When in college, I participated in a program to provide peer to peer support for young women impacted by rape and domestic abuse. The thing I remember most was that on the last day of our training, one of the participants shared that she was a survivor. My heart dropped and I felt uncomfortable. I will always remember her face and her bravery.
Later, maybe ten years ago, I walked in my first Walk for HAWC (formerly Healing Abuse for Women & Children and now Healing Abuse & Working for Change – see note below). Walkers spent a few moments at the town square at Old Town Hall, then walked together around our little downtown. There was a sense of community unlike any I’d felt prior, and only a few times since. So many representatives of our community had come together to stand up for individuals who were survivors of domestic violence.
I felt empowered.
More recently, I decided I was to go to grad school with the goal of starting a nonprofit that would merge my passion for helping animals and women impacted by domestic violence. I wanted to create a network of animal shelters who would offer shelter for the pets of women in domestic abuse situations. There are a number of practical reasons shelters can’t take pets, but there is also a huge amount of evidence that shows domestic abusers are very likely to use a pet as a manipulative tool to cause the person they abuse to stay. I wanted to help find temporary spaces for those pets so women could find shelter.
As sometimes happens, my plans changed; my career took another route. My passion, though hasn’t. I was fortunate in the last few months to help HAWC in unique ways. In the spring I was able to organize a Galentine’s Day event in support of the organization – ladies celebrating ladies! – and today I helped shoot a photobooth during the 2018 Walk for HAWC.
Though I haven’t walked in the Walk for HAWC in so many years (and didn’t even technically walk today), I felt the same sense of community, the same punch to my heart. It was pouring. It was gloomy. It was hard.
One person participating in the walk asked me to take her photo. She told me she was nervous. I told her the photo would be beautiful and to not fret. She chatted with me after the photo. She told me how moving the whole event was, how happy/sad/scared she was to be participating. Then she asked me to recycle a sign she held up in the photobooth and went to check out other booths at the event.
Later, while recycling the sigh she’d written for the photobooth I noticed that she’d written “I AM A SURVIVOR.”
My heart paused for a moment. I thought of her face, of her bravery, of her being at the event alone. I remembered the woman I’d met in college – another woman who survived domestic abuse and rape, another woman who was brave and spoke-up.
I have a million thoughts about the #metoo movement. I am so proud of the women speaking up. I am so sad so many women weren’t able to speak up in the past. I am scared for repercussions for women who speak up at the “wrong” time. I worry for those who can’t speak up yet.
On average, 24 people per minute are victims of sexual or physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. We must keep speaking up on their behalf – especially knowing that sometimes they can’t on their own. We have to keep supporting organizations like HAWC. We have to keep talking about this.
A quick note: I wrote this from my personal heart – the heart of someone who identifies as a cis white female. I want to be sure to note that HAWC welcomes individuals of all identities (hence their name chance). If you or someone you love needs support you can contact them here.