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FIVE Steps

The FIVE steps for a potential rapist:  


Step One: convince your victim to attempt
an avalanche of alcohol down his throat
wink to your friends
wait until they chokes and drag them
to the peak of the mountain,
where two roads diverge and
they stumbles over their words
and forgets the snow-painted mile markers.

Step Two: lead them to the futon by the fire place
underneath the wilted mistletoes –

you have used as an alibi for far too long

whisper hot chocolate in their ear
as you try to start a campfire
in their ripped Levi jeans
begin to generate fallacies
to dispute their budding claims
when they learn spring is almost here. 


Step Three: turn up the volume on the record player
playing Silent Night and place a fresh sheet of snow over their body
to absorb those sound waves and moans
place their head on the pillow

taste their innocence
melt away down a river of your fantasies

fuel your jungle fever.


Step Four: suffocate them with evergreen leaves
to cover your bourbon-scented
cologne lingering on his body. If they come back to their senses,
kiss them on the neck

and expose their naked body to pneumonia  
as they cough up your remains
make them think they liked it.

Step Five: text him an apology because it’s the only way you’ll
be able to move on to the next season.


The FIVE steps to a rape kit:

Step one: you wake up the next morning to an
atonement you quickly dismiss. throw your phone down in
frustration because sex was the last thing on your mind

begin to think what if you had taken the road less traveled

what scars would you have to prove who you are still you?  


Step two: hold onto that apology as tight as melting ice
as your body reminds you of the weight of trauma. carve blame

in your shoulder like a snow angel in the middle of an Artic

blast, use the skin graft from strangers to keep you warm

Step three: lather, rinse, and repeat the memories
try your best to wash them out

scratch your dry scalp, wonder if it really happened
peel back the scars. flashback to step one as
the emergency lights in the cabin fade.


Step four: dwell in the dark for a little while. use aurora borealis as
a night light. find the beauty and irony in loneliness.
don’t rush your healing. don’t hush your feelings.
stand in the moonlight. feel.


Step five: forgive him because it’s the only way
you’ll be able to appreciate winter again.


- poem by Tyquan Morton, Prevention and Inclusion Specialist, SCCADVASA

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Featured Image for Everyone Has a Story to Tell

I didn’t grow up in what I would call a sex-positive household—my father was the campus minister at a fairly liberal church, so the expectation that sex is for marriage was omnipresent, and there was often an air of foreboding surrounding the inevitable birds and bees conversations—but the line between what my brothers and I might choose to do (“We really hope you’ll wait…”) and what might happen to us (“No one has the right…”) was so stark that I never doubted my parents would believe me and support me when, at 17, I would tell them I’d been assaulted by my affable, intelligent, musically talented boyfriend.

It helped that my mom had begun showing me snippets of her own life when I entered middle school. A “trust can be complicated” here, a “some people think their desires trump others’ rights” there. Eventually—who can remember when?—she put the pieces together for me: “My boyfriend raped me.” And the general disgust toward sexual pleasure made sense in the context of her trauma. Later: “And he told me it was my fault.” And the terror at the sight of my developing curves, the opposition to my spaghetti-strap tank tops… well, still seemed unfair… but began to feel less personal, anyway.

It wasn’t until this year that another layer of her trauma revealed itself, when she told me that for years, her parents would relay to her—via a friendship they had maintained with a mutual friend—stories of her ex, and with varying degrees of mirth, laughed at him, laughed at that foolish choice she had made to date him, laughed at what he had become in the time since. For years, she seemed to chuckle along, perhaps a bit embarrassed, while inside she relived moments of terror and pain and isolation. Until she had had enough.

The way my mom remembers it (which I have to trust, because I, myself, am too pained by all the unspoken trauma here to verify this story with my grandfather), she interrupted her parents, saying, Enough. Saying, He raped me. Saying, I don’t even want to hear his name. And after years of holding the two contradictory beliefs that her parents loved her and that her parents would not believe her, it all stopped. My grandparents said that no, they didn’t want to know any more, and yes, they believed her, and of course, they would never speak of him again.

I asked my mom if she would let me interview her, on video, and put her story up on the internet for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I had written her a rambling, incoherent, embarrassed explanation of why it is crucial to share stories of survivors being believed, and why we have to work toward a society in which no one keeps that secret for as long as she felt she had to, and she replied less than three minutes later: “Yes.” I laid out for her the ways in which we could conceal her identity, options for using pseudonym for her ex, asked her what boundaries she wanted to establish on what she wanted to make public, and within the hour: “If it will help anyone, I’ll talk about all of it.”

My mom decided she wanted to relay details of two times she was assaulted, because she hopes it would be healing for her to say aloud exactly what her abuser had done, because she wants to provide context to her response to the assault, and because she believes in creating space to listen to the experiences of others in order to develop our sense of connectedness. However, this conversation may be triggering. Please practice self-care as you make a decision about whether or not to watch this video.

I don’t know if my mom objected to my adolescent wardrobe because she wanted to spare me the pain of being raped, or the pain of being told that my clothing was the reason for my rape. I don’t know if her discomfort with my cup size is rooted in the lack of control she felt over her own body for all these years, or the sadness all parents seem to face when confronted boldly with the fact that their child is no longer a child. It matters to me less and less, as we have these conversations and share our burdens with one another. I only know that I had the courage to ask for help because my parents had made it clear to me that they would believe me. I know that this is a privilege my mother did not have as a young adult. I know that my mother suffered because the world around her was whispering insidiously no one will believe you and there weren’t loud enough voices fighting back saying, yes, we will.


PS. I’m sorry about the unfortunate watermark. I had to do some video editing around a disclosure my mom decided she wasn’t comfortable making public, and didn’t realize until too late that the software I was using would not give me any affordable output options without that stamp (::shakes fist at the internet::).

- Kathleen Heavner James, Limited English Proficiency Coordinator, SCCADVASA

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Featured Image for The Road Less Travelled Led You Here

This week, almost 8,000 miles away, a group of almost 50 young women danced their way up the aisle of a church hall, making their lively entrance into their graduation ceremony. It is graduation time at the Lulu Project, a year-long peer education program in Mwanza, Tanzania, in which teen women learn from other young women just like them about life skills, personal and family health, and entrepreneurship. I became involved in the program in 2013 when I was living in the East African country of Tanzania. As a Maryknoll Lay Missioner in Tanzania, I had been living in the city of Mwanza and working for a year at a Tanzanian NGO (non-government organization) called Kivulini. Kivulini (which in Swahili means “under the shade,” connoting the image of a safe place for women to meet) is a rights organization that educates about women’s rights in Tanzania and mobilizes communities to make change in the northwest of the country around Lake Victoria. I had been training staff to increase their capacity to run effective programs and assisting the agency to improve their human rights campaigns. Since Tanzania’s political and legal system is very “bottom-up” focused, Kivulini’s main approach is to educate local leaders to support victims of sexual and domestic violence. These are the first service providers faced by victims of crime and their success or failure can be helped or hindered at this very first step.


Before moving to Tanzania, I worked as Community Education Director at Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands (STSM), a Columbia-based rape crisis center serving four counties in South Carolina. As Education Director, I facilitated hundreds of workshops on a variety of topics related to sexual violence and domestic abuse and developed a violence prevention program. I became very skilled at answering difficult questions about sexual violence, its root causes, systemic barriers, and ways to support victims and prevent it from happening in the first place. Quite naively, I thought my experiences had adequately prepared me to work in any global context to prevent violence against women. Violence is violence, right? Yes, of course it is and yes, the root causes are the same – a subjugation of another’s power in order to exert one’s control over them. Certainly there are many similarities between what I saw in my work at STSM and at Kivulini: dismissive responses by some communities about the prevalence and realities of violence, victim-blaming statements, the insistence that people abuse because they love the victim and want to “correct” ill behaviors, the false belief that men are victims just as often as women are, or the use of religion or God to defend abuse, etc. But what I wasn’t prepared for was how the differences in social, cultural, economic, familial, and religious contexts drastically impact approaches to violence prevention and intervention. Furthermore, in this country of almost 50 million people, where domestic violence shelters are virtually nonexistent, where there is no real evidence collection protocol for victims of rape, and where female genital mutilation is still widely practiced in some tribes, I found myself unprepared to work to make change on a macro-level. That’s when I found Lulu.


After being quite honest with myself that I just did not know enough about the culture to make sustainable and appropriate systemic change, I was compelled to work on a grass-roots level with young women themselves, to learn about their lives and the situations in which they live-the challenges and the joys-and to help them use the tools they inherently have to fight for changes in their country. Lulu, which means “pearl” in Swahili, works with over 200 girls in 8 neighborhoods around Mwanza to help young women appreciate that they are a treasure to their family and their community and to give them skills to improve their lives and the lives of their children. Due to a Tanzanian law that makes it illegal for pregnant girls to continue in school, thousands of unskilled, uneducated young mothers drop out each year, creating an abundance of women who are at higher risk of being forced into early marriage, more likely to be abused by a partner or spouse, and more likely to sell their bodies for money. This is a cycle that has repeated for generations all around the world. As co-coordinator of the Lulu Project, I got a first-hand education in violence prevention in the developing world. I saw a girl who cannot read or write start a small business of her own, earning the funds she needed to get out of an abusive relationship; I saw a woman who dropped out of 8th grade save money to build her family a safe, secure home; I saw shy young women who at first couldn’t look you in the eye transformed into proud leaders standing in front of local representatives demanding to be treated with respect. These women have a lot to celebrate as they dance at their graduation this week.  


But I didn’t attend that graduation. I am back in the US now, back in South Carolina. As the new Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator at SCCADVASA (the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault), I am back in a country where we have hundreds of rape crisis centers for victims of sexual assault, where there are laws protecting abused women from losing their children if they leave their abusive partner, and in a state where many hospitals and emergency rooms have specially-trained nurses to document and collect evidence from victims of rape. When I told my Tanzanian friends and colleagues that I was leaving and returning to the US to continue working in violence prevention, they were confused. Many people in Tanzania look to America as a place where we “have it all together,” where intimate partner violence just doesn’t exist. They point to all the services we have and all the wealth that our country displays and wonder why an organization such as SCCADVASA exists in the first place. For all the wonderful things about America and all the strides we have made in this field, we still have a far way to go. For example, even though we have a protocol for collecting evidence after a sexual assault (called a rape kit), across the country there is a big backlog of having these kits tested. In South Carolina we don’t know how many kits are being held by law enforcement; therefore, we don’t have an accurate understanding of how big the problem is nor of how we can work to improve systemic responses that will improve outcomes for survivors and increase accountability for offenders. Also, many agencies that work with children, such as the Department of Social Services and others need to incorporate and improve systems to screen for domestic violence and the effects of trauma on children. Because our state lacks a unified system for collecting statics on various sexual and domestic abuses it’s impossible to get an accurate picture of how vast a problem this is, let alone to demand for the services that victims in this state need and deserve. 


As Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator at SCCADVASA, I look forward to working with others in this field as we fight to tackle these and many other pressing issues in our state. Since 1981 SCCADVASA has been a leader in representing the critical needs of survivors of domestic and sexual abuse and their families by influencing public policy, advocating for social change, and building the capacity of member programs, organizations and communities across the state. I will be using my experiences from my grassroots and macro work both in the US and in Tanzania and will be bringing them home to create a safer and more just South Carolina.


- Katie Reid, Director of Systems Advocacy

(Originally published July 2015)


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