Listening to Survivor Stories: A Type of Everyday Activism

Sometimes it becomes incredibly disheartening and emotionally exhausting to continuously hear stories about the violence entrenched in our culture and how it manifests in racism, transphobia, ableism, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia. It’s hard to remain vigilant during such a strenuous and fatiguing time in our lives when we hear our political leaders brag about “grabbing pussies” or how basic, fundamental human rights are being stripped away from entire communities.

Our news and our timelines are also filled with narratives about subtle, pervasive forms of violence as it permeates through our laws, institutions, and systems but very rarely do we actually hear about more blatant forms of violence as it manifests itself through emotional abuse, incest, rape, stalking, and other forms of sexual violence.

Those who commit these acts of violence rely on the fact that their actions will be naturally hushed and concealed, and they know others will shame and silence those who dare speak out against them. Which is exactly why it’s more important than ever to take the time effort to listen and believe survivors who share their stories – it is a type of radical everyday activism, since we live in a society that suggests that you do the complete opposite.

A key reason as to why sexual violence is so pervasive in our culture is because identifying as a survivor is viewed to be disgraceful and humiliating – how could you have let someone do that to you? Survivors are portrayed to be weak and defenseless or sometimes simultaneously, they’re slut-shamed and called a liar. Survivors are often told that it’s their fault, or they “asked for it,” or they even deserved it. Survivors are even made to feel guilty that they would ruin their perpetrator’s reputation if they reported. Our culture expects survivors to remain quiet and to just accept the fact that experiencing sexual violence is simply a part of life.

One thing we can all do on a daily basis to help chip away at the stigma and shame our society bestows upon survivors is by taking the time to truly listen and care about all survivors’ experiences. Survivor stories are all vastly different and unique to each individual and when the media only reports cases on middle-class white women who was in a dark alley at night – it erases and discredits anyone else’s experience that does not fit into that dominant narrative. We need to make sure we continuously create a space for all survivors, regardless of their identities, to speak out publicly and make the effort to listen to all people who choose to share their experience. We also need to acknowledge and understand that not all survivors are ever able to come forward, and that’s completely okay too – it’s our jobs as allies to foster a culture that encourages and empowers all survivors to eventually speak out.

Healing from trauma requires the care and support from the people within the survivor’s own lives and community. Even though it can be difficult to be constantly inundated with stories about heinous acts of violence, we need to do what we can to still listen and believe survivors – it ultimately helps shift the blame, the responsibility, and the embarrassment away from survivors and to rightfully place it on to perpetrators.

We acknowledge that secondary, vicarious trauma is also difficult to manage and work through and if you need help or more information, please visit our website www.lafasa.org.

 

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