When I first started this project, I felt like a detective, searching for clues and trying to follow leads. I was trying to find responses to child sexual abuse (CSA) that were or attempted to be supportive and even--possibly--transformative. However, over the last year of collecting stories, I have realized that many of these stories can only be found in the collecting, not always in the searching.
Part of this project is about documenting collective responses to CSA, but another part of it is simply opening up the conversation about CSA, period; opening up and holding space to talk about CSA. For many storytellers, this is the first time they are telling their stories as adults. Many of them are processing their own stories in their telling. it is an honor to get to bear witness to this process, as many storytellers haven't revisited their experiences at all. For many people this project is one of the only places in their lives that they can talk about CSA.
I hear from storytellers over and over again, "I don't think my story is what you're looking for" or "there's nothing really to tell in my story," but once we sit down to record, their stories are exactly what LBP is looking for.
In To Be Brave, the storyteller initially framed their story as simply about their journey to heal as a survivor, but when we began recording, their story ended up revealing many different responses to CSA. I often think about the way that their partner and community was able to support and hold them in ways that deepened relationships and belonging. I think about the way that their sister in the story was willing to check-in with their mother and the ways that other survivors' bravery sparked their own--a never-ending magnificent response to violence and abuse. One of my favorite moments in To Be Brave, is in Part 2 and the small response by their boss' family and therapist. I love the complexity expressed by the storyteller in To Be Brave, and the desire to hold the humanity of everyone, including themselves, even in hard moments.
In Standing Her Ground, there is a dramatic response to CSA by the storyteller's teenage sister hiding them in a closet and successfully preventing more abuse from their abuser. It is an unexpected and formative moment that the storyteller shares they will never forget. I love that this story is a story about a survivor protecting another survivor--and children and youth trying to create their own safety.
However, I am also finding that another part of this project is the revealing of the many conditions that allow for child sexual abuse to happen and continue. This is an important part of building transformative community responses to child sexual abuse: understanding how CSA happens and is enabled and perpetuated by conditions such as poverty, white supremacy, isolation, silence, misogyny, capitalism, ableism and so much more. The stories, Standing Her Ground and What Was Lost, illustrate many of these conditions. In What Was Lost, the storyteller explains how immigration, language barriers and poverty were huge factors to their abuse and how long it continued. In Standing Her Ground, we hear how isolation, oppressive gender roles, white supremacy and immigration shaped the abuse they experienced, as well. In Ending the Secrecy, the storyteller talks about how being a person of color informed why they didn't think of calling the police as an option.
If we are serious about ending CSA, then we have to commit to it, rather than hoping that someone else, somewhere else will do it. We have to understand how child sexual abuse is connected to and used by systems of oppression. We have to understand how CSA is connected to other forms of violence and abuse. We have to listen to those who are most impacted by CSA and what would have helped them or supported them. We need to learn about the vast diversity of CSA experiences, beyond the sensationalized ones we are sold, and actively build our own capacities to be able to hold the complexity and contradictions within those experiences. We need to create new shared language that can clearly describe and convey what we mean. We can absolutely end child sexual abuse--of that, i am sure--but it will require that we commit to and invest in the long-term work it will take from us, our families, intimate networks and communities.