161: I Still Have Nightmares



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“I Still Have Nightmares,” Amanda

I wished I had died. But I survived. Living had become a foreign concept. How did I do it, again? Had I even known what it meant? I held no joy, no peace. The path I had set up for myself in the before was pulling me along. My parents had so many concerns about my life in the after, but I didn’t move home, didn’t drop out. I stayed. I kept moving. Like a train stuck on the tracks that laid before it, unable to change direction.

I existed. That’s probably a better word for what I was doing. I watched too many shows that I used to care about to try and distract me from the monster of my nightmares, whose hands were just moments away from latching on to my throat once again. It was in this stupor that I found a light, a clarity. Julia, on the other side of the screen, had a goal. She had vengeance fueling her will to live while I sat on the couch with no purpose, no life. As I watched her struggle towards her objective, I felt something move inside me. Week to week, I would sit down and watch her story religiously. It was as if my only purpose was to witness her fight, her setbacks. I had started to look forward to something. Soon enough, I was doing that in other parts of my life. I felt something when I saw people, when I talked, interacted with them. The fear I had felt around others for so long had started to give way to something else, something lighter. I wouldn’t call it happiness, but it was like that. It took me two months to touch another human being of my own accord. But I had started to wake up from my daze of crushing emotion before then.

Julia inspired me to seek my own vengeance. I would chase after my own goal with the ferocity that she did hers. A piece of me had been taken that night – I couldn’t give up the rest. So, I looked over my plan from before and adjusted it to fit into my After. I turned my pain, my anger, my shame into fuel and funneled it into my goal. I started living in the ways I knew how. I focused on building relationships, albeit very superficial ones. I focused on school. Now that I could envision a future for myself, I had to make sure not to mess up the opportunities I had in front of me. I focused on my health. It was hard to eat, but I made sure I kept up with it. I am moving forward with a life, achieving goals I set up for myself with a singular purpose: whatever form it takes, however I have to, I will live as much as I can.

I still have nightmares.

They feel so real that even when I open my eyes, I have to turn on the lights just to be sure. I check my locks obsessively. My only line of defense to protect my home from the darkness outside. I can’t have anything touch my throat or be in large crowds for too long. I can’t have too much physical contact with people without having a full-on meltdown. But I learned what I can do as well. I can say when I’ve had enough. Who cares if it hurts someone else’s feelings? I’m protecting myself. No one has the right to tell me what to do with my time and energy. I’m taking back the control that was stolen from me.

What happened to me will always haunt me – I’ll never be free from it. My vengeance is to live. What’s important to my goal isn’t how much I can take before breaking. It’s what I come back from – how I come back from it. I am always one moment, one step away from drowning in the current of my own emotions. But I keep getting up through every setback, every trial. I keep living. And this is my greatest revenge.

0157: An Open Letter to the Boy who Assaulted Me...


Content warning: The following story contains graphic details about someone being raped, which may be triggering for some readers.


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"An Open Letter to the Boy who Assaulted Me, the Lady Who Failed Me, and the Community that Held Me," Kellsei Tate

October 28th will always be a day that I have a hard time reliving. I write it out for the first time, as a way to continue to heal and as a release. It has been 2 years since my body was invaded in one of the most painful and degrading ways possible. I will always have to fight to remember that I am worthy of healing. I am worthy of love in the full capacity of which I deserve. To have my body forcefully dehumanized comes with a lot of aftermath and broken pieces that I will continue to glue back together no matter how many times they crumble.

To my attacker: you were stronger than me and must not have understood simple English. I guess that makes sense because you did not make it to your next year in university.  A two letter word that means so much meant absolutely nothing to you, no matter how many times I repeated it. I think about how I lived in a world of “what ifs” for the longest time.

What if I would have noticed you locking my door when you walked in my room?

What if I would have screamed loudly so that my residents could have heard me?

What if I had not shown kindness to you in the first place?

I have slowly learned that “what ifs” are bullshit and not necessary. What you did was wrong and I will have to continue to survive with the aftermath for the rest of my life. I remember the anger and frustration you showed at my unwillingness to comply. I remember my moments of freezing up. I remember crossing my legs to close off access to my body. I remember you finishing what you came in my room for and leaving like nothing happened.

I remember so much more, but choose to forget. I remember that there was no way to avoid seeing you because that is one downfall of being on a small campus, let alone being an RA in the building in which you lived.

You made my home foreign to me. You took away my safe space. You invaded my body. I remember seeing you the next day. Our eyes made contact and you quickly looked away. I remember the level of panic I felt. I remember feeling extremely dirty no matter how long I showered. No amount of soap and water could cleanse my body to feel pure again.

No amount of alcohol could numb the pain I felt physically many days after. I remember the bruises on my legs and flashbacks that constantly reminded me of how you selfishly destroyed my inner peace and self-worth. I remember having to throw away my sheets as a figurative way of removing the pain you brought me. It did not work. I remember skipping rounds on your floor just because I did not want to have to see you. I remember almost telling my hall director, but having fear you’d win.

My voice was silenced and I was not sure how to collectively put words into a sentence to portray what happened. I battled a hell that I never thought was possible to survive, while you most likely walk around to this day without an ounce of regret in your mind.  I suffered in silence until my last semester in undergrad in 2015. I learned quickly how sick secrets can make you and the internal battle that causes the dark to dim even more. I also learned how much love a small community can pour into you when you need it most.

To the boy who sexually assaulted me, I forgive you. You do not deserve to occupy another second of anger in my heart.

To the one school official that failed me, I forgive you, too. I became angrier at your lack of support and professionalism than at the boy who I thought destroyed me. I just hope you get it right next time because in this world, unfortunately there will be many next times until we get our shit together as a society and quit ostracizing survivors and their experiences. Being a female yourself, I am highly disappointed in the way you “handled” things and feel extremely ashamed to have trusted you. Your system failed me.

To my fellow undergraduate community and residence life staff, both professional and student: Thank you for showing me unconditional love when I was undeserving and stubborn. Thank you to my undergraduate family that sat with me through the silence and pain on days that I could not even get out of bed. Thank you for crawling into my darkness when I did not have any desire to see light.

To my current Student Affairs Family: Thank you for continuing the love and support as I continue to conquer. Thank you for those few that have helped me continue to heal and who have walked with me when I have hit some lows.

To the survivor in me: I know this will always be a part of my past, but I will continue to reach new heights of healing. I will continue to tell myself I am worthy and believe that I am going to be okay, until it is no longer rehearsed and simply who I am. I will not be silent to keep others comfortable.

I know that I will always live with triggers and that I may be a hard one to love. I also know that I am both a masterpiece and work of art all at once. I know that it is okay to have bad days, but not to let them consume the light that I hold within me. The walls that were created will crumble. I am okay holding the microphone as I am tired of society silencing people because of their discomfort. Try stepping into the level of discomfort you may feel having experienced it.

To my fellow survivors: I hear you, I see you, and we’ve got this. Here’s to healing and overcoming and the power of love.


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About the art:

Kellsei submitted this story nearly TWO YEARS ago and amid getting lost in the email shuffle and the back up of art we had been creating at the time, the story got set aside for TOO LONG. But here we have it - an empowering and powerful story from someone who has persevered and reclaimed her story. This piece was inspired her tenacity and reassured tone at the end of the story. I wanted to use this quote because it was so comforting and a fitting way to culminate such a piece filled with disappointment and frustration. You’ve got this, Kellsei.

- Craig.

0156: I Was a Statistic


Content warning: The following story contains references to sexual violence, slut-shaming, and suicidal ideation as result - which may be concerning and/or triggering for some readers.


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“I Was a Statistic,” Anonymous

I was a statistic. I was 1 in 6.

My story is not unlike many others. They were people I knew. People I trusted. People that have the opportunity to live their lives without any guilt, pain, or repercussions from their actions. I was a freshman in college at a small institution about an hour from home. When I stepped on the campus for the first time, with the intention of playing college athletics, I felt at home. A family member I looked up to attended there, so I was driven to also attend. The family member I looked up to had also joined a sorority while there. I fit in perfectly with that sorority and instantly bonded to those girls. I instantly felt at home again, especially since I hadn't felt as connected as I initially thought I would. I bonded with my pledge class, felt instant trust and love among my fellow sisters.

I was fun, I laughed, told ridiculous and dirty jokes, drank, smoked, danced, wore clothes I'd never dare to wear at home with my family and friends. I lived outside of my comfort zone constantly. I pushed the boundaries. I had also just discovered sex. And I loved it. If I liked someone, I flirted. If they flirted back, I flirted harder. I was really good at it, flirting that is. Well, I was also pretty good at sex. And it felt amazing. I guess I built up a bit of a reputation for myself. I enjoyed sex. I lived outside of my comfort zone. I flirted. I laughed. I had fun. Until I didn't.

I attended a fraternity event, called Formal. I got all dressed up with a borrowed dress from a friend and a brand new pair of red high heels I begged my mom to buy me. I did my hair in curls, I had my friends do my make up. I drank a little beforehand. I drank a lot during. Honestly, I drank most of a handle of rum. Mixed with soda, mixed with water, mixed with rum. I drank to a point where I couldn't remember drinking anymore. I don't remember how I got outside. I don't remember how these two males got me outside. I don't remember who pulled my underwear down. I don't remember who bent me over. I don't remember who penetrated me from behind. I don't remember who put their penis in my mouth.

I do remember realizing what was happening and saying no. I do remember staggering away, confused, barefoot, back inside. I remember seeing my "sister" and immediately crying. I remember being put into a car and taken back to campus. I remember trying to explain what happened, through tears and vomit. I remember waking up the next day, feeling the pain in my head, all over my body. I remember feeling disgusting. I remember my "sisters" explaining how much I drank, how the guys who did it were physically assaulted by their "brothers" for what they did - specifically that they tried to have sex with another brothers date. I knew that it wasn't just sex. Because I didn't remember it. I didn't remember flirting. I didn't remember liking it. How was it really sex?

I remember being approached in the dining hall by one of the guys, who told me "If I knew you were that drunk, I wouldn't have let that happen." I remember nodding my head and saying "okay."

I remember approaching the school counselor, explaining what happened because I couldn't remember much, but I didn't think it was sex. I remember being asked "what were you wearing?" and "how much did you drink?" and "what did you do to make them have sex with you?" I remember feeling like I was the one to blame.

I remember in the days to come, my "sisters" turning on me. They "heard the real story". How I threw myself at both guys. How I'd had sex with one of them a few weeks back, so of course he thought it was okay. How I had drank so much that I was putting myself at risk.

I remember being slut shamed by an ex-boyfriend. I remember getting text after text from him one night about how I was a SLUT, WORTHLESS, ASKING FOR IT, and that I should KILL MYSELF.

I remember feeling so alone. I remember wanting to die. I remember trying to die.

I also remember finding strength in those who believed me. I remember the time that it took for me to realize that it wasn't my fault. I remember hearing the stories of other victims, of other survivors, of other people just like me. I remember understanding that I was more than my experience. And now I know that I am not simply a number. I am one person who overcame. I am one person, among many, who experienced trauma, survived, and thrived. I am one person who takes each day as it comes, and understands that I will never really feel okay, but I will be okay. I am more than what I remember.


0155: Boy Afraid


Content warning: the following story contains references to sexual assault, alcoholism, and depression, which may be triggering for some readers.


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“Boy Afraid,” David Cave

I was maybe 10 or 11 the first time John held me up against a wall with the force of his body and rubbed me up and down, kissing my neck. His hot breath made me shiver, I felt violated, disgusted and impossibly tainted, paralyzed by fear and shock. Over the next few years, this would happen nearly every Sunday at the Baptist church my family attended three times a week. As I got older, I grew resistant to John's physical prowess over me, threatening to tell on him. I never did, I still haven't told anyone of consequence what he did to me. Every time I threatened him with action, refusing to play the docile deer-in-his-headlights he threatened me with violence, or threatened to do the same to my brother, instilling a terror that casts a long shadow over my life. In the same turn he would add more time to the clock that he counted out in his head while he felt me up violently and kissed my neck by the storage shed behind the church, often arbitrarily adding time to my sentence for the slightest transgression. I quickly tried to get out of going to church as much as I could, faking illness and trying to maximize time around the friends I knew I was safe around that might provide protection (because John's fear of being found out trumped his violent sexual urges).

John was often referred to as my friend, as we were constantly around each other, and eventually I bought into this lie (the truth was he wouldn't let me far out of his sight, terrorizing me every second he could just through his oppressive presence). He would refer to my brother and I as "pretty boys," something which my mother realizes the true gravity of in retrospect, but at the time came off merely as jealousy at my family's middle class existence. What he was really saying was that we were worthless and unlovable, just like him. I can't recall what eventually led to the end of John's reign of terror on my life, my memory of those years is hazy and missing large chunks likely due to the trauma inflicted on me. I understand this phenomenon as the activation of defense mechanisms within my mind shutting off sections to protect me, like sailors closing off bulkheads to keep water from spreading to different areas of a ship, threatening to sink them all.

It wasn't until my late twenties that I learned my brother, two years my junior, had been John's de facto victim when I wasn't around. My family eventually moved on from that church when we moved to a new neighborhood on the North side of Denver, but I heard that John, one year younger than me, had gone to juvenile court for assaulting his cousin. The story as I recall was that his cousin had been sitting on his shoulders and he had "accidentally" reached up her skirt and grabbed her inappropriately. Inherent in this was the insinuation and insistence that it had been an accident, that it was harmless and there's no way John could have committed such an act. I didn't speak up. I felt ashamed, I was speechless, and I knew exactly what he'd done immediately. I froze, and couldn't say anything.

There were rumblings around the time my family joined the church (that I would hear until years later) that John's grandfather, the former pastor of the church, had physically and sexually abused his grandchildren. This fact was rarely brought up, not even as an explanation for John's actions, but it has provided me some much needed context with which to frame my experiences. Hurt people hurt people. I guess. It doesn't excuse what he did, but it helps me to understand and maybe begin to empathize a bit. Is this how Stockholm Syndrome begins?

Regardless of this, it's clear the church and the community systematically failed us. The patriarch of the church abused his grandchildren (and very likely other people in his family), with no repercussions and no one did anything to stop him. He was even fondly remembered by his family, who I've been told knew what he did. How can someone look back at their abuser and feel fondness? Although I understand he too likely underwent his own abuse at the hands of someone, I find it hard looking back at that period of my life with any sort of fondness for John or even his family for that matter.

For years I kept these events locked up in the furthest recesses of my memory, threw away the key and refused to look at them. I found solace in video games, places that I could feel powerful, worlds where no one really got hurt (Pokemon Red was a favorite of mine around age 12, a joyful cartoony escape from what I endured outside the game). I took solace in punk rock, shouting along to all the words of Black Flag, Minor Threat, and Descendents. The pain, frustration, and boredom of suburban white teenage boys raised in stifled, emotionally closed off environments appealed to my internal need to be be heard but paradoxically not knowing how to vocalize how I felt. I was angry at my parents and the church for not protecting me. I was angry at society for the mere existence of people like John. Most of all I was angry at myself for not telling anyone and not stopping the cycle of sexual violence John perpetrated on me and countless others. I got it stuck in my head that it was my fault, that somehow I was culpable. I believed I was broken, damaged, I was a piece of shit. Henry Rollins was the only person who knew how I felt, so I drowned out the pain with Greg Ginn's wailing guitars and alcohol.

The ensuing years went on, I didn't think about John or what happened to me, it was locked up deep inside and it never came up in my thoughts. It was almost like it'd never happened. Almost. Looking back now, it's easy to see that at least to some extent it helped fuel my alcoholism, my depression, my unending loneliness as I sought to find a real connection with other people (but failing miserably at every turn). I manipulated people I was in relationship with when they disagreed with me, when I felt insecure and afraid they would leave me alone with myself. These were tactics I didn't learn from my parents, they were maladaptive behaviors I learned through my abuse. Even when I got sober at age 20 the fact that years of abuse could have influenced my behaviors or my alcoholism hadn't occurred to me until I got to my fourth step inventory in Alcoholics Anonymous. I was working on my inventory, in which I chronicled my resentments, what had happened, my part in what happened, etc. John just flowed out of me and onto the page, along with all the parts I blamed myself for- not saying anything for years, not stopping him, not protecting my brother or anyone else he assaulted. I shared this with my sponsor, who remains until now the only person I've ever told at length about what happened to me. It was also the first time someone told me it wasn't my fault. Something in me broke open, and memories came flooding back. My emotional reaction was still muted, still disconnected, but I wasn't living with the trauma just under the surface anymore. Maybe I could live with it. Maybe I could be vulnerable without fear of being hurt. For the first time the possibility that I could be fixed occurred to me.

I spent years as part archeologist, and part palmist- examining what I remember of who I was before John, how what he did changed me throughout the years, trying to remember changes in my personality and moods; also trying to trace the lines of trauma in my daily life, who I am now, what I want, how I can be more like my original childhood self, and what sort of psycho-sexual effect the abuse has had on my long-term development. I was processing, trying to find the answer why so I could fix myself. I still don't like people being forceful with me in intimate settings for obvious reasons, but there seemed some possibility the complete eradication of agency in my life at a young age jumpstarted the depression and anxiety I've struggled with as a teenager and adult. If only I could think my way through it hard enough, I might solve my problems. Now I understand how futile an endeavor this was, no amount of thinking could undo what was done to me. It wasn't going to make me healthier or more adaptive in my daily life. I had to find a new way to exist, but what thinking did help me do was process.

I'm still at a loss for what I do with this now, I've had this horrible hex put on me by someone else, yet when I try to follow in the footsteps of notable men who've undergone sexual harassment and abuse like Terry Crews or Brendan Fraser, I'm often met with incredulity that a straight, white, able-bodied cishet man such as myself could have an experience many associate with women. I even had a woman in a multicultural social work class tell me that my experience was invalid because as a man I "don't experience things like that every day," as though the frequency at which I experience assault is a qualifier for being a victim. I talked about it in a journal paper that I had to turn in to my professor in hopes that maybe she might bring it up in class to show that in the social work field we can't make assumptions, but was met with silence. I was left wondering why I even bothered to share my experience in the first place, despite my professor prompting the discussion about sexual assault on men. Now I understand first-hand what it's like to have your experience invalidated by those around you, shutting down uncomfortable discussion with pointless qualifiers and platitudes that "it could always be worse." As though human suffering is quantifiable. All I seek is validation, a seat at a table where I can be vulnerable with others who've gone through similar experiences that I can learn how to heal from.

I've never felt I had a place in this world as a victim or a "normal man". I still don't know where I belong, as Jacob Bannon sings in the Converge song "Last Light":

"I need a purpose and I need a reason
I need to know there is trophy and meaning
to all we lose and all we fight for
to all our loves and our wars
keep breathing
keep living
keep searching
keep pushing on
keep bleeding
keep healing
keep fading
keep shining on
this is for the hearts still beating"

With tears in my eyes for the things I've lost, and resolve in my heart, I keep pushing on.


About the art:

David is one of my new best friends - we met in September and quickly hit it off. Since then, we’ve shared so much of ourselves in learning how to have a healthy male relationship. David is one of the most knowledgeable and insightful people I’ve ever met. For a story like this to come from David was a pretty big surprise for me.

When I first read his story, my heart sank - I hated learning about a struggle he’s lived with throughout his life. While he has this experience, I know this piece took a lot for him to write, but I’m so thankful he did because I know this piece will help many people heal.

So for the art, I went off his affinity for Converge’s “Last Light,” matched the colors from the artwork, wrote all of the lyrics in the background and focused on the last two lines as a symbol of motivation for David.

- Craig.

0152: I Still Stand


Content warning: The following story contains references to sexual violence and coercion, which may be difficult for some readers.

"I Still Stand," anonymous

To this day I still remember every detail. I remember how they used my innocence and thirst for adventure to their own selfish amusement. 

I drive past the hall where my innocence was taken, where my foundation was cracked, and I flashback to the scene. I try to convince myself once again that I am okay, that this event did not alter who I am. But I know that is a lie, I know that I am forever changed and will never again be the person that I was originally set to be. 

At first I was shocked. I was not able to understand what had just been done. I was embarrassed to tell anyone because I was so uncertain about the pain that I had just endured. I wanted to be strong. 

I have always been strong,
on the outside. 

But inside I knew that I was not capable of dealing with this.
I was never taught how to deal with this situation. I was not ready for this storm. 

Isn’t it funny how the hardest lessons in life are those that come from a moment that you were unable to prepare for? I think to myself if I had only known that he was going to force himself on me I could have prepared an exit plan. 
I could have prepared a firm counter argument that made it clear that I did not want him inside of me.
I could have prepared for the pain that I would have to endure.
I could have prepared for the pain that my loved ones had to face. 

Yet, this type of tragedy is not one that allows you the courtesy to prepare.

Without preparation my world shattered, 
The thought of him on my body still haunts me. The memory of how it felt to be ripped apart still shatters me. 

 But I can’t let that control me. I can’t focus on that feeling of hatred, disgust, guilt. 

This is my body. 
This is my body. 
This is my body. 

I will not let myself continue to be his victim. I will proudly stand tall against his lingering shadow because I know that I am okay.

I know that I am strong, 
that I am wonderful, 
that I am courageous.

 I am not afraid of him because I know that he is weak. He bowed down to his own weakness and prayed on mine. From this I learned where I was weak and built up supports to ensure that no one would ever lean on this weakness again. 

I have become so strong. Even through my strength I still remember my weakness, like a childhood friend. 

Time always freezes in a moment of misery. No words could ever describe what I endured.

I think about it and my heart shrinks. It shrinks and hides away in fear of the pain that it had endured. I make myself small again in fear of standing out to another predator. Once again, I feel myself become scared and fragile. 

But these thoughts are only my fears coming to limit my passions, to halt my success. I know that these fears are not valid, for I know that I am strong. 

Today I stand tall. Today I walk with a purpose. Even though there are cracks in my statue I continue to stand. Each crack fills with courage and hope and makes me stronger. 

I am not willing to let myself be held back by the storm that tried to knock me down. Others in my situation may be scared of the rain after coming face to face with a storm, but I embrace it. I let the rain wash over me and take away the grime that the world has put on me. I embrace my pain because that is what makes me who I am.

I am a girl, standing on a solid foundation, looking for the next opportunity. 

I stand strong. 

I stand beautifully. 

I stand purposefully. 


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About the art:

This piece is pretty straightforward - and it's somewhat deceptive at the same time. I wanted to use the affirmations - "I know I am strong, I am wonderful, I am courageous" - as the forefront of the piece, with "This is my body" in the background because it combined both of the major strengthening moments of the story. This survivor is determined and brave to share as passionately as they did and I'm so thankful we got to share this piece.

- Craig.

0151: Move or Die


Content warning: The following story contains references to rape, sexual violence, coercion, and toxic masculinity, which may be difficult for some readers.


"Move or Die," Molly Mitchell

I met my rapist through the DIY scene in Tucson, Arizona. I was a DJ and operated an independent record store, and he sought me out to create a musical partnership. After he booked me for a number of DJ gigs, we became good friends, and I started helping him with his creative projects.

In addition to operating a DIY venue and booking shows at the local "cool kid" spots, he was also part of a shitty white guy hip hop duo and had an operation called "The Rap Van." The idea was that he would load up about 15 buzzed participants from the local bar in the back of his white cargo van, and he'd drive it around while an actually talented rapper would perform. Tucson ate that shit up. So did I.

In the beginning of our friendship, my rapist and I actually had a consensual sexual relationship. I mean.. sort of. He was also sleeping with a number of other girls 15 years younger than him and lying to me about it. That's where the sexual relationship ended, and I insisted that we either pursue a plutonic, professional friendship, or nothing at all. He chose the former. After six months of effort, it finally felt natural to just be friends.

One night, we ended up taking a mini road trip up north with another female friend of mine. The trip was originally supposed to be just she and I, but she put herself in charge of finding us a third person with a vehicle, and he's who she chose. 

Initially I wasn't sure about it. I didn't know if I could completely relax on an overnight trip with him. But after hours of friendly conversation (during which he continued to gush about his new love interest), I started to feel more comfortable. He was our designated driver, so my friend and I participated in some good old fashioned binge drinking. One of the neighborhood bars had a niche drink-- 30 oz of Mountain Dew and vodka. We caught ourselves a caffeinated buzz, but I never lost consciousness. 

I remember getting into the van and asking my rapist if he was good to drive. He said "I'm not even kind of drunk", and he drove us to our location. Once we got to our camping spot, he and my friend went outside to smoke a cigarette, and I fell asleep in the back of the van fully clothed-- jeans, shoes, and all.

I woke up the next morning exactly how I fell asleep, except my hips were in excruciating pain, which I chalked up to sleeping on the floor of a van. Throughout the remainder of our trip, my rapist kept making jokes about how we "had sex." I knew that even in my drunkest state, I had no interest in doing that with him again, and he said it in such a way where I believed he was kidding.

The jokes persisted all the way back to Tucson, and my friend started getting in on it, too. When I finally asked my friend why she kept saying that we had sex, she simply said "Because you did." I asked her how she knew-- Did I do it in front of her, did she see me, was I vocal, was there movement? She said "no, it seemed like you were passed out, but he was moving and grunting, so I knew you guys were doing it." She was so cavalier about it. He was, too. I didn't ask any further questions, and spent the next week feeling terribly about myself-- How could I do something that I was so explicitly against? 

Finally, I confronted him. I sent him a message on Facebook spilling my guts-- Telling him how fucked up it was that he felt welcome to my body when I was clearly unconscious. I had spent six months rejecting his advances and making my stance clear...there was no room for doubt. He responded apologetically, admitting "I didn't get your consent. I didn't check in...as a friend."

I confided this to the owner of the record store, who is still to this day one of the best men I know. He respected that I wasn't sure about going public, but advised me that my rapist was featured on a local rapper's upcoming album, as well as a local zine. He told me that he refused to carry the zine and album with my rapist's name on it, and thought it was only fair to give the artist's behind those projects fair warning.

And so we did. We told a few people the truth at a time. And then it blew up. In no time, my good friend, who is a well-known hip hop artist in Tucson publicly outed my rapist on Facebook (with my permission, of course). It became the talk of the town. The venue that hosted The Rap Van cancelled his upcoming events. His hip hop duo's album release was cancelled. Word spread like wildfire.

Before my name was even associated with the outing, "his side" of the story started circulating. My rapist was going around letting everyone know that I was the one who raped him-- That's right. I grabbed him by his bits and forced him into mine. Poor guy. Even more ridiculous is that people actually believed him.

Let it be known that I did file a police report only a couple of weeks after the assault. I provided a very detailed report and followed up with the police. Nothing happened.

Anyone surprised?

I was overwhelmed with support in Tucson, no doubt. But there were also a significant amount of people who were actively against me-- Many of them were people I considered friends. I stopped getting DJ gigs (not like I wanted even wanted them anymore, I didn't even want to leave the house). My rape became my life. People were constantly coming up to me at work (I worked weekend at a popular bar) and sharing their personal assault stories. People were also constantly coming into my work just to stare me down and intimidate me. I couldn't escape my rape no matter where I went, and I stopped feeling safe in my own town.

My rapist fled Tucson shortly after he was outed. He deleted all social media, never publicly addressed the issue, hopped in his Rap Van, and took off. As if that didn't scream "guilty" enough, I had publicly shared a screenshot of the conversation in which he admitted to raping me. That wasn't enough for a lot of people. Music bros kept demanding more proof, demanding police reports, demanding answers from me personally. Even female survivors were speaking out against me, claiming that I had single-handedly ruined the downtown music scene with my "allegation", and that I should have gone through the police, not social media. 

I reached a point in only a matter of months where I realized it was never going to get better for me in Tucson. I was sleeping all day, only waking up when I had to go to work. I was dangerously depressed and knew that I had two options-- Move or die. I chose to move.

In the midst of saving up for my move, it was brought to my attention that my rapist had fled to Detroit, where he was hosting The Rap Van shows at a different bar. Same shit, different city. It was also brought to my attention that his van was being funded by a creative grant issued by Meow Wolf, a well-known creative organization based out of Santa Fe.

At this point, I was too drained to take any further action. Fortunately, I had a lot of really incredible soldiers fighting for me. People I didn't even know were rallying together to call the Detroit bars and performers associated with The Rap Van to warn them of my rapist and his actions. After this, he eventually fled to Canada, masquerading it as a tour-- Calling it "Vanada." Shortly after that, The Rap Van's instagram was deactivated and I haven't heard any news of him since.

A really remarkable amount of friends and strangers also rallied together to contact Meow Wolf-- Eventually getting in touch with the CEO. While it was too late to revoke the grant, my friend negotiated with the CEO, who agreed to match his Rap Van grant as a donation to SACASA, the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault.

That wasn't the only good thing to come of my rape. It turns out that leaving Tucson was the best decision I've ever made. My whole life has turned around for the best. While I still suffer from PTSD night terrors, I'm working through my trauma in therapy.

Meanwhile in Tucson, there are still plenty of bros who insist that my rapist is innocent. And that makes me worry for what they're capable of, as well. I fear for the young men and women of Tucson. I fear for the young men and women who participate in art scenes everywhere. So many of us find music and carve out little communities for ourselves through that art, thinking that we are surrounding ourselves with like-minded individuals who, regardless of gender, are all to some varying degree "feminists." When that gets tested, you realize that, in the face of clear evidence, folks who were so much a part of your progressive, mindful, equal community are quick to not take sides in a situation where right is is clearly right and wrong is clearly wrong.

All that we have is our voice. And all that we can hope is that someone listens. Thanks for listening. 


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About the art:

This story shook me at my core - it's a story that hits home in a lot of ways, especially with so many men in the indie/emo music scenes being outed for their predatory and/or outright sexually deviant behavior.

Molly is one of my favorite folks to interact with on Instagram - it's really the only place we know each other. She has great taste in music and has always been straightforward when discussing her mental health and life situations. So when she reached out to me after I was calling out a dude for basically what she discusses in this story (re: bros needing more "proof" and not believing the accounts of survivors), I suggested sharing a story with us - and she had it ready to go almost IMMEDIATELY. I essentially woke up to the story in my inbox.

I'm so thankful that Molly was able to take a careful look at her circumstance and recognize what she could/needed to do to be safe and have a chance at a more normal life - and sometimes that takes moving away. I WISH I could say this is the first time I've heard that rationale, but the reality is that many folks end up having to disassociate from a scene, or leave it altogether in order to preserve some sanity. That's why the words in this piece are some important - it's so real.

And it's such a necessary and poignant story to read because it encapsulates many elements of pervasive and explicit behaviors existent in the scenes today. There's no room for a scene to be unsafe, coercive, and/or dangerous FOR ANYONE. I just hope we truly begin listening to voices and survivors and challenging the toxic behaviors of men in the scene and at the gigs.

- Craig.

0150: Taylor of the Past


Content warning: The following piece contains references to sexual assault and coercion, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Taylor of the Past," Taylor, the Survivor

Dear Taylor of the Past,

You’re now at college, congratulations! New and amazing memories will be created here: you will laugh till you cry and smile till your cheeks hurt. I do ask that you pay attention to the meetings on campus safety, reporting an incident, and consent (especially how an intoxicated individual cannot legally give consent to engage in sexual activity). Why do I ask this of you? Because college means experimenting with your limits and this will include alcohol limits. I am sorry to say you will not always be smart when testing your boundaries with alcohol. For there will be a night come winter quarter that will taint your memories for the remainder of your life. 

The night will be cold as snow blankets the ground, but you will be warmed by the alcohol pumping through your veins. It starts out innocent as you drink with your girlfriends in one of their rooms, but then you will receive an invitation to a party, your first college party! It’s a small party with music and more alcohol to add to what you drank before coming over. While there, encouragement to continue letting drinks slither down the throat will echo in the ears. A guy will muster up courage to ask to dance, and a drunk agreement will escape the lips because who doesn’t like to dance?

In your haze you will remember to tell him that “We are not having sex”, quiet yet still audible. As the party continues, the ability to concentration or perceive surroundings decreases and blurs. Suddenly, the guy grabs your hand, leading to his bedroom in the back. You’ll start to realize what is happening when you are laid on the bed and panic will grip your heart. “Do you want to?” is thrown into the air, “No. No.” But suddenly clothes disappear and now how can you leave the room to your friends 10 feet away with nothing to cover yourself? A corner deep in the mind will welcome you and hold you until it is over. Desire for memory to cease to exist is strong as tears hinder the ability to see, making it difficult to leave the now forbidden apartment. Walking back to the dorm, a comparison is made between yourself and a newborn deer stumbling on unstable legs. You are now another statistic, one where alcohol was consumed when the assault occurred.

The next day while talking with a friend the word “Rape” escapes her lips, said in a gentle tone-yet it cuts the surrounding air. Shock arises as she confirms your fear. People will radiate with doubt as the words “Drunk mistake” are whispered, but you know the truth, you know you said no. With a strong mindset, a report will be filed and the exhausting process to healing begins. Several conduct meetings will be held with the school and him; I can tell you that he did not fully comprehend his actions that night.

After the assault, a single touch can cause the body to shiver in fear, and the thought of seeing the man on campus creates anxiety that squeezes the heart. Schoolwork will become strenuous and difficult to focus on and it will not be easy waking up or going to sleep for weeks. People will scrunch up trying to hide from the word rape; trying to hide from you. But deep down is the courage and the strength needed to push past all of the negative feelings, because I know you, and I know that you do not want a single man to determine your life. I also know that you would rather handle this than have it happen to one of your friends, but please don’t forget to take care of yourself. Over time the feelings of anxiety and fear will start to deplete but never completely leave. While the road may get bumpy, use it to educate and help others. Just remember that I will never stop believing in you.

Love, 
Taylor, the Survivor


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About the art:

This story was sent to us by a colleague who solicited a number of stories from their students - for an upcoming event on their campus. So I wanted to share one of them now in preparation for sharing the others next week! This piece is meant to be a powerful reminder for this survivor, who is clearly using the letter format in an intentional manner for this to be related beyond just their experience. Which, as unique as everyone's experiences can be, many of these stories begin to sound eerily similar. And those similarities serve as valuable reminders for folks to look out for each other and to find ways to take care of ourselves.

- Craig.

0149: Fear of Disappointment


Content warning: The following story contains references to sexual assault, coercion by a teacher, and psychological abuse, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Fear of Disappointment," Anonymous

It all started when I was 13. I was young and innocent. Didn’t know how sex worked or why people did it. I was ignorant when it came to that topic. I became a leader and slowly got closer to a teacher of mine.

At first I thought it was cool that I was making an adult friend, but I regret that feeling to this day. I wish I could go back in time and stop myself then but I can’t. Anyways, the days passed by and days turned into weeks. He slowly started to lure me into his office and ask me personal questions that made me feel uncomfortable. I began to answer, hesitatingly, but not thinking much of it.

He started to use those things against me. In addition, he’d get mad if I didn’t stay in his office during lunch and break. He’d get mad if I didn’t talk to him all the time. He’d use that anger against me and make me feel guilty. That thirteen year old didn’t know what was happening. I clearly didn’t understand.

Sadly, I just took it.

I thought that I had to obey and didn’t want to disappoint and lose my leadership position. I didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of my classmates. It began to get more sexual. He started asking for things and making me feel like I had to say yes or there would be consequences. I didn’t want anymore problems. I knew if I’d fight it, it would only get worse so the way I survived was keeping my mouth shut and taking it. I never wanted what happened to me.

For months he manipulated me, hurt me, etc. I just took it. He yelled at me for hanging with friends. He became obsessive. I thought maybe after I’d graduate high school it would stay in the past and I wouldn’t need to live it again. I thought wrong. It followed me for 2 more years. No one knew. I had no idea I was being sexually assaulted until I read about what that was last year. I called the police and now he’s in jail.

I’ve been having nonstop nightmares and panic attacks because of the past and because of the hearings coming up. I’m scared to see him again in court. I’m scared he’s going to hurt me again. I just couldn’t imagine letting it happen to another girl and I couldn’t deal with the pain any longer.

Today, I’m struggling with PTSD and severe clinical depression. After being in therapy for months, my therapists and psychiatrist suggested that medication would be necessary to see more improvement in my mood and mental state. I’ve been on Zoloft for about a month and still have trouble staying motivated. My best friends helped me get through it all and it wouldn’t have been possible without them.

I still have trouble talking about details whether it be with police, my therapists, my friends, and especially my parents. I’m constantly stressed about court and having to give a testimony. I have trouble trusting people and it takes me a while to get close to someone because idk who to trust anymore.

Sometimes I feel better but hopefully my life improves after all of this and I can also hopefully inspire others who are going through something similar to come out of the shadows and speak out against sexual assault. Telling the police was the hardest decision I’ve ever made but the decision that I’m most thankful for.


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About the art:

For a survivor who still struggles to discuss this experience with police and their peers, I am so thankful for the pieces they were willing to share with us here. This survivor was even willing to add an extra piece to the story to bring it altogether, which wound up being my favorite part - because it inspired me to use this quote for their piece. When asking the survivor what they would like me to paint, they requested a quote that would give them strength.

So I actually took a line from one of my upcoming new songs - a line that gives me a lot of strength. A line that we have printed on a number of patches. So I look forward to sending this painting to the survivor AS WELL as some of the patches to match!

This is an important piece for our audience because it clearly names and addresses a massive power imbalance that occurs in the education system - a system with which I work and have observed behaviors like these in other teachers. So I'm glad this was finally addressed on our project. So thank you, survivor!

- Craig.

0148: No


Content warning: The following story contains references to sexual assault, rape, drug use, and coercion, which may be triggering for some readers.

"No," Anonymous

I’m a Christian woman. I always used to wonder why nothing bad ever happened to me. I was blind to the privilege of my skin color and the religion I subscribe to. Not once, but twice, I have had someone invade my body, without my permission. My senior year of high school, I was dating a guy a few years older than myself and one night, we smoked weed together. Little did I know at the time, but him and his friends all dealt coke but would keep a little for themselves and then cut it, but they use cocaine in their blunts, so I smoked unknowingly and passed out.

I later woke up to him having sex with me, I don’t know how I got there or when I got naked, but this man was having sex with me as I was unconscious. When I had asked him to stop, he simply replied, “Can’t handle me, huh?”

And then finished.

The second time occurred my freshman year of college, I had just recently told a close few friends about how I had been assaulted the previous year. It was Halloween night and we had met some frat guys the night before at a party and invited them back to our apartment. They brought three blunts and a handle of Smirnoff grapefruit, which they used to their own agenda. After playing Kings and smoking more than I have ever before, I thought I was safe to walk home alone, so I left.

One of the guys followed me back to my apartment, and since I was so crossed I wasn’t aware he was behind me. I was home alone, so no one could stop him and he followed me to my room and pinned me down to have sex with him. I said “NO” but he continued pulling off my clothes, and unable to stop him in my subdued state, he took something from me, something he had been told not to take.

My take away is that, I still struggle with drinking to this day. I only drink until I feel buzzed because I’m afraid it will happen again. However, I would never wish my story upon any of the other millions of women and men that it happens to. Some days are better than others, but you are more than a rape survivor. You are capable, you are stronger than you think, and you are beautiful, despite the disgust you may feel both inside and out.

Both of those nights, I lost a little something I’ll never gain back. I can’t tell my family, they won’t understand. But I do want to empower other women and men to tell their stories and stand up and respect the word NO.


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About the art:

In knowing this survivor, it broke my heart to read this piece. So instead of focusing on the negative, I wanted to give this survivor something special and powerful to live with and have in their life. I loved this quote because it evokes much of the current conversation on sexual assault centers on believing survivors and seeing those survivors and their stories as a sign of strength. While it feels like it took us a while to get to this point as a country, I am excited to see such a change.

- Craig.

0146: I Survived


Content warning: The following story contains references to someone being sexually assaulted, which may be triggering for some readers.

"I Survived," Nicole

 

It was school spirit week, and it was formal day. Being a freshman, spirit week was crucial in becoming one with school. During homeroom, my advisor was taking a picture of my group when it started with just a touch on the shoulder. Nothing to worry about right?

We had been friends for two years, nothing would ever happen. We were talking by the door, when he backed me into the door, i struggled to break free but he wouldn't let me go. He moved so he could press his stomach against my back.

I kept struggling, the only thing he said was that struggling wouldn't help and neither would no. He pressed his hips into mine and ran his hand up my dress telling me not to tease him. Tears streamed down my face as the school bell rang, the only thing saving me from going to far. The first thought that ran through my mind was how did no one notice me struggling? Why during school?

It took two weeks for me to report him, I had to sit in the principals office for four hours repeating my story, and typing it out. I saw him for two weeks before he was removed from my classes. He told his friends that I was a lying whore.

Imagine being a freshman in school and just being re-attacked once more.
To think that someone could just ruin my life in a matter of twenty minutes.
Everyone believed him, and made him out to be a victim.
I had to keep reliving the assault until it finally died down.

It wasn't until his father made the decision to switch schools for the rumors and lies to stop spreading. I have only told 5 people about the assault. And how I survived was that my desire to not let this define me as a person was greater than letting him think he won. I graduated high school a month ago, and I have never looked back.

Talking about this never really becomes more comfortable, but just something easier, because I’m not alone. There are so many people I can go to, and ones that will support me. The hashtag #MeToo has shown me I don’t have to fight this battle alone. As I type this, I ponder everything that I have been through, and to this day a former friend still sees him. Post snapchat stories, and when I think of her I just feel sadness.

And I hope she doesn’t end up in the same position as me. She even admitted that he made her uncomfortable but I guess once you start to leave someone who meant so much to you in your past, some people don’t really know who to turn to. So you turn to anyone who will attempt to be loyal. But as I just continue to learn to love myself, I hope maybe one day she will do the same.

Can someone learn to love themselves after she has done so much to hurt people? Yes she can, she can push through the pain of people not understanding. And no one caring, and being miserable, and rise above everything that has happened. To hope that one day, I will be able to walk the streets and not look behind my back. That one day I will feel okay, his face won’t flashback anymore. And when it does, it’s just a mere thought. 


About the art:

When Nicole first reached out to us to share her story, she had only shared a few sentences and I could tell she had a lot more to share, so I asked her to elaborate on some of the stuff she brought up in the initial message to us! I'm thankful she did because she unraveled a lot of elements of her experience with which I think many people with relate.

I wrote the quote, “I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me," repeatedly in the background because the quote stood out to me as one that really resonated with Nicole's story. And then I taped off a lot of the canvas and left the words, "I Survived," visible amid all of the paint. It was cool to create a painting like this! And then I painted, "#MeToo," on the canvas a few times for the MeToo campaign.

- Craig

0145: I Didn't Tell Anyone


Content warning: The following story contains references to sexual assault, violence, and depression, which may be triggering for some readers.

"I Didn't Tell Anyone," S.D.

It wasn't the quintessential spring break everyone talks about. I was about a month away from being nineteen in my sophomore year of college and that meant no bar hopping in the sometimes sunny Isle of Palm. I was on vacation with my friends at one of their beach houses and was so excited to be away from home that anything they wanted to do was going to be fun. It was a group of four girls so we had some natural hiccups but nothing that was going to keep me from being happy to be there, even if they did want to use dating apps to meet guys in the area.

One night, we had signed on to an app individually. Something I don't distinctly remember doing but won't forget having done. I complained to my friends, "Yeah, its sort of shitty tho, since they only show you people you've already "liked."" My friends looked at me, then to each other. "No it doesn't" one said, sort of sassy, sort of trying to understand. She explained, after some confusion, that each person I swiped right for had already swiped right for me, but that that doesn't happen every time. And just like that, a moment that would continue to hang over me in playful teasing in our friendship was born.

There was a bit of back and forth about having strangers over the house but we came to some sort of agreement that they would be allowed in and if anyone was uncomfortable we'd send them away. We had plenty of alcohol and we were never going to finish it all alone. They came over, I don't remember their names. It was awkward to start and then people got more comfortable. There was this weird sort of auto pairing off that happened. One girl went to bed and then the three guys each sort of made clear who they wanted to talk to of the three of us left. I was a little uncomfortable because I had a boyfriend at the time and felt like there was some implication with using an app that we wanted to sleep with them which was by no means the case. 

He kept staring at me, even when we talked as a group. It was sort of noticeable and I tried to ignore it. Claiming it was getting chilly, I purposefully excused myself to put on a bigger sweater. I returned in a cozy outfit of soft leggings and a tee shirt and sweatshirt to find that my two friends wanted to take the guys they had been talking to on a tour of the house and the area. I said something like, "sure yeah okay". I wasn't expecting us to split up and do tours in pairs, but that's what happened.

This guy and I walked around the house; I put on a sort of anti-hostess attitude and showed him the place. It was a small beach cottage with a few stories and a nice master bedroom. I ended on the last bedroom that no one was using since there were only us four girls staying there. He grabbed my wrist and spun me toward him when we had just stepped inside.
I said something quickly in protest but he kissed me anyway. I pushed against his shoulders and was shocked at how little I could move him; he didn't look that strong. He slid his right arm under my shirt, up my back and grabbed me by the back of the neck. His grip on the base of my skull forced me to face him and he said something to the effect of we can do this the easy way or the hard way.

He whipped me around and slammed me into the twin bed face down. He ripped down my leggings and called me naughty for having not worn underwear. He pushed my face into a pillow and shoved himself inside me after rubbing spit on himself. He leaned into me hard and bent forward to tell me not to say anything, that if I would he'd find me and kill me and kill anyone I cared about. He put his hand on my throat and kept it tight. I couldn't breathe or think or feel anything. Then he loosened his grip and told me to call him daddy like I meant it. I did. It felt disgusting, like shaking strangers hands all day in an airport and no way to wash your hands. But instead of just my hands, it felt like my whole body was one layer of thick filth.

He pulled up my pants and called me a good girl. I could feel the stickiness between my legs; it rubbed between my thighs and onto my leggings. I pulled my shirt down, put my hair back up and went downstairs. He followed. We all sat in the living room and I kept my feet under me on the single-seater couch. I saw my friends eyeing me. I played tired. The guys thanked us for the good time and left. I went to bed.

I wish that was the end of it.

I wish I'd never thought about it again or that I could just close the chapter that it was in and I could be someone else. 

I didn't tell anyone for two years.

At first, I was scared the girls that were there that night would have told my then boyfriend that I cheated. I tried to find a reason to talk to someone for a while after that but then my urge to speak didn't exist anymore. And it just fell into a deeper part of me that I didn't want to go find.

I have had chronic nightmares since long before that night on spring break, but now I relive my trauma for weeks on end. It all came to a head one night with the boyfriend I had junior and senior year. We were walking home one night and I imploded as we crossed the quad. I knew my nightmares had been effecting our relationship and I knew I was going to lose him if I didn't tell someone something but every time the words bubbled to my lips from the slow boil in my heart I couldn't speak. Something would change or take my mind off of it. I could tell the whole story in my mind but it was like the second it was supposed to come out it all got translated into a foreign language like a processing error.

I've since been diagnosed with PTSD, something I struggle with telling anyone. I'm met with the same horribly familiar responses so I don't share. "Only people from the military get that." "You can't be serious. Rape is not the same thing as watching all of your friends get blown up." "You're too pretty to have problems. If I looked like you I'd never have a bad day in my life."

Even things that people mean well by, I have a hard time swallowing.

I have a hard time thinking I'll ever be with anyone that can stay with me through the effects of this because I'm scared they'll never go away. I'm scared I'll be 35 and waking up screaming crying in the middle of the night and that my SO won't understand. I can't have sex with someone who doesn't know this about me and I refuse to tell people about it because I'm scared of what they'll say either in front of me or behind my back. I want a meaningful relationship but I'm scared I'll be too much for someone to handle because of all the baggage that one night gave me.

I am a graduate student and I work with undergraduates in a peer education program. They bring inquisitive questions and classic conundrums forward about the topics we cover regularly. It forces me to be at the table of conversation about sexual violence and has really helped me understand my PTSD and experience that night by better understanding the neurobiology beneath my memory. I don't know what healing looks like, I just know it takes a long time and that I wish it wasn't this lonely.


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About the art:

This piece of art for SD was truly a labor of love. I wanted to play around with a taping style that I'd seen on the internet, so this was a fun way to explore that a bit! And then I tossed around some of my splatter paint! And tossed a great quote about strength and power to help SD get through the days at work!

So glad we are back with stories after a brief break - life has been a bit chaotic for us lately. However, we should be moving forward for the foreseeable future!

- Craig.

0140: She Wanted It


Content warning: The following story contains references to a survivor's experience with rape, incest, suicide, depression, and PTSD, which may be triggering for some readers.


"She Wanted It," Cathrine Holt

My story begins with three words that still haunt me today, “She wanted it.”

Almost two years ago, I made an appointment that would change my life completely. I made an appointment with a therapist that just so happened to be coming to my small town from her practice in San Antonio one day a week and was taking on new patients. I have suffered from anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember, it is actually pretty hard for me to remember a time that I was not feeling this way. I also suffered from suicidal thoughts, I thought about ending my life on a daily basis. In fact, I don’t remember when I began thinking about ending my life, but I do know that for more than ten years of my life it was the only way to get some peace into my head.

I came to a point in my life where I could not take it anymore, physically, emotionally, mentally and in just every way possible, I was done. I was so tired of being a prisoner of my own mind that I knew if I did not get help; it was only a matter of time before I jumped off the cliff that is suicide.  That was until I met my therapist, she saved me. From that first day I met her I knew she was going to change my life. For the fifteen years prior to meeting my therapist, I had been carrying around a debilitating secret.

When I was thirteen years old, my biological father began molesting me. He raped and molested me from what I can remember for about two to three years. This man would rape me in the bed that he shared with my mom, while she was in the bed sleeping; I was in the middle between them with no way out. I don’t remember the reasons why I began sleeping with my parents at thirteen, but I was and that is when he would rape me. He would wait until the Tylenol PMs that he gave to my mother would kick in and she would fall asleep and then he would rape me. I hated myself for it and blamed myself for many years. I wanted to tell my mom what he was doing and when I told him, he picked up his revolver, put it to his head and said “Let’s go tell her.”

I chickened out, I could not watch him kill himself right there in front of not only brother but also my mother and me. I remember that as this was going on and my menstrual cycle was even one day late that I would worry that I had gotten pregnant. I would stress out to the point of a panic attack, then one day he whispered into my ear “don’t worry I use condoms when we play.” That’s what he called it when he raped me. It was then that I remembered that when we had gone to Wal-Mart that I say him purchasing them, I thought that it was odd since my mother had had a hysterectomy a few years prior. However, I was too young to connect the dots.

After my appointment, I told my husband, who has never thought less of me. His thoughts went immediately to the protection of our son and myself. I told him that if he wanted to divorce me, I would understand and never hold it against me. He looked at me as if I was crazy, he didn’t care that I was in my mind “damaged goods.” He has been amazing, through this entire thing. He has to put up with a lot and we have had to learn together how to communicate. Me especially I never learned how to communicate not only with my partner but also with others around me.

One week after my first appointment, mother was talking to me and she knew something has changed in me. She was crying on the phone, begging me to tell her. So I ended up telling her what my father had done to me. At first, she did not believe me but after we hung up, she called him and confronted him. He told her “She wanted it. She liked it.” She left him that day.

Later on this day, I was talking to some of my family when they informed me that CPS had investigated my father when I was three years old for molesting me. I immediately called my therapist, she asked me how old my son was, when I told her three, she told me that it made sense that I had come forward then. I do not know exactly how to explain it but she said that it was connected. It was such a shock to learn that he had being abusing me my entire life.

In August of that year, I filed charges against my father for raping and molesting me, in Texas there are no statute of limitations for these crimes. In March of the following year, he plead guilty to nineteen charges from indecency with a child to aggravated sexual assault of a child. As part of the plea, deal received ten years probation, lifetime sex offender registration, ninety days in jail and he will have to pay for $10,000.00 of my therapy costs. When I read my victim impact statement in the courtroom, he never looked at me, he kept his back to me, his head bowed as if he was sorry the entire time. He wasn’t sorry the only thing that he was sorry for was that he was caught and I told the truth.

Since his sentencing, I have been focusing on myself and the journey to fix the damage that was caused by the rapes. I learned so much about myself and why I am the way that I am. I have learned why I do certain things and why I avoid certain things. I have learned to stand up for myself and I have learned to set boundaries. I know what healthy relationships look like and I can recognize the signs of ones I need to leave behind. I am ever grateful to my family and friends for their love and support, during these difficult years.

These days I am living my life and I write about it on my blog: myscarsandtears.com.

I know that what was done to me was not fault. I intend to change the perceptions of incest victims. I want to give a voice to the survivors of sexual assault. I want others like me to know that they are not alone.

 

About the art:

Catherine came to me without an image or picture in mind for her piece.  She wanted to leave it totally up to me, and see where reading her story takes me.  After reading her story, an image of a lotus flower came to mind.

The lotus flower begins its growth underneath the surface of the water in murky, muddy conditions.  Maintaining it's strength, it slowly grows, pushing aside these obstacles and making it's way to the surface.  Once above water, the lotus flower blooms and opens up in the clean air, rising above the harsh conditions in the water.

In Buddhism, the lotus flower is a symbol of potential, representing spiritual awakening, growth, and enlightenment.  It may appear fragile and delicate, but the lotus flower is strong and resilient.

In many ways, Catherine is the lotus flower.  She never gave up.  She pushed on and learned to thrive despite the world around her.  Out of the murky waters of her past, she continues to grow and bloom to the beautiful, wonderful lotus flower she is.  She is strong.  She is resilient.  I hope that whenever she is feeling down, she can look at this painting and know that she is the lotus flower; beautiful and strong.

- Emily

0138: Robbed from Me


Content warning: The following story contains references to a survivor's experience with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and sexual assault, which may be triggering for some readers.


"Robbed from Me," Elisabeth Rivera

I had everything going, ya know? Until it was all robbed from me. 

This is the reality of anxiety, depression and PTSD for me.

[Note: In case you missed Elisabeth's previous story, check it out here!]

I fear being raped again, reality is it can happen again, who is to promise me that it won't?To this day I face sexual harassment online also in person from cat-calling, sexualizing to men being creeps in the store. Behavior like that only provokes fear in me it triggers my anxiety, that behavior reminds me how vulnerable I am.

Sadly, I am very skeptic of all men rather I know or don't know them, even if I feel comfortable I still worry. I heard of a girl being raped at my brother's old job - a place where I thought of working - and that taunts my anxiety. And on top of sexual harassment & sexualizing I face, this makes it hard for me to get out there and not be paranoid, which is a reason I have been unemployed. I fear for myself in public and at work, anywhere that makes me feel vulnerable. But at the same time, I have this passion to conquer & rise, I want that future I had going for me, I can feel the rise in me trying to come out, because I'm so passionate about my goals, I want to inspire. I am so much more than what the eye sees & the minds of those who think I am just "bumming in life."

But, then some love to add more weight on my shoulders as I try to climb out this hole, by making me feel as I am the perpetrator in my story because we live in a world that is all about status, victimization, the belief that you have to be successful to be valued, and that what happened to me can be avoided. I have came across relatives, friends & men who made me feel like I wasn't good enough of a person or they were embarrassed to be with me cause of my mental baggage & my incident the fact I am not successful yet, sadly having a good heart & mind wasn't important, what happen to accepting someone & helping them be better? But I am thankful for those who accept me, don't make me feel hard to love, don't make me feel like the perpetrator in my life.

"Time to move on"
 "Can it really still be bothering?" 
"Try therapy?" 
"Can't let it control you" 
"You just need to get a job already"
"You're dressing like you weren't raped"
"You too pretty to be a bum in life"

It hurts. I don't mind being told "Elisabeth, you know you can do this, I know your mind may hold you back that's understandable, but I know you have so much to show for in the world, it's going unseen because your mind taunts you, I want you to conquer and rise, I believe in you" there is ways to encourage people & be supportive without the insensitive lack of understanding comments. Or narcissistic opinions on how I should look and act after enduring rape or how I should handle my situation when they can't relate. This is also why I don't do therapy.

I never really had that type of positive support from most, just some. I felt rushed to heal, I felt I was being unrealistic with my mental struggle, I can't say I 100% felt understood by most, let alone supported or believed.

When the world makes you feel like the perpetrator of your own story, you bounce back-and-forth in your fight "I can do this / No I can't." But my mental struggle doesn't just affect my success in life it affects me in so many ways sexually, socially, etc. 

People don't realize, how hard it is to be in a mental war, while trying to pull it together to get back on your feet, while battling my health, my case, the idea of going to trial, other personal issues. I am carrying a lot of weight, I am not always happy. I seem fine on social media, but I am not, especially when I feel I have to prove myself worthy to the world. I know many are watching me like "let's see if she got back on her feet," because society is so status-driven and has no understanding of trauma.

Then again, people can't understand what they've never experienced. But I know one of these days I will conquer and rise. Yeah, I will still have fear. I will always be affected, but I won't let it get to the point of consuming me from living the life I had robbed from me. Time isn't promised; I don't want to keep letting it pass me by, I did try giving up on life but I haven't yet. I'm struggling, yes, but I really do want to live & be happy. I'm trying.

I am greater than my past, that's why God makes sure I keep pushing. Life is beautiful even through the bad. Even through the bad, I never let it change my spirit for the worse. I hope my story changes perspective on mental illness - let alone how affecting and consuming sexual assault can be. People in my life need to stop making me feel like my worth lays in success. I'm worthy without status, I am a good soul without status. Stop making me feel like the perpetrator in my life. Don't judge what you haven't been through. And even if you have, understand everyone is affected differently and mental illnesses can affect everyone differently. 


About the art:

Today's story is a follow up from Elisabeth's story last month, so it's nice to have her explore how her mental health has been challenged due to being sexually assaulted. Her tenacity for survival is inspiring and I was glad that I could make her art based on both her story and a song that she finds central to her survival.

So I took the words from "Phantom Bride," by Deftones, and put them in the background as usual, and went with some brighter colors that are inspired by the Deftones' album art for Gore, it's recent album from 2016. I then took some of Elisabeth's words from her closing paragraphs and formed the two lines that stand out on the front. I toyed with used some of the lines from the song, but I felt her words were strong enough for the piece.

So thankful for Elisabeth sharing two important stories with us over the last two months, we hope it inspires more folks to share their stories with us!

-Craig.

0136: He Made Me


Content warning: The following story contains references to a survivor's experiences with rape, sexual violence, and the PTSD thereafter, which may be triggering for some readers.

"He Made Me," Azure


When I was born, my parents lived in a bus.  We lived in the bus until I was about 5.  When we moved into a house my father started sexually abusing me.  I don’t remember it very well, but I have PTSD flash backs of it. My parents got divorced in 1999.

When I was 14 I was raped.  He was my boyfriend, it was March 21, 2009.  For years I repressed the memories, and I didn’t realize that he penetrated me.  I thought he just assaulted me.  I was convinced.  I thought that I fought him off.  I didn’t.  When I started college, in Fall of 2013, I took a Gender and Women’s Studies weekend class, about sexuality power and relationships.  I got to know a girl who ended up being one of my best friends. 

Together we faced trauma, and dealt with PTSD, and how to handle it.  When I had sex for the first time she was the person I told.  When I was worried about become infertile, I asked her.  When I didn’t know where my clitoris was, or how to masturbate, I asked her. She helped me become a feminist, she helped me become an activist.  She had her own host of issues to deal with, in addition to over-coming her trauma.

When I was nineteen I started dating a boy.  It was November First, 2014.  He seemed perfect to me.  He was nice, he liked my family.  He loved my sisters.  He helped me make all of the choices in my life.  He picked out what I should wear, he picked out what I should eat, he packed my back pack and picked my classes.  I didn’t have any control.  I thought that this was normal, you see.  The girl I met in the weekend class didn’t say it wasn't normal.  She loved him, too.  We were the best of friends.  When my boyfriend and I started having sex he confided in me that he liked BDSM.  He wanted to be dominated. 

I was uncomfortable, I didn’t want to be in control.  I didn’t know how.  The idea made me anxious and have panic attacks.  He made me.  He forced me to be in control.  He made me lock him in a closet and leave him there for half an hour.  I came back into our room and I had to spank him.  I have never been so uncomfortable. 

Every time we did this, which was often, I felt dirty.  I didn’t want to do it.  I thought it was worth it to make my partner happy.  He would send me links to things to read, so I could help him climax better.  He loved sex.  We had it often.  I didn't love the sex.  I don’t think I ever had an orgasm in the two and a half years we were together.

Flash forward to March Third, 2017.  He dumped me.  Out of the blue.  We were about to sign a lease.  We were going to have an off campus apartment.  We were going to get married one day.  I went into a deep spiral of depression.  I seriously considered killing myself.  I thought about it.  I had an xacto blade, and a box cutter, in my hand.  I thought about it.  I almost did it. 

Sunday, March 12, he told me he never wanted to communicate with me ever again.  Up until that point I would have taken him back.  I would have dated him again.  Now, it’s been six weeks when I wrote this, I don’t know if I could say no if he texted me.  I don’t trust myself.  

A few weeks later I realized, and other people pointed out to me, that it was an abusive relationship.  He made me feel stupid, and wouldn’t let me do things.  I cut people out of my life.  He told me I wasn’t a real woman because I was missing an ovary, which I had to have removed due to a giant cyst.  He told me that I wasn’t smart enough because I went to a public high school, and I go to a public college.

He destroyed me.  I don’t know how to eat.  I haven’t had eating disorder problems like this since I was in high school.  I realized that he’d been sexually and emotionally abusing me.  I don’t know how to have sex with anyone, I don’t know if I’ve ever had an orgasm.  I don't think I have.

I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully.  I barely know how to live alone.  I had to rehome my guinea pigs because they were ours.  All of my friends were our friends.  The girl I met in the weekend class? Who I’d been friends with since my freshman year?  She stopped talking to me.  She cut me out of her life completely.  In the past month I lost my partner, the first person I had sex with after I was raped, two of what I thought would be my forever friends, a few of my other friends.  I barely know how to keep surviving. 

In the past month I have wanted to kill myself.  I have woken up and not known what to do next because I haven’t made my own choices.  I’ve shunned people.  I got a cat, and I started making art again.   

The only way I have survived is the knowledge that I can’t create anything, I can’t do yoga if I die.  If I kill myself.  I haven’t recovered.  I don’t know when I will, to be honest.  I am trying.  Everyday, I have to remind myself that I need to survive.  
 


About the art:

I thought that Azure's story was written very poetically, especially the last lines. They stuck with me long after reading their story. I used their flowers, narcissus (meaning self love) and the iris (meaning messenger) in a lithographic print series.

I felt that the repetitive action of print making echoed their final lines, "Everyday, I have to remind myself that I need to survive." I feel that, for myself, that mantra is inspiring. I wanted to cover that mantra in flowers, since it is worth celebrating.

- Hannah

0134: My Rape


Content warning: The following story contains references to someone being raped, and the trauma that followed them thereafter, which may be triggering for some readers.

"My Rape," TeMeka Estrada Williams

Where do I begin when revisiting the past?  It has been eight years since I finally opened up about being raped.  In some ways, it has gotten easier to discuss yet the tears always eventually surface because I know I am a smart woman now just as I was when it happened.

It - my rape - happened while I was visiting a Florida college for their homecoming festivities. My plans were to first travel to Miami where a close girlfriend of mine was attending undergrad.  We were then going to drive up to northern Florida together to attend homecoming at another college while also visiting and staying with my friends from high school to help us manage our limited funds which is part of the whole college experience.

Well, my friend felt unprepared for an upcoming midterm exam and at the last minute decided she no longer wanted to drive up.  So I was faced with a dilemma but completely understood my friend's decision.  In fact, I was having a great time in Miami and tempted to stay too.  However, I am a woman of my word and when I make plans, even to this day, I will move heaven and earth to keep my word.  So, I called my friend to find out his preference because I also knew he was going through the black Greek pledge experience and the timing may not be good for him either.  His pledge status also technically meant he was not supposed to be socializing.  Little did I know his intention was to get me drunk and fulfill his desires with me.  

When I got there, I felt comfortable and safe.  He decided to host a party where I had too many shots.  And when I knew I was done drinking and socializing for the evening he encouraged me to this room because the party was still going on and I was crashing on his couch prior to that.  When he came in the room later that evening, I still wasn't concerned because I had known him for years.  His best friend back then, another mutual friend of ours from high school, is still a good friend of mine.  I had attended his father's church and knew his family.  Well things changed when he made his move.  After that night, a lot of internal questions would plague me.

He made his move to penetrate me and I was too drunk to say anything.  I do remember stopping him eventually.  My body was not responding; I knew it was not what I wanted.   I managed to push him enough to indicate to stop.  He used me visually at that point to "finish" on his own.  I remember going to the bathroom afterwards to clean myself up.  I had a long bus ride back to Miami to push what had happened out of my mind.  I mean it was my fault for being drunk and trusting someone I knew, right?  One of, if not, the hardest part has always been admitting to myself and reminding myself that what happened wasn't my fault even though I was drunk.  That sex was never wanted on my part.

He even knew that he had intentionally got me drunk because months later I was again confronted by what happened when ex-boyfriend - my first boyfriend ever called to tell me was going to beat up the very guy who raped me because he was running around our home town telling everyone he gotten me drunk and had sex with me.  At that point, I still wanted distance from what happened and I knew nothing good would come of me speaking up. Also, my Dad was and till is a high profile executive with the Chicago White Sox.  Nothing good would come of this especially if was a slow news cycle.  So, I asked my ex-boyfriend to do nothing.

My rapist was never prosecuted and had the nerve to call and apologize to me years later.  His apology simply served his own selfish purpose.  His apology didn't stop me from feeling uncomfortable at our mutual friend's wedding where I was the bridesmaid trying to remain on the opposite side of the room from him at all times..  His apology didn't stop my Dad from walking out on my therapy where I expressed my anger.  His apology did nothing to repair the loss of self-confidence and doubt I still fight through on many days.

To learn more about RAINN, visit  www.rainn.org

To learn more about RAINN, visit www.rainn.org

I was raped and I talk about it with the hope that I can help someone else.  Time has helped but my rapist's apology means I let him knowingly get away with hurting me for far too long.  WE must change rape culture.  Rape remains a polarizing topic.  I am now a volunteer speaker for RAINN's (Rape Abuse Incest National Network) Speakers Bureau and every time I participate in a speaking opportunity I feel like I'm given the opportunity to heal by taking back some of my confidence and some of what my rapist stole from me by overcoming my own doubts and fears about using my voice.

Maybe one day the tears will stop coming to the surface when I speak up about my traumatic experience.  my hope is that even though my own family members are reluctant to acknowledge and talk about my rape- that my words will guide someone else's support system to do better for them.  It is difficult for any of us to even begin to understand how each survivor feels about such a delicate, private matter.  We are encouraged to more or less go public and act quickly particularly if prosecution is to be pursued.  I wasn't strong enough to ever even consider going down the road of prosecution.

And, even recently, I spoke with friend in law enforcement who expressed frustration with the difficulty of pursuing justice whenever a survivor delays speaking up.  Strength lies within us all but as matter of survival every rape victim needs a phenomenal support system to go from victim to survivor.  Hopefully, my story helps any one coping with the after math of rape to seek support.
 

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About the art:

While reading Temeka's piece, I kept hearing the song, "Say It," by War on Women in my head. "I will no longer be silent. Speak up, let your voice be heard," was the line that kept coming to mind while reading the reason she shares her story. I created the piece above to remind her that even if certain people are hesitant to believe or acknowledge her experience that she should not stay silent. 

Katy