Assault survivors reclaim their stories with It's On Us and GLAAD

***Trigger Warning: Themes of sexual assault and intimate partner violence.

Some stories don’t want to be told.
They walk away, carrying their suitcases
held together with grey string.
Look at their disappearing curved spines.
Hunchbacks. Harmed ones. Hold-alls.

 - Ingrid de Kok

But some stories need to be told; need to burst through discourse and shape the narrative in a new way. This week, GLAAD partnered with It’s On Us to act as a conduit for the stories of LGBT survivors of sexual assault. These young survivors living in New York City were asked to create posters with their own prose, poetry, or visual art to express their experiences.

According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, in 2013, “gay men, LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities of color, LGBTQ and HIV-affected youth and young adults, bisexual survivors, and transgender communities [are the] most impacted by intimate partner violence.” However, this issue is rarely addressed within the community, and the risks of pursuing justice are plentiful.

As these survivors shared their stories, one theme came up again and again: the act of telling their own story, in and of itself, is instrumental in personal and communal healing. In the words of one survivor:

“Breaking the silence has made my experiences real for me. I've sent my words out into the world, told my story as I experienced it, and people listened. Some believed me and some did not. But the telling was ultimately more important than the being believed. At first I told my story because I needed to let it out, needed my experiences to be as real as possible in order to heal. But now I also tell my story because I hope I can help others. If breaking my silence inspires one other person to reclaim their body, their sexuality, validate their 'yes' as well as their 'no,' and show them that they are not to blame, then I will keep breaking the silence until it is in shards at my feet.”

What follows aims to put a name, a face, and a narrative to the pandemic of sexual assault committed against members of the LGBT community. This is the project's culminationt a photo series of survivors and their stories.

“Being a survivor used to mean living with a virus I would never get rid of. At least that's how I'd felt for 2,555 days... I want to make one less survivor feel alone or devalued or not beautiful anymore. You're still worthy of being loved and worthy of loving yourself and deserving of all that love. It's a process-- I'm still working through it, too. But it's a process no one has to go through alone.”

 

"I think of the other people I know who are survivors, and I know too many, and I don't count myself among them. I feel like I am the wrong kind of survivor. I'm dramatic and loud and I like attention. The first friends I told assumed I was spinning tales to make people pay attention to me. Really, I just wanted to fish the words out of my stomach. I was so tired of digesting acid. I had been tasting pennies at the back of my throat for years. It had just… been so long… But I think a lot of survivors feel similarly. And by loving other survivors deeply, I’ve begun to understand little ways that I can love myself."

 

This is our work. In conjunction with It's On Us, we want to rewrite the narrative surrounding sexual assault.

 

It's On Us is a cultural movement aimed at fundamentally shifting the way we think about sexual assault. Together, we can all reframe sexual assault in a way that inspires everyone to see it as their responsibility to do something, big or small, to prevent it. We are asking everyone to create an environment, be it a dorm room, a party, a club or a sports team, or the greater college campus, where sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported. One way we are doing this is through the arts and spaces of creation.

 

"I'm generally a quiet, silent, stoic person, and it's only really recently that I'm beginning to realize that I have a voice and it's important to use it. My inability to speak out about this speaks volumes about our society, and by using my voice, I can contribute to an ongoing discussion where we acknowledge this as a horrific reality and take steps towards prevention.”

 

“Being a survivor means so many things to me but maybe most importantly, it means being here to help prevent things like this from happening to other people."

 

“For years I've pretended it never happened, tried not to give it any meaning. Even now, I don't know how to think about what happened without dissociating myself from the memory. It's empowering to tell my story because I wanted to, not because I was holding it in so much that I vomited it out.”

 

“I'm still here, I survived a terrible violation and will defy the person who did it by flourishing and living a worthwhile life.”

 

“I have a responsibility to prevent it from happening to others as much as I possibly can. It means that I’ve got more strength than I realize or feel like I have. It means I am a part of a supportive and loving community.”

 

“Being a survivor is getting yourself through the day. Sometimes it means feeling like left-overs from your experience. Sometimes it's knowing that you are so much more than that.”

Why still believe stories can rise
with wings, on currents, as silver flares…
Why still imagine whole words, whole worlds:
the flame splutter of consonants,
deep sea anemone vowels,
birth-cable syntax, rhymes that start in the heart,
and verbs, verbs that move mountains?

 - Ingrid de Kok

For RAINN’s free, confidential, and secure national sexual assault hotline, call: 800-656-HOPE (4673)