We are swimming against the tide of taboo. All we brave and battling souls deciding it is time to stop abuse from happening to the children. I’m watching so, so many hearty hearts step up to microphones, web sites, and audiences filled with curious faces, open faces, even welcoming faces. I remember a day in 1998 – I had been invited by someone in Boston to lead a workshop for survivors. I had a most simple agenda – form a circle, say our names, tell each other why we’re here, look at a statue of a wise old woman who’s survived incest and tell us what you see. That was it. That was all. That was everything.
And no one came. Nada. No one felt safe enough or ready enough or curious enough to step into the light generated by a circle of people looking across at each other with open eyes, open ears and just maybe open hearts.
But the times they are a-changin’.
I went to Albany last month (Sept. 2017) for the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault Conference – to run a workshop for survivors working in the sexual abuse response world. That can be a mighty big step for a survivor – going from planery to lunches to rooms with power points and tables full of all the things dealing with the issue. See, not every survivor of sexual abuse is “out”, not even in organizations dealing with it. Some might be surprised about this – but we’re not.
But I don’t want to write about what I did over there in Albany. I want to write about what I experienced. It was one great big infusion of hope and inspiration. See, the place was teaming with activists. Activists who are doing remarkable things and who also happen to be survivors, like me.
Later I’ll tell you what some are specifically doing but first I want to explain how three in particular touched me – Mia Mingus, Aishah Shahidah Simmons and Erin Esposito – three Amazonian, childhood sexual abuse drop-kicking individuals.
Erin, a deaf woman leading an organization serving deaf and hearing-impaired women, delivered her message so powerfully. Yes, she had an American Sign Language interpreter perched below her speaking into a microphone in front of Erin on the dais and, yes, the words being said were important – the details of her message. But it was watching Erin, watching Erin swinging and throwing her arms out wide, her hands flashing back and forth in front of her face. You could see heat emanating off of her as she so clearly explained the struggles to identify and illuminate sexual abuse in families and institutions holding and serving deaf women and girls. Her excitement to make change was palpable and contagious.
And there’s Mia – a five-foot tall dynamo from San Francisco, driving her scooter around at top speed, sparkling up every room with her laughter. Yes, she’s a survivor of incest, too, and polio and racism – lots of ands. The biggest AND was her larger than life belief that all this oppressive crap is changeable. In her workshop she told us we have to, "... respond to the real and messy realities of child sexual abuse when it happens in our families and communities."
The third is Aishah. We met earlier this year making the 3 Women Rising video. This rock steady woman has been working non-stop for 20 years to get this world on track. She walked into the banquet room, sat down, stared at what was going on and her aura reached out to Mia at the podium communicating – “Keep on sister, just keep on doing what you’re doing, doing what you do so well.” Oh, and yes, she’s a survivor, too.
It’s a big thing – these three particular and remarkable women being OUT; out in PUBLIC – proclaiming not just what was done to them but also what needs to happen; what to stop and what to start. It’s a big thing for me to be able to walk among them, hear their wisdom, learn their ways. The biggest thing is the hope thing. Hope that the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse can be stopped; turned around and stopped.
I have this great big hope for multiplication of more survivors coming out. Heck, there were at the very least 20 people out of 100 attending this conference who were “out” as survivors. That’s 20%. Excuse me but 35 years ago, when I was just whispering my survivor-ship to one sweet friend, there was nowhere I could have gone in 1982 where 20% of any group would have been “out” survivors. While I’m on this 20 kick – what’s 20 of something I’d like to see coming down the pike? Oh, how about 20 million bucks for a band of survivors to join Erin and Mia and Aishah to get all that they’re working on funded and finished.
Would 20 million do it? My guess is the three of them would say, “Bring it on – we’ll use it well and make it work.” Without even asking them I’ll bet they’ve all been making miracles on shoestring budgets for years. So, just imagine what this threesome and a band of merry persons could make happen together.
So let me tell you just a tiny bit about what they’re into and give you some links for some more.
Erin, and her organization Ignite, are working with schools for the deaf where abuse has been happening. And, guess what? Unlike schools for hearing students, when a scandal hits the news the sponsors and the government say, “Change your ways or we’ll shut this place down.” Which turns out to be a double whammy since these places are also oases for deaf children in a hearing dominant world. So they get screwed twice.
And Mia – out there in San Francisco – she’s working within communities for something wonderful called Transformative Justice through the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective. Now, there’s a mouthful. She’s working on how to basically stop childhood sexual abuse AND make perpetrators accountable AND not use the criminal justice system, which breaks more than mends families. Mia tells us, “We cannot only resist the world we do not want; we must also build the world we long for.”
Then there’s Aishah and her remarkable #LOVEwithAccountability Project. Get this – she’s going all around the country promoting something that, unlike the common belief that to “tell” on an abuser in the family is to harm the family, so keep quiet – she’s got one hell of a radical idea. Aishah is teaching us the opposite – that it’s an act of love to hold the family accountable: the harm doers and the bystanders. To love the family is to stop the perpetuation of the harm and the silencing.
Thank you Erin and Aishah and Mia for your work, your perseverance and for modeling so graciously how to be an “out” survivor swimming against the tide.