October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. I’m sure there’s some feminist blogger bylaws somewhere that say that I am obligated to write about DV month. And up until about 7 pm last night, I wasn’t going to. I just didn’t feel like I could find a new way to write about domestic violence…. again. I’ve been writing about this stuff for 15+ years!
Aren’t we there yet?!
But we’re not there. In fact, we have miles to go before we sleep. But no matter how weary I am of domestic violence, it’s not as heavy a burden as it is for the domestic violence survivors, especially the ones who aren’t survivors–yet.
Approximately one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. That’s even higher than the estimated one in six American women who will survive an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
It’s so many women. So many of us. And maybe that’s what’s got me down. When does “awareness” start working? And this got me thinking about all the kinds of awareness we have. All these forms of violence have to be named and assigned their own categories. I’m a survivor of sexual abuse and domestic violence. I know way more than the average number of women who are survivors of sexual assault. But what are we really talking about here? Violence. What does the label matter?
Well, that’s what I was thinking about when I was mulling over what to write about Domestic Violence Awareness month and I got a message from a dear friend. We have known each other for years and share many similarities in our painful childhood stories. But one thing I didn’t know was that she had experience sexual abuse, twice, in her childhood. For reasons that are not mine to share, she had been triggered recently and a cascade of emotions had welled up. When I got her message, I stopped what I was doing and called her immediately. Having dealt with painful triggers myself, I was not about to send a text or an email or a message on some social media platform. My friend lives in another state. If she lived anywhere near me, I would have bundled up my toddler and driven over to her house immediately. That’s my crisis response.
Over the course of a two-hour phone call, I think we both felt the healing nature of sharing pain in order to process and heal it. Even though I’ve been on a healing path for many, many years — and have benefited from wonderful resources and support systems including loved ones, my faith, and counseling — one thing I find is that as life moves on and you grow and change, the experience of the trauma can manifest in new ways. Becoming a mother last year, came with some unexpected triggers for me. But it can happen at any time for many reasons, like it did for my friend. For me, being there for my friend was a new experience in my survivor’s journey. For me to be able to offer her any small measure of comfort or (if I can be so bold) guidance, is not just satisfying as a friend but a kind of healing for me, too.
So maybe you are wondering what all this has to do with Domestic Violence Awareness month…
Well, for one thing, more and more research is supporting the lived experience of so many people — that these different forms of violence are often experienced in relationship to each other. That is, if you have experienced domestic violence, you probably have also experienced sexual violence (abuse or assault). That was my experience.
Perhaps more importantly, however, having that phone call reminded me of the power of sharing our stories, breaking our silence, and that information is only old news if you have heard it before. My friend is an incredibly smart, educated, informed woman. I have no doubt she has read the same news stories I have about domestic violence and sexual violence. But hearing and reading about statistics (PDF), safety plans, and post-trauma services… that’s all fine and good. It’s important, even. But sometimes you aren’t ready to hear it. Sometimes you are in crisis and all the facts you know fly right out of your head. Sometimes the tools that helped you survive in the past are ineffective at helping you in the present. Sometimes you need to talk to another survivor. Sometimes you need to just hear the words coming out of your own mouth.
Maybe I shouldn’t share this part. Maybe it will sound oddly self-serving… My friend told me that reading my posts about my journey as a sexual abuse survivor have helped her. And the only reason I share this, is to illustrate a point. We never know how our small acts of bravery affect others. Certainly as a writer, it is impossible for me to know who all my readers are. I very rarely get a chance to know that something I did made a positive difference for someone else. When I decided to start publicly talking about being a survivor, it was a huge and difficult decision for me. Like so many survivors, my experience was a very painful one. Although I have done a lot of work over the years to heal — and I’m happy to say that my life is very good and full of joy and love today — I worried about what the fall-out of sharing something so dark might be. Would you, my reader, reject it? Would you balk at such personal sharing? What finally helped me decide to share this part of my life was the simple but powerful realization that silence was the enemy. As I’ve said before, you could say I borrowed a page from the LGBT community’s playbook: Come out. Be visible. Share your story. Because when we talk openly, in the light of day, about what we experienced, it is very powerful. Now anyone who reads The Sin City Siren can never say they don’t know a sexual abuse survivor, because you know me. It’s the same reason why it matters when celebrities come out, so to speak, as survivors. But make no mistake, to tell the story is an act of bravery. It’s an affront to fear, anger, pain, and the agony of silence. Because I think the silence — the maintenance of a terrible secret and a double life — is almost as bad as the abuse itself.
And my friend reminded me of all this, even in her moment of personal crisis. That’s why I will keep talking about it. Again. And again. As many times as it takes. As many ways I can imagine.
If you, or someone you know, needs local domestic violence services: Call the 24-hour Safe Nest crisis line at 800-486-7282. If you are a student on campus, you can all the new 24-hour UNLV Care line at 702-895-0602. In Henderson, call SAFE House at 702-564-3227, 24 hours a day.
If you, or someone you know, needs help about sexual abuse or sexual violence, you can find local resources at the Nevada Coalition Against Sexual Violence. Here is a complete state-wide list of resources (PDF). And if you are outside Nevada, or want something more immediate or internet-friendly, try RAINN, which has a 24/hour hotline and secure and untraceable internet help system.