It seems oxymoronic to start a blog by saying “‘I’m a deeply personal person.” but I really am.
I was raised to believe that my business is my business and what happened in my home stayed in my home – under ALL circumstances.
I felt the need to preface this post by saying that because it’s the first of a series of posts that I feel compelled to publish that share some parts of myself that I have previously reserved for a select crowd of people, but I can’t anymore – I’m trying to build a movement. The following post is old. It was written in 2005 when my best friend and I first formalized our organization, Just Be Inc.. I have had so many thoughts in my mind lately that I have been unable to get on paper. So much has happened in the 5 months since my last blog and I have so much to say and so little time, or at least that is what I have convinced myself. The truth is I had led myself to believe that I don’t have the authority to add to the conversation about these issues that are tearing at my heart when there are so many more qualified voices and well written pieces about things like the 11-year old Texas girl who was brutally gang raped or this recent Ashley Judd dust-up because she called out the hip-hop community for promoting a “rape culture” .
I’m not a pop-culture critic or a public intellectual. I’m just a worker. I’m in the trenches with the 11-year-old survivors and the little girls that have been raised on a steady diet of hip-hop misogyny and mainstream media girl hate.
It’s sexual assault awareness month so I thought it was apt to share this now. Some folk who have supported our work from the beginning have already read this, many have not.
I’m glad that there is a month where the media and organizations doing work in the trenches like Just Be Inc. can shed some light on the staggering statistics around violence against women and girls. I’m more glad that these organizations continue to work just as hard the other 11 months of the year.
The me too movement™ started in the deepest, darkest place in my soul.
As a youth worker, dealing predominately with children of color, I had seen and heard my share of heartbreaking stories from broken homes to abusive or neglectful parents when I met Angel. Ten years ago during an all girl bonding session at our youth camp, several of the girls in the room shared stories of sexual abuse at the hands of family members, acquaintances and even strangers. Just as I had done so many times before I sat and listened to the stories and comforted the girls as needed – but avoided as many as possible. When it was over the adults advised the young women to reach out to us in the event that they needed to talk some more or needed something else – and then we went our separate ways. Looking back now, I wish we had a different system for dealing with the trauma that was exposed, but we were young and thought just providing an “outlet” was enough.
The next day a little girl who had been quiet in the previous night’s session asked to speak to me privately. Angel was a sweet-faced little girl who kind of clung to me throughout the camp. Her light, high-pitched voice betrayed her high-strung, hyperactive behavior and I was frequently pulling her out of some type of situation. As she attempted to talk to me, the look in her eyes sent me in the other direction. She had a deep sadness and a yearning for confession that I read immediately and wanted no part of. Finally, later in the day the baby caught up with me and almost begged me to listen…and I reluctantly conceded. For the next several minutes this child, Angel, struggled to tell me about her “stepdaddy” or rather her mother’s boyfriend who was doing all sorts of monstrous things to her developing body…I was horrified by her words, the emotions welling inside of me ran the gamut, and I listened until I literally could not take it anymore…which turned out to be less than 5 minutes. Then, right in the middle of her sharing her pain with me, I cut her off and abruptly directed her to another female counselor who could “help her better.”
I will never forget the look on her face.
I will never forget the look because I think about her all of the time. The shock of being rejected, the pain of opening a wound only to have it unexpectedly forced closed again – it was all on her face. And as much as I love children, as much as I cared about that child, I could not find the courage that she had found. I could not muster the energy to tell her that I understood, that I connected, that I could feel her pain. I could not validate her sense of self-worth and find the strength to say out loud the words that were ringing in my head over and over again as she tried to tell me what she had endured… I watched her walk away from me and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper…me too.
Empowerment through Empathy
One of the main goals of The me too Movement™ is to give young women, particularly young women of color from low wealth communities, a sense of empowerment from the understanding that we are not alone in our circumstances. This is the underlying principle of this project: Empowerment through Empathy. The statistics related to sexual abuse in these communities are staggering. The estimates detailing the number of sexual abuse, assault or exploitation victims who are not reporting what happened to them or seeking help are equally astounding.
We want to turn victims into survivors.
Empathy is the sense of awareness or compassion one person has for another’s circumstances; it is a deep connection with the pain of another that comes from that real understanding.
The power of empathy is sorely undervalued. Oftentimes young women who have been violated in any of the aforementioned areas feel humiliated, isolated and powerless. In several cultures, women of color are encouraged to keep situations like these to them selves. In some communities the prevalence is so widespread that the behavior is almost normalized. And still, in other situations, young women from low wealth backgrounds are left feeling voiceless when they don’t see themselves properly represented by various advocate groups. The me too Movement™ seeks to empower young women past these barriers.
Why a Movement?
Under the me too Movement™ our focus is young women who have endured sexual abuse, assault or exploitation. A number of existing advocacy programs only address rape, date rape, or sexual assault. In our survey of programs across the United States, few were equipped to deal with young women, of a variety of ages and races, who were victims of molestation, incest, or exploitation. The definition of exploitation, for our purposes, covers a wide variety of situations that often go unaddressed in communities of color. Young women who are severally harassed daily in school, made to commit to sexual favors or perform sex acts under duress can be severally traumatized by their situations, and the effects can be just as damaging as being raped or otherwise sexually assaulted.
We are serious about building a movement. That is why I am posting this. I have witnessed the power of empowerment through empathy. I have seen what happens in the life of the giver and the receiver. We are bringing the stories of survival to the children, to the other babies like Angel who need to hear it and see how you got over.
If there are women of any age that are willing to share their story with us – in print or on video – please let us know. Our project is ongoing, so whenever you’re ready we’re ready. Your healing, your time. Just remember, you’re not alone….it’s a movement.