New Book: "Healing My Life From Incest to Joy"

By Lea Grover, The Voices and Faces Project  

With a title like Healing My Life from Incest to Joy, you might think Donna Jenson’s new book would be a heavy, difficult read. But though she is honest and deeply human as she tells her story of childhood incest, what is most striking about this book is the joy.

Jenson, a successful community builder and playwright, focuses not on the details of her abuse, but on the steps she took to build a life of meaning and beauty. Through her, we learn techniques of storytelling, therapy, and relationship building. She does not ask the reader to suffer with her, rather inviting the reader to heal with her. With a conversational tone and genuine friendliness, she invites the reader into her life, getting to know and love the friends who support her, the daughter who encourages her, and the diverse and compassionate “Family of Choice” surrounding her.

This book is not prescriptive, not a “how-to” guide to overcoming trauma, but it is a detailed account of what helped Jenson, how and why she came to learn new tools for introspection and growth, and where any person could find them, should they have an interest. It’s the kindness of this storytelling that is so striking. Jenson does not pretend to speak on behalf of all survivors, but she clearly speaks to all survivors of incest. This book firmly says, “If I can do it, so can you,” and reading her words, she compels you to believe them.

Scattered throughout the book are excerpts from letters, diary entries, and notes for her play, giving a rare insight into Jenson’s vulnerable process of becoming the best version of herself. It offers a guide for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to see themselves as whole, and validated in their choices to build an adult life outside the structures of their abuse.

The joy Jenson has for the life she has built is apparent on every page, and with every new page that joy transforms into hope, and gratitude. Healing My Life from Incest to Joy will speak to anyone who has tried to heal, who wants to heal, or who has begun to heal their own lives. Jenson not only offers readers the understanding of a friend, but helps them to understand themselves.

Donna Jenson’s new book, “Healing My Life From Incest to Joy,” is available from Leveller’s Press.

Your Voice, Your Choice: A Survivor Media Guide

Just published! Your Voice, Your Choice: A Survivor Media Guide is an informative short document for survivors of gender-based violence who are considering speaking to the media about the violence they've experienced. The guide was written by four members of CounterQuo who work in journalism, law, advocacy, activism and marketing communications.

More and more, journalists from many different kinds of media outlets are interviewing survivors for news reports, analysis, opinion pieces, blogs and more. We believe survivor voices are powerful tools for challenging myths around sexual violence, for helping to change hearts and minds and public policy. We also know that speaking out in any public forum has risks for survivors as well as rewards. We developed "Your Voice, Your Choice" to help survivors decide whether speaking out is right for them, and to offer tips and tools for making their experience with the media as successful as possible. 

While designed for survivors, we believe that others who work with survivors as advocates, attorneys, counselors, and friends may also find the information and suggestions useful.

We're pleased to offer "Your Voice, Your Choice: A Survivor Media Guide to survivors and their allies, and we encourage you to share it broadly.

The Child Migrant Crisis and Sexual Violence

With thousands of children, primarily from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, in detention after crossing into the United States from Mexico, seeking asylum and protection, we have what is being referred to as an immigration crisis and a humanitarian crisis. Amid calls for just sending the children back to where they came from, several organizations concerned about sexual violence have weighed in with a letter to the president and others in our government, asking them to do the right thing: protect and care for these children, many of whom are survivors of sexual violence.

The letter is the product of a working group spearheaded by CounterQuo members Monica Ramirez, of Alizana Nacional de Campesinas, Stacy Malone and Jessica Mindlin of Victim Rights Law Center, Anne K. Ream of The Voices and Faces Project, Kim Day of the International Association of Forensic Nurses, along with Laura E. Zarate of Arte Sana and Alianza Latina en contra la Agresion Sexual, and Katryn Duarte of ALAS. Joining as signers of the letter are 155 allies and organizations dedicated to ending sexual violence.

And why are anti-sexual violence groups getting involved? Because we know that many of the children who have run away from their home countries are escaping sexual violence, trafficking and other trauma. They are not safe in their own homes, villages and countries. We’re getting involved because some of the children, now in our care in immigration detention facilities, are currently dealing with sexual and physical violence, sometimes at the hands of those in authority over them, and sometimes at the hands of other detainees.

There are U.S. laws that should be providing protection for these children: advocacy, due process before deportation, medical care, etc. And at the moment, many children are simply not being served and are being harmed further in our care.

As the letter states, “Child survivors of sexual violence experience a range of short- and long-term physical and emotional consequences. The United States has a moral and legal imperative to respond to these child survivors with empathy and safety, not detention and removal.”

"Lived Through This: Listening to the Stories of Sexual Violence Survivors" Gets Glowing Reviews

Lived Through This: Listening to the Stories of Sexual Violence Survivors, by the Voices and Faces Project founder Anne K. Ream with photographs by Patricia Evans, is fewer than two months away from publication, and is already garnering positive – even glowing – reviews.

The book is "Partly a personal history of Ream’s own experience rebuilding her life in the wake of sexual violence, partly a memoir of a journey spent listening to survivors,... both deeply personal and resolutely political." (Random House)

Eve Ensler calls the book “Heart-stopping, beautifully rendered stories of survivors powerfully illustrating the notion that when we tell our stories, we change the story.”

Publisher’s Weekly notes  “Ream’s greatest accomplishment is the book’s considerable humanism, giving each survivor a three-dimensional life and personality that transcends the stigma too often attached to rape….Each individual story commands attention; assembled as a collection, they positively demand it.”

And Kirkus Review summarizes its review by saying: “A sad reality graced with hope, humanity and compassion.”

We believe this book will be a powerful and important addition to the public conversation about sexual violence, and will undoubtedly provide support, hope and inspiration to the many thousands of survivors who have “lived through this”.

We invite you to pre-order the book through Random House or your favorite bookseller.

Must Read: "Fault Line" by C. Desir

We’re pleased to announce the latest book published by one of our CounterQuo members. Christa Desir has just launched her YA novel "Fault Line" from Simon Pulse. It's a wonderful book - for adults as well as teens - and deserves our support. So buy multiple copies, tweet about it, tell all your friends!

Here's the synopsis: 

“Ben could date anyone he wants, but he only has eyes for the new girl — sarcastic free-spirit, Ani. Luckily for Ben, Ani wants him too. She’s everything Ben could ever imagine. Everything he could ever want.

But that all changes after the party. The one Ben misses. The one Ani goes to alone.

Now Ani isn’t the girl she used to be, and Ben can’t sort out the truth from the lies. What really happened, and who is to blame?

Ben wants to help her, but she refuses to be helped. The more she pushes Ben away, the more he wonders if there’s anything he can do to save the girl he loves.”

Some cool things about the book:

 1) It's unique - a YA novel about rape that's thoughtful and thought-provoking. Told from the perspective of the victim's boyfriend. It's real.

 2) It was conceived when Christa attended The Voices and Faces Project's Testimonial Writing Workshop. And 50% of the proceeds from sales will go to the Workshop, funding more survivors who may also find their voice and get yet more survivor voices heard in the world.

3) It's getting great press and exceptional reviews. But as those of you who've published know, the first days and weeks in a book's life are critical. Which is why we all need to be buying and spreading the word about "Fault Line" now.

 Excerpts from some amazon.com reviews:

 "...Fault Line is not an easy book to read. It's raw, gritty and dark, but it's important. It doesn't tell a new story or one we're unfamiliar with. It highlights a situation in a way that really forces the reader to address the effects of how our society has dealt with rape and how it continues to shape how we view the victim. For me, Fault Line really resonated and made me cry. This will be a book that lingers."

"I am still stunned after finishing this book in two sittings. Everyone will say that teenage girls should read "Fault Line," but I posit even more importantly, young men should as well. I can't think of another YA novel about sexual violence told from the boyfriend's perspective. "Fault Line" doesn't pull any punches, but its difficulty is what makes it worthwhile. Quite the debut!"

Congratulations, Christa, and thanks for bringing "Fault Line" into the world.

Kudos to Bangor Daily News

There are a lot of media outlets, a lot of journalists, who perpetuate myths about sexual violence, who write victim-shaming and blaming articles, or who actively contribute to rapists’ social license to operate. When we see such pieces, we call them out.

And then there are times when a media outlet does something we can applaud. Here’s to the Bangor Daily News in Maine, which recently published on its website,Proof: "Maine Rape Survivors Share One of the Most Buried Secrets of All Sometimes Only with Pain as Proof." Proof is multi-media piece about sexual violence, featuring the stories of several sexual assault survivors, detailing in a sensitive and accurate manner the realities of sexual violence: both the trauma of it, and the path to healing. The Bangor Daily News worked with our friends at theMaine Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Special thanks goes to Erin Rhoda at Bangor Daily Newserhoda@bangordailynews.com who managed and wrote the project (and to whom you can write to express your appreciation and encourage more good journalism on sexual violence.)

We Did It! Facebook Commits to Change Policies re Gender-Based Hate Content

We can change rape culture. One piece at a time, until we reach a tipping point.

The action organized by Jaclyn Friedman and WAM, plus the Everyday Sexism Project, and Soraya Chemaly a week ago has worked. From WAM:

"Today, we are pleased to announce that Facebook has responded with a important commitment to refine its approach to hate speech. Facebook has admirably done more than most other companies to address this topic in regards to content policy. In a statement released today, Facebook addressed our concerns and committed to evaluating and updating its policies, guidelines and practices relating to hate speech, improving training for its content moderators and increasing accountability for creators of misogynist content.

Facebook has also invited Women, Action & the Media, The Everyday Sexism Project and members of our coalition to contribute to these efforts and be part of an ongoing conversation. As part of these efforts, we will work closely with Facebook on the issue of how Community Standards around hate speech are evaluated and to ensure best practices represent the interests of our coalition."

Read the full WAM article about the action and its effects here: WAM!

 And here’s what the New York Times had to say: Facebook Says It Failed to Stop Misogynous Pages - NYTimes.com

Many of our CounterQuo organizations signed the original Open Letter to Facebook last week. Many of us tweeted, emailed, and shared with our networks. The collaboration had an impact.

Several advertisers, including Nissan, said they would stop advertising on Facebook until it changed their policies. We know that advertisers can put pressure on sites like Facebook to do the right thing. And we as consumers can pressure advertisers to do the right thing. We have some power.

Sadly, others like American Express, Zappos and Dove, would not sever their relationship with Facebook in the face of the site’s allowing deeply anti-women content. That’s disheartening, and especially ironic in the case of Dove. That company prides itself on celebrating real women and “real beauty.” And yet, it seems not to care about how real women are actually treated and portrayed.

The success of this action reminds us that we can change rape culture. We don’t have to accept the status quo. This is an important reminder, because it can be very easy to become worn down, and to believe that nothing we do can really have an impact. Until something we do has an impact.

 And today, it feels really nice to have some good news, to see some bit of progress.

An Open Letter to Facebook: Gender Based Hate Speech Isn't Funny

Our friends at WAM (Women, Action & the Media) have written an open letter to Facebook, and have prepared an Action Page, calling on all of us to contact advertisers whose ads appear next to gender-based hate content to demand that they withdraw their advertising from such pages.

For years, advocates for women have been complaining to Facebook about the pages they host which condone and promote rape and other violence against women. Facebook has a policy in place that allows them to take down pages that are racist, homophobic, Islamophobic and Anti-Semitic. Its moderators are on the lookout for hate speech and pages that don’t fit their community guidelines.

And yet…despite protests and complaints, pages like Fly Kicking Sluts in the Uterus, Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won't make you a Sandwich, Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs and Raping your Girlfriend are allowed, because they fall into the category of “humor."

We urge you to contact the advertisers yourself and complain to them. And add your voice to those of us who continue to complain to Facebook itself.

Creating Change Through Storytelling

In 2011 The Voices and Faces Project launched "The Stories We Tell," the country's first testimonial writing workshop for survivors of sexual violence, domestic violence and trafficking.   Created by writer R. Clifton Spargo, a founding member of CounterQuo and currently an Arts Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the program brought together a diverse community of survivors, each seeking to write and speak out about sexual violence.  

Over the course of the reading and writing focused two-day program, which debuted at the Chicago Cultural Center, workshop participants engaged in an innovative series of writing exercises that emphasized fiction, creative non-fiction, memoir, and poetry. During one such exercise, participants were asked to write about sexual violence from the perspective of someone of a different sexual orientation or gender.  At that time, workshop participant Christa Desir conceived the idea for a YA (young adult) novel, written from the perspective of a male high school student whose girlfriend is raped at a party - a scenario that those of us working on sexual violence issues have encountered all too often.  

When Christa read her piece out loud during the workshop, we knew that she had written something special.  What we did not know was exactly how special: coming out of the workshop, and with the encouragement of the Voices and Faces Project team, Christa expanded that initial writing exercise into a novel, and subsequently sold her book to Simon Pulse (a division of Simon and Schuster that targets the young adult audience).  "TRAINWRECK," a compassionate and candid exploration of the gang rape of a high school student and the responses of her friends, boyfriend and community to that tragedy, is an important and much-needed book - one that will reach high school students "where they are" with a message that they very much need to hear.  It will be published in fall, 2013.   

Books like Christa's have the potential to do more than engage.  They have the power to create change by showing the heartbreaking and all-to-human costs of sexual violence.  In a world in which the media too often celebrates violence against women and girls, we believe that TRAINWRECK will provide a very different perspective - one that can lead to a more compassionate and activist public response to sexual violence.     

To read more about The Voices and Faces Project Testimonial Writing Workshop, visit: http://www.voicesandfaces.org/emails/aug2011/index.html

 To read Christa's blog post about the Publisher's Weekly announcement of the forthcoming publication of  TRAINWRECK, visit http://www.christaramblesandwrites.blogspot.com/2012/02/my-simonpulse-book-deal.html

NISVS Study Updates Data On Sexual Violence Prevalence

Today the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study entitled"The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey" (NISVS) that provides reliable data about many forms of sexual violence. Among its key findings:

  • “One percent, or approximately 1.3 million women, reported being raped by any perpetrator in the 12 months prior to taking the survey.”
  • “Nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives, including completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, or alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration. “
  • “More than half (51.1%) of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance…”
  • “Approximately 1 in 21 men (4.8%) reported that they were made to penetrate someone else during their lifetime…”
  • “More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime…”

 The findings from this survey are already prompting questions about why these statistics are so dramatically different than others that have been used by the government, advocates, academics and others for years.

 You might be asked to explain why the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) says fewer than 272,350 Americans were raped in 2010, while the new NISVS study says 1.3 million women were victims of rape in that same year.

 We know the reasons why and we encourage you to refresh your knowledge so that you can smoothly and effectively address these questions when they come up. If you want to study up, we suggest consulting the CounterQuo Rape Stats White Paper, as well as a Legal Momentum article co-written by Lynn Hecht Schafran that is also available in our website references section under "Statistics on Sexual Violence".

In a nutshell, the biggest difference boils down to what was asked. Two other big issues also impact results.

What was asked? Quoting from the CQ Rape Stats White Paper,  "In the past, this (NCVS) survey asked participants whether or not they were raped within the last 12 months, and definitions were only provided if the respondent asked for them." You will get dramatically different results if you ask someone "were you raped?" versus questions that ask about behavior that we define as rape or attempted rape or sexual assault (as was done in the NISVS), like "has anyone used physical force or threats to physically harm you to make you have vaginal sex? Make you perform oral sex?" Etc.   

Quoting again from our Rape Stats paper: "An example of how methodology impacts results: One researcher asked one sample of college students using the NCVS methodology and another sample using standard social science methodology and found the prevalence rates to be 11 times higher using the latter methodology compared to the NCVS."

What is the statistic about? A corollary to the issue above. Make sure you know whether the statistic refers to "rape", "rape or attempted rape", "sexual assault" etc. Does the stat refer to annual or lifetime prevalence (number of people)? Or incidence (number of incidents)? The two are different

Who was asked impacts statistics also.  Both these surveys - and many others relied on by government and advocates - were done by telephone and among non-institutionalized people. Many of the types of people we know to be particularly vulnerable to sexual violence were, therefore, not counted because they don't have a telephone (the studies are biased toward landlines) or don't speak English or Spanish. People institutionalized in prisons, nursing homes, mental health facilities, drug-treatment facilities. People who are homeless. People living in college dorms and on military bases. Immigrants from countries where sexual violence is even more normalized than it is here but who do not speak the survey's language. 

We urge you to note when discussing the statistics from NISVS that as high as these numbers are, they most likely under-estimate the true prevalence of sexual violence, as they don't include data from many vulnerable populations that other studies have shown are at high risk for sexual violence. 

 Indeed, in the very back of its report (p.84), the study authors make the point: "Even though the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey captures a full range of victimization experiences, the estimates reported here are likely to underestimate the prevalence of sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence for a number of reasons." And then they list and explain a number of reasons.

At our founding CounterQuo meeting, we agreed that it was critical that we learn to speak clearly and consistently about our statistics (and that we get more reliable statistics from methodologically sound studies). We’ve just gotten a new better study. Let's make sure we're all doing our best to avoid sloppy slinging around of statistics. Dig into study methodologies, or consult articles that explain why different studies yield different results. Only use data that come from methodologically sound research. 

Now Available: "What You Really Really Want"

We're pleased to announce the launch of Jaclyn Friedman's new book, "What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl's Shame-free Guide to Sex and Safety". Jaclyn, a prominent author, activist and a founding member of CounterQuo, is also the co-editor of "Yes Means Yes", a wonderful anthology of essays about sexual violence and envisioning a world without it. Her current book - facts, wisdom, insight, anecdotes and a workbook - is the next necessary step for sexual freedom and liberation. It stemmed from Jaclyn's insistence that "authentic sexual liberation is both compatible with and necessary for combatting the systemic sexualization and violation of women."

Already getting rave reviews, we know this is a book you'll want to read and make sure others read. As Anna Holmes, Washington Post columnist and founder of Jezebel.com says, "“Jaclyn Friedman’s new guide — detailed, intelligent, and fun as hell to read — is a sorely needed addition to my bookshelf. Think of it as the anti-Cosmopolitan: A 21st century primer on fearlessly discovering and owning your sexuality while staying true to yourself without cutesy gimmicks, absurd tips and patronizing assumptions. It’s not an understatement to say that I wish WHAT YOU REALLY REALLY WANT had been around when I was first coming into adulthood. Actually scratch that: It’s as relevant to me now that I’m in my late 30s as it would have been in my late teens. Everyone can benefit from Jaclyn’s personable, progressive perspective on female sexuality and feminism.”