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I first started hearing from survivors of sexual assault when I was in college. I heard their testimonies at events on our campus and more than once listened as friends detailed their experiences of sexual assault and/or sexual abuse.
Listening to their stories brought on a lot of questions for me. What support was available for survivors? Who would hold the perpetrators accountable? Who else knew about these stories?
Once I heard their stories I could not forget them. Years later I still feel the rage and the grief.
In recent years, my context has changed significantly. Instead of living in primarily white and affluent communities, I am now living in South America sharing life with womxn who live with the added challenges of economic insecurity, daily discrimination and little to no access to justice under the law.
And though my context has changed, I continue to hear stories of sexual assault and I still feel the rage; I still cry from the grief.
This piece was born out of that rage.
This piece is an expression of one of the tragic connections that brings us together as womxn, the experiences of sexual violence that are the common denominator in so many of the stories of our friends, neighbors, sisters, cousins, mothers, aunts, godmothers and grandmothers.
I was sitting with the weight of those stories when another friend shared her experience of sexual assault with me on my birthday this year.
I was sitting with the complexity of how isolating it can feel to be one of the only people who has heard a survivor tell their story while also reflecting on the deep web of interconnection between womxn who are survivors and know survivors and who are fighting to survive and support each other every day whether or not the rest of the world is paying attention.
The circle of womxn that I painted in this piece is a visualization of that deep web of interconnection, an expression of sisterhood that integrates our differences. As Audre Lorde so wisely taught us, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.”
As a white womxn, I am still learning about the long history of survival that womxn of color have endured amidst the violence of sexual assault, sexual abuse, forced sterilization and generations of daily discrimination.
Being trusted with first-hand stories from womxn whose life experiences are so different from my own is not only a serious responsibility but also an invitation to greater accountability.
Those stories have taught me to open my eyes to the violence all around us and to honor the resilience of the survivors among us.
They have taught me how important it is to respond to a survivor with the words, “I believe you” and to remind them that what happened to them was not their fault. They have also taught me to celebrate and support those who do choose to Break the Silence.
This piece is a testimony to the power of truth-telling and a call to raise our voices in solidarity with those womxn in our communities who are breaking the silence. There is power in the diversity of our life experiences as womxn and integrating our differences is essential to our collective fight for liberation.
My hope is that “My Rage, My Voice” can offer consolation and strength to all of us who are fighting and/or supporting others who are also fighting to transform the violence that once defined us.