“I hope I live to see the day that survivors are more than the sumof our traumas. I hope I live to see a world in which survivors aretreated as the sum of our triumphs.”
Lauren Frei | US
Now add all those who witness violence. Now expand the definition of violence beyond the physical. This tragedy is even bigger than one in three; this is an epidemic that affects us all.
I am among those who have experienced multiple forms of violence throughout my life. I have memories as early as age three of standing in half lit doorways at one in the morning with my sister, watching in confusion as my father thundered verbal abuse upon my half-awake mother. This cloud of anger was a constant storm in our lives and was ready to rain upon us at any moment.
I have distinct memories of belts and hands colliding with skin. I remember consistent threats that my sister and I would be separated from one another in the case of intervention by Child Protective Services. I remember watching my mother as she fled from yet another shouting match. I remember feeling abandoned by our Catholic private school community and by family members who turned a blind eye. I remember wondering if my mother, my sister, and I would ever experience freedom. I find myself reflecting on the same to this day. I have transitioned from victim to survivor, but during these reflections I seem to ask myself the same question: how did we survive?
Recently, after experiencing an incident of sexual violence, I found myself relying on writing to simply get through the day. Physical abuse and sexual violence are mentally and physically taxing. I have experienced entire periods of my life where I felt like little more than a ghost in a matrix of violence. Every catcall, every wandering hand, and every suspicious look become a subtle reminder of the abuse. These subtleties have the ability to feel like daggers. They can dissect you into separate portions of a whole.I have survived through the power of words.
I liken the process of becoming a survivor to the cleaning up of a shattered mirror. Reflected in every piece is a portion of the whole self, but some shards are too small to be recovered. These pieces that may have functioned at one time no longer fit into the final result. They must be discarded to form a completely new reflection.
Becoming a survivor is a process of holding on and letting go. It is the recognition that the reflection will not always be recognizable, but there is power in its continuous existence. We hold on to the reflections of others. We are present, we expand, and we are here.
Survivors are not broken, but we are fiercely protective of our vulnerability. Showing vulnerability in the aftermath of abuse is the most empowering way that I have returned to my body and mind.
Solutions for ending physical and sexual violence must focus on the importance of establishing supportive spaces for survivors to share our stories. I have seen this in smaller classrooms devoted to feminist philosophy. I have also seen this during survivor support events such as Take Back The Night. I have seen this in student groups such as the Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team (S.W.A.T.) who utilize performance for education and healing. I have seen this during spoken word performances.
Spaces where we can be in the midst of our reflections and expand our stories as survivors are the soul of physical and sexual violence prevention. These spaces provide an environment where survivors can share our vulnerability without fear of denial or shame. These are spaces of transformation and not of transaction or exploitation.
Survivors need institutions that treat us as human beings and not as statistics. We have experienced unimaginable trauma, but we are capable of more than existing. Institutions of higher education must be flexible in accommodating the needs of survivors. These needs may include, but are not limited to: organizing academic exceptions; making therapeutic approaches affordable and confidential for survivors (therapy, meditation, support groups, etc); and presenting safe housing arrangements.
We need schools to promote education programs for students on issues of consent, bystander intervention, hegemonic masculinity, and interpersonal partner violence. This education needs to begin before college. Institutions of higher education must stress the sociocultural reasons that survivors may remain with their abuser and they must also stress resources available for refuge and advocacy.
We must expand our definitions as a society of what constitutes violence and the different impacts that violence has on the individual. We must also provide more education on the intersectionality of violence. This includes discussing how rates of violence vary by race, age, class level, sexual orientation, gender, level of ability, etc.
Physical and sexual violence are faced by women, men, and LGBTQ individuals from every socioeconomic background. My ideal world is one in which no individual experiences physical or sexual violence. I want to see the day where every person has the freedom of living in their body and does not have this freedom threatened by outside forces. I hope I live to see the day that survivors are more than the sum of our traumas. I hope I live to see a world in which survivors are treated as the sum of our triumphs.
I believe that an ideal world free from physical and sexual violence is not unrealistic. By providing spaces for survivors to triumph and for collaborative education on the sociocultural constructs of violence, it is my hope that we will expand definitions of violence. By changing perceptions and stigmas of survivors we will humanize legislation.We will begin to see a world in which every experience is valued and provided space to expand within our conscious minds as a piece of shared humanity.
Silence is violence but we have the power to share. Your story is valid.
You are important and we are here.