual assault, please listen actively.  Do not shame, judge, or give advice.  It is often difficult for a survivor to open up, so when they do, be present, patient, and understanding.

How many are falsely accused of rape?

Not many…

MYTH:  ”Women are always ‘crying rape;’ claiming they were raped when they were not.”

FACT:  Only “2-8% of all of the accusations of sexual assault reported to law enforcement are false reports, the same rate as other type of violent crime (Lonsway, Archambault, & Lisak, 2009).”

MYTH:  ”If there are so many people being sexually assaulted, why don’t I know any victims?”

FACT:  ”Survivors of sexual assault often suffer in silence because they experience shame, embarrassment and fear that no one will believe them.  Offenders will often threaten to harm survivors or their families to guarantee their silence.  Sexual assault is one of the least reported crimes in the United States (Rand & Truman, 2009).  Everyone probably knows a survivor of sexual violence.  However, many survivors are very selective about whom they tell and may not disclose their experiences.  Sexual assault remains largely unreported and undisclosed because it is one of the only types of crimes for which survivors carry an undue burden of shame and guilt.”

[Adapted from – Help In Healing:  A Training Guide For Advocates, Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 2011]