Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~Romans 12:21
Two Sundays ago, I participated in my first event as a RAINN representative. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is an organization dedicated to assisting survivors of sexual assault. As a member of the RAINN Speakers Bureau I receive notices from organizations looking for people to speak about sexual violence, preferably, but not necessarily, from their own experience.
I offered to participate in the V-Day presentation of Vagina Monologues at the State University of New York – Purchase on that early March Sunday.
I don’t know if I had any expectations of the event, but I became somewhat emotionally overwhelmed by the experience (see Tell the Devil to Flee!). Quite honestly, I couldn’t read my emotions over the weekend. Saturday I was cranky and realized days later my mood was caused by anxiety. And Sunday, before I stepped on stage before the program started to speak about RAINN, the beneficiary of the event proceeds, I actually got nervous – sweaty palms and shaky legs – the whole bit. I couldn’t figure out why I was so nervous, because I talk about me so often. Again, the analysis came days later: I’ve been talking about my story in a vacuum. Only in the context of my book, my projects… in the context of the island I imagine myself to be. Representing RAINN was like making contact with something so much bigger and grander than myself. I became part of a human tapestry of similar stories and common struggles. I had never represented myself as only a survivor of sexual abuse before. I had been a victim and supporter of other victims, but standing before an audience as a survivor for no other reason than to offer the light of hope to someone else’s darkness, well, that centered me, humbled me and shook me.
Up to ten minutes prior to going on stage, I had no idea what I would say. I had information, but no thoughts on delivery. I decided I wouldn’t talk about me; there was no need to get personal. I would just share the statistics. I sat down and started writing an outline of rape statistics I felt people should be aware of. As I wrote the statistics down, it became clear I had beaten the odds. I was an outlier. At that point, I decided I would share a bit of my story.
This is what I said before the V-Day Vagina Monologues audience at SUNY Purchase:
One of the most difficult things for a victim of sexual assault to do is to talk about an attack. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, I urge you to speak out about it. Talk to someone. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to family or friends, please call RAINN’s National Assault Hotline, 1-800-656-HOPE. The Hotline has trained counselors that will listen to your story with no requirement of your name or location. The Hotline operates with complete confidentiality. You can share identifying information only if you want to. At any given moment over 1100 volunteers are on duty. You can also receive 24/7 assistance via the Online Hotline. Please visit www.rainn.org for more information.
I want to share some statistics with you:
- 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be a victim of sexual assault in their lifetime.
- Every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.
- 73% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the victim
- 60% of rapes go unreported, resulting in 15 out of 16 rapists walking free.
- Only a projected 6% of rapists actually do prison time – alarming!
Talking about your sexual assault is the hardest thing. But your healing begins when you speak. Healing is a process, it’s not immediate, but that process only begins when you talk about what’s been done to you. Don’t hold that in. If your assailant is a family member, it will be even harder to speak out. I know, my whole family turned against me when I spoke against their two darling sons.
My father sexually abused me from age seven to eleven. And his brother abused me from age ten to eleven. One day, when I was eleven, I got fed up. I walked out the house and to the police station. I knocked on a door and asked the police officer who answered, “What can I do to get rid of my molesters.” Even as they took my statement they sent cars to my house and my uncles’ house to arrest them both. And I have never since had to be around either of them involuntarily. They were tried and sentenced to ten to twelve years each and completed all of their time.
I’m now thirty-four years old and it took me well into my twenties to fully recover from the trauma. But I stand before you today completely healed and whole.
However, I had to speak first.
I don’t have much problem writing about my pain and sharing with innumerable strangers online, but standing in front of an auditorium of strangers and sharing my deepest darkness (even just a snippet)… well, that was more emotionally taxing than anything I’ve experienced in years. However, I walked off stage to a validating applause that let me know the sharing was appreciated.
I found a seat to watch the program. I hadn’t seen the Vagina Monologues performed in about a decade. If you haven’t seen, heard or read them, attend a program the next time it’s near you or go pick up the book. They represent amazingly universal stories of womanhood – of appreciation, exploration, suppression, torment and violation of our femininity by ourselves and others.
As I was leaving the auditorium after the performance, an older white woman stopped me at the door. “Can I give you a hug,” she asked.
“Of course,” I said with a big smile, “I love hugs!”
She embraced me tightly and warmly. As she pulled back, she gripped my hand and would not let go. Looking into my eyes, as hers welled with tears, she said this to me, “Thank you for sharing your story. And the way you shared it….,” she paused with a slight shake of her head. “I’m sixty-two years old. Women of my generation didn’t speak out like this. Like you. Like the young ladies on stage. God bless you all for speaking. It gives me hope. It gives me hope that my grandchildren and your children will not suffer the way we did, because they will know how to speak.”
“That is my hope as well,” I said quietly.
I was officially and completely shaken to my core. At the end of the day that woman (and all she represents) is the reason why I bare my soul every time I write a post. If I can positively impact just one person with the testimony of my experiences and my overcoming, the pain of the baring is so worth it.
My wobbly legs carried me down the stairs and into the ladies room where I locked myself into a stall and praised God.
We OVERCOME by the POWER of the BLOOD and our TESTIMONY!
Our people defeated Satan because of the blood of the Lamb and the message of God. They were willing to give up their lives. (Contemporary English Version)
And our brothers and sisters defeated him by the blood of the Lamb’s death and by the message they preached. They did not love their lives so much that they were afraid of death. (New Century Version)
They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. (New International Version)
They defeated him through the blood of the Lamb and the bold word of their witness. They weren’t in love with themselves; they were willing to die for Christ. (Message)
And they have overcome (conquered) him by means of the blood of the Lamb and by the utterance of their testimony, for they did not love and cling to life even when faced with death [holding their lives cheap till they had to die for their witnessing]. (Amplified)