So, as Stephanie said, there are a number of things that make me who I am. I am also a researcher. I am a wife, and a daughter, and a sister, and a friend. I believe that a great Hope exists. I feel as though I am a survivor most days, but sometimes this world that we live in makes me feel like a victim. Most of who I am exists in the context of community.
I experienced sexual violence for the first time about ten years ago, on a trip to this city. I have been violated two times since. I spoke about my journey to healing last year, at this same event, in a speech titled “communities of healing”. I said this:
“Perhaps the hardest part of my journey has been coming to understand that this was never my fault. This realization has come because of the various communities that I find myself in. It comes after having a family that reminds me of the importance of laughter. It comes after a panic attack during a church event where people that I didn’t even know came to pray beside me. It comes after nights of listening to Thrice and hearing a lyric of “Stand and Feel Your Worth” loud and clear and believing those words to be true, and reading William James and recognizing that questions and uncertainty is okay. It comes after having a supervisor and mentor during my undergraduate degree who introduced me to feminism. It comes after being involved in SlutWalk in Winnipeg, and being surrounded by a group of people who supported me while for the first time, I tried to understand the complexities of victim-blaming and slut-shaming. It comes after living in Zimbabwe for six months, where I saw people who were going through so much pain, radiate more joy and faith than I’ve ever known. It comes after being here at Lakehead, as a Graduate student in Sociology and Women’s Studies, with peers and professors who regularly sit with the pain that exists in the world, yet they remain hopeful about our power to effect change.”
Over the past couple of months, I have been interviewing individuals about their lived experiences with sexual violence. I have been privileged enough to hear people share their stories. So what I’d like to do, is share a few excerpts from those interviews, where my participants speak to the importance of community.
Tao said: “When the event did happen, I didn’t give it much attention because I was more preoccupied with helping my brother (who had just been diagnosed as having schizophrenia). I cared less about myself at that time. So, I put a lot of my thoughts and emphasis on how to include my brother in a lot of the things I was doing. So, struggling with the event was pushed aside and put on the backburner and it wasn’t important. My brother had… a more pressing issue. I wanted to help him with it, because he’s my big brother. During that time our positions as older and younger brother kind of switched because my brothers personality took a big step back and I became the big brother. So I’d always take him out to parties and get him to socialize with people. It was great.”
You have to know that the recording device had already been turned off, and Tao and I were getting ready to leave, and then he said that there was something else he’d like to add. It’s important to know that this was the first time during the entire interview that Tao smiled.
Sue, reflecting on what has impacted her as a person who has experienced sexual violence, said: “I like when they had that carry the mattress campaign because I could physically feel myself being lifted onto that mattress and being carried. That’s how it affected me. It made me feel good that people would sign a piece of paper and say that they supported us, even if they didn’t know me. Those kind of things. Being believed. Just say “I’m sorry that happened to you. I’m here for you. I believe you. What can I do to help you?” You know?”
Jamie reflected on the moment that she was able to let go of the heaviness of sexual violence in her life and find forgiveness: “I was actually at a ceremony, it’s called a Rain Dance Ceremony, it’s where I finally let it go. All that anger towards Joshua. And all that stuff I felt towards myself too. And I just couldn’t let it go. I offered the one who conducted the ceremony (who was the same man who Doctored me) my tobacco along with the cloth (both which contained my prayers). That same night my tobacco was offered to the spirits through a Pipe Ceremony, and my cloth was tied to centre pole in the Rain Dance Lodge. The centre pole was described to me as a “direct line to the Creator”. And all weekend, the Rain Dancers danced around that pole, and as they danced they prayed, not for themselves, but for every prayer tied to that pole. And then he feathered me, and he was just like…gathering all that negative energy and wooshing it off. But during the actual feathering… I was standing beside the drum in the middle of the lodge, everyone at that ceremony was around me. And each one of them was praying for me, but they didn’t know what it was about me they were praying for. Not even the man doing the Doctoring knew what I was praying for, it was just between me and what I put into my offerings (the tobacco and cloths). I think that’s why it had such an impact on me, because every single person in that lodge, their energy was focused solely on me (which is what we all do when one is being Doctored, for those few moments, we leave ourselves alone and focus our energy and prayers towards the one that is in need). And I don’t know if you’re spiritual or not but that, when I was there, as I was doing it… like I actually felt the release. And it felt so good. Like for me. I don’t know if it was Him or if it was me, but I was able to get it out and give it to the Creator and give it to the spirits and not to let it consume me anymore… like that feeling was just amazing. Like I felt myself get lighter. Like, I felt like that. And it was just such a powerful moment in my life. And I’m really glad I went to that ceremony, and I was able to let it go. And forgive him, and forgive myself too. But yeah, after that moment, after my release, it felt like I was finally able to feel like myself again. I honestly don’t know where I’d be, or even know who I am, if it wasn’t for my culture. I feel so honoured and privileged to have a place like that, a way of life like that, to turn to.”
A participant, who chooses to identify as ‘M’, said the following when I asked them what people could have done to make them feel more supported when disclosing: “I think just having people listen. And support me. Maybe… one of the really hard things for me, when this person shows up where I am. Maybe just, leaving and no offering, and no one coming with me. And no one asking if I’m okay. Just being like, “see ya”. And just being like, “I’m going to come with you”, and that’s really nice. But more often than not I just leave on my own. I guess just that kind of stuff. I feel like, there’s just this like…understanding that when you come forward about sexual violence, or just like any kind of abuse, that there’s going to be a bunch of people with open arms that will accept you and support you and… it’s really just the opposite. So…”
It is a crime that we are letting some of our brothers and sisters feel as though they are not accepted. It is a human rights tragedy that people who experience sexual violence don’t feel supported. It is our responsibility, as a global family, to ensure that when people are struggling we step up and stand up and support our family. One unsupported person is one too many. And the truth of the matter is that M’s statement of feeling unsupported will resonate with many. The truth is that too many people feel alone. Too many people wish they had support. Too many people struggle through their brokenness wishing that there was someone that gave a shit.
My friend Trevor works at a shelter in Calgary. He maybe loves people better than anyone that I’ve ever met. Him and Jared (someone who uses the shelter), wrote a song. Towards of the end of the song, the two of them pose a question, and them provide a call to action. I’d like to leave us with that call to action:
“Just imagine what would happen if we could unite.
Just imagine what would if we could unite.
So let’s unite.”