This has been a week of travelling, networking, connection and collaboration. A week of laughter, empowerment, and overcoming.
It has been a week of public speaking, guest panels, consultancy and change-making. I have met up with old friends and made new ones, professionally, personally and both.
Plain Sight Event at Riverside Studios. Viv Gordon, Sophie Olson, Roz Etwaria and Alison McKinlay discuss their response to “four short films based on #CSA survivor voices, which disrupt the conversation & change the narrative around CSA” (Viv Gordon Co)
On Thursday we worked here, with Susanna Alyce, William Tantam and Michael May. We are working collaboratively to design a resource to improve the experience of survivors during the disclosure process.
On Friday we met with Better Together – Online Safety, and heard about their inspiring work to make the online world a safer one for children.
The highlight of my week was the Thursday night launch of the Viv Gordon Co. and partners (SARSAS and The Greenhouse Bristol), Upfront Survivors project in Bristol. This was one of the first cultural pop-up spaces for the CSA survivor community.
I hesitated before including that I was quite unexpected triggered during the event, but decided it perfectly reflects a survivor’s ‘normal’ and therefore the immense value of such spaces in the community. It’s important to state that I wasn’t triggered by content, but by something quite mainstream and everyday. Normally I would hide the feelings that arise from feeling triggered, from those around me, leave the situation causing me distress and go to lengths to not draw attention to myself.
I wasn’t in everyday life. I was at a survivor event, in a supportive space, and I didn’t even need to say the words for those near me to notice my discomfort. I held the hands of two beautiful activists until the feelings passed. No explanation necessary.
There are many survivor activists doing similar work but we are dotted all over the place and rarely come together. It felt there was a collective shift that night from ‘I’ to ‘we’. An enormous and remarkable sense of togetherness and community, palpable to everyone in the room – survivors, activists, allies and friends alike.
We were unmasked. Able to speak, listen, to sing, to weep, laugh, and most importantly of all – to celebrate, as one – our survival from child sexual abuse. How many opportunities are there in life for us to do that? We spend too much time censoring ourselves, protecting others from the impact of our words … and what for? Why should we not shout our survival from the rooftops?!
As Viv Gordon said on stage: “Surviving CSA is a creative act. We want nothing less than a revolution!”
And a beginning of revolution was exactly how it felt!
Upfront Survivors: Speaking Out And Leading Change
We need more events, more spaces and more opportunities to come together. It is so lonely surviving in isolation and one day I truly believe it will no longer be this way. Survivors will not always be an invisible group in society.
As an organisation we are looking for ways to fund similar events but we need help. Our team is small and we need to grow. We need our local community to engage and it’s proving to be a struggle – compared to Bristol, Surrey is not (yet) as forward thinking when it comes to survivor leadership. We will not give up, for the benefit of the survivors and for myself. I am getting tired of being one of the few visible CSA survivors in my own area. I crave a regular sense of solidarity – to feel normal within a community, to stand with others unafraid to say the words: “I am a survivor of child sexual abuse.”
My week ends with my birthday. I am 46 today – an age I didn’t expect to reach but here I am. One of my poems about my struggle to survive the abuse and the mental health system was spoken last night on my behalf by Viv at the open mic. She said to me beforehand: “I’m glad you didn’t die” and I’m glad I didn’t too. Survivor activism has given me a life in which I feel I fit. I am no longer an onlooker to my own life. I feel fully present, not numb or shut down.
I feel alive. Real. I am me. I am free.