Barriers to Self-Care: Tips for Survivors

By: Dana Rock, LMSW

Self-care can be hard to put into practice. Day to day responsibilities tend to take priority over taking time to relax and recharge. People often tell themselves they will focus on self-care when they have more time, after this one hard test, or when their next vacation rolls around. This can lead to weeks or months of stretching ourselves thin and becoming exhausted.

Through my experience of providing individual and group therapy to survivors of sexual trauma, I have found it can be even harder for survivors to prioritize self-care. Some survivors say it can feel selfish or indulgent to focus on taking care of themselves. Others have a hard time believing that simple self-care habits will really make a difference, especially when experiencing trauma symptoms. Now let’s be real here: taking a bubble bath is not going to solve all your problems. What it can do is give your brain the rest it needs in order to better manage your current stressors and possibly even find solutions.

A common issue survivors I work with have identified is forgetting to implement self-care when it is needed. While it’s normal to have trouble remembering coping skills in times of extreme stress, continuously putting self-care on the backburner might indicate a larger problem. If you don’t address the underlying issues that stop you from prioritizing self-care, you will likely continue to put it off. Consider these five blocks that can prevent people, especially survivors of sexual trauma, from prioritizing self-care.

  1. Understanding what you like and what works for you. Survivors of sexual trauma, especially childhood sexual abuse, often do not know what really works for them. As a child they were too focused on surviving to really explore their favorite activities. The good news is that it’s never too late to get to know yourself! Also, keep in mind that different things work for different people. If you feel like you’re being tortured during a guided meditation, try something else! Your self-care might look completely different from the next person. As long as it’s serving you in a healthy way, that’s all that matters. 
  1. Carve out time for self-care throughout your day. If you’re constantly putting off self-care until you “have time,” you might not implement anything until a sickness or a mental breakdown forces you to do so. In an ideal world, we would all be able to devote an hour or more a day to self-care. We all know that’s not always realistic! Fortunately, doing small things throughout your day can be just as effective. For example, take a quick walk at work when you notice you’ve been sitting for too long. Text a friend in the middle of a stressful day and ask them to make you laugh. Setting aside time for quick, intentional mental breaks will help keep you focused and give you a sense of calm throughout the chaos of your day. 
  1. Turn the volume down on your inner-critic. We all struggle with feeling like we aren’t good enough, aren’t achieving enough, or simply aren’t enough. Survivors seem to be even harder on themselves, as sexual assault can negatively affects one’s self-esteem. Do you tell yourself you’ll never heal after you experience a flashback? Do you ignore all of your progress on managing your anxiety based off of one anxious interaction? None of us are our best self 100% of the time. Remind yourself that it’s okay to make mistakes and have bad days. If you catch yourself thinking about all the things you’re doing wrong, start to list the things you’re doing right. Try keeping a journal of your achievements or focusing on the positives instead of the few negative things when retelling your day to a friend or partner. Showing yourself a little compassion can go such a long way!
  1. Figure out what your boundaries are and stick by them. Sexual assault can be considered the ultimate disrespect of someone’s boundaries. This can make it harder for survivors to both understand what their boundaries are and to feel comfortable asserting them. In order to better know your boundaries, take time to check-in with yourself and recognize when you are being stretched thin. This applies to all areas of life, including school, work, family, and friend obligations. When you’re able to ask for what you need, you’re much more likely to get it. You’re also less likely to end up resenting your job or your loved ones for not realizing how stressed you are. 
  1. Remember you are worthy of self-care. This is the most important barrier! Sexual assault can deeply impact one’s sense of self-worth, and survivors often have trouble believing that their needs matter. In reality, taking care of yourself emotionally is just as important as remembering to eat food and drink water. It isn’t selfish or indulgent; it’s a vital piece of overall well-being.

Just like taking extra Vitamin C at the first sign of a cold can reduce your symptoms, implementing self-care daily can reduce your chances of having a panic attack or a breakdown. In the words of Anne Lamott, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

 

Would you like to make a difference in a survivor’s life? Donate today and help STAR continue to provide our free and confidential services to survivors of sexual trauma.

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Silence is Self-protection

By Racheal Hebert, LCSW
Founder, President & CEO of STAR

The recent flurry of news targeting Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser as being exploitative, politically motivated, or even an outright liar reminds us that we live in an oppressive culture of disbelief and judgment towards survivors of sexual violence. We simply cannot accept that those we love, work with or admire are capable of committing horrifying acts of violence against others.

The U.S. Department of Justice reported that only 32% of rapes were reported to police between 1993 and 2015[1]. Why so low? There are many reasons why survivors choose not to report their assault, including the need for privacy, shame around sex, fear of retaliation and fear of being stigmatized, just to name a few. A survivor’s decision to remain silent is self-protection. And let’s not forget that our actions as individuals in a society that would rather believe rapists than survivors forced them into this position.

We know the coded language of blame. We hold survivors responsible for not preventing an assault committed against them and we question them about their actions when they come forward. We give survivors polygraph tests to prove they aren’t lying when they report to the police[2]. When they remain silent about an assault in hopes that it will just go away, and then they come to understand what happened to them as sexual violence years later and speak out, we ask why they didn’t report right away.

Don’t you see? It doesn’t matter what survivors do, they will be held responsible for these acts committed against them and they know it. Coming forward is a calculated risk. It is unfair and unjust and this has to stop. Haven’t they suffered enough?

If we hope to end sexual violence in our communities, we have to start by believing survivors. We have to start worrying more about the violence and trauma afflicted onto the victim instead of the reputation of the perpetrator. We have to allow for the possibility that the people we know or look up to can and have committed violence.

Here at STAR, we are seeing a shift. Survivors have started to speak out, whether their experience of sexual trauma was months ago or decades. But the time is now to start believing instead of shaming. To listen instead of question. To learn instead of assume. And, above all, to recognize the ways that we each contribute to a culture where survivors would rather swallow their trauma and suffer the pain alone than speak out.

 

 

[1]Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), 1993–2015. Retrieved from https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv15.pdf

[2]Polygraphing sexual assault survivors has been prohibited by Federal law since 2005, but it’s something survivors are still subjected to. See 42 U.S.C. sec. 3796gg-8.

Agents of Change: Tommy Naquin

 

If you have the opportunity to participate in something that you’re passionate about, take it. Also, give this movement a chance to become something that your passionate about. – Tommy Naquin

What is your relationship with STAR? 

I became involved with the organization when it was embarking on its transition from the District Attorney’s Rape Crisis Center to STAR in 2011. I was elected as one of the founding Board Members for the organization. Throughout my many years of Board service, I have served as the Board President and Treasurer, where my skills as a CPA came in handy. My term on the Board has ended this year, and I remain active on the Capital Area Regional Council so that I can stay involved with STAR.

 

 

What led you to get involved with STAR? 

During the time I was asked to serve on the Board, my motivation was to support the District Attorney’s vision of transitioning the organization into a non-profit.  Also, I wanted to help Baton Rouge become a better place. I have never experienced rape, nor do I have knowledge of any woman in my life that has been raped. However, potential victims and survivors are an innovative and productive source in our population here in Baton Rouge, and they make up a significant portion of our population. Fear, anxiety, low self-esteem, and legal obstacles significantly affect our people and their ability to perform their role in society. I wanted to do my part to help an organization like STAR succeed and improve the quality of life for those in our community that have experienced sexual violence.

 

What do you find most rewarding about your participation in this movement? 

It’s kind of like planting a tree and watching it grow. When I first began as a Board Member, the organization had a tiny budget and just a few staff. Today, the organization now has over 30 staff and has offices in Alexandria, Baton Rouge and New Orleans. What started out as the dream of a few has grown to help so many.

 

What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?  

With respect to STAR, things haven’t really been difficult or discouraging.  Our CEO, Racheal Hebert, handles everything so that the organization runs smoothly and efficiently.  Other than that I try to keep my eye on the ball by focusing on those that depend on you and keep things in perspective.

 

What are some simple, day-to-day ways you promote positive change in our community? 

Day to day, I’m still trying to make positive changes in my own life.  I think that’s part of the answer.  Additionally, I think you prepare yourself mentally each day so that when the opportunity to make a positive change surfaces, you seize and follow through.

 

What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of this movement? 

If you have the opportunity to participate in something that you’re passionate about, take it. Also, give this movement a chance to become something that your passionate about. When I hear about the clients that STAR has helped over the years, it gives me pride to think that I had something to do with helping that person.

Agents of Change: Derrick Lathan

What is your position at STAR?

I serve as the Youth Development Coordinator. I sometimes tell students I’m their “big brother” for short.

How did you come to work at STAR and/or in the field of sexual assault prevention/response?

A bunch of stuff just kind of happened at the same time to be honest. I don’t recall the order of events, but one day I was having a conversation about getting rid of gender roles during a party; another day I was confronting a couple boys in a program I worked for about sexual harassment, and then boom! Dominique mentioned she saw something in me and wanted me to join the team. I knew it would be more of an educational opportunity for me than for anyone else, but it was exactly what I needed.

What do you find most rewarding about your work at STAR?

Being in the classroom is definitely the best part. I want to be a professor after school so this is great practice.

What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

I just think about all of the stories I’ve heard and all of the things I’ve seen. Someone has to do something. It may as well be me.

What are some simple, day-to-day ways you promote positive change in our community, outside of your work duties? 

Literally, having conversations go a long way. Addressing things when you hear them sticks with people. It’s far from comfortable sometimes so you should use some form of tact, but speaking up can save lives.

What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of the movement to end sexual trauma?

“Think about your mama. Think about your sister. Think about yourself. If something happened to any of you, what would you want us to do? Whatever that is (if it’s withing an intervention framework), do that!”

Agents of Change: Jordan Gonzales

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“It is incredibly rewarding for me to see even the smallest of changes with clients. To be there as clients learn one new way of coping, or experience one tiny change in the way they see themselves, is a huge honor.”

– Jordan Gonzales

1. What is your position at STAR?

I’ve been a counselor at STAR’s Baton Rouge branch since March 2017 and have had the pleasure of providing individual and group counseling to survivors during my time here.

2. How did you come to work at STAR or in the field of sexual assault prevention/response?

While completing an internship at Child Advocacy Services for my undergraduate degree, I was exposed to the reality of sexual trauma. I had a chance to work closely with the program director and observe forensic interviews. There I became passionate about working with survivors and their families, and was inspired to enroll in the graduate counseling program at Southeastern.

I first heard about STAR while beginning my job search after graduating. My cousin, who is an ER nurse, told me about STAR volunteers who accompany survivors at the hospital during their exams. I thought this was a great service for the community, so I was excited to hear about a counseling position opening at the Baton Rouge Branch. I applied as soon as I became aware of the opening.

3. What do you find most rewarding about your work at STAR?

I find a lot of meaning in the work that I do. I know that I can make change at a small scale, moment by moment and person by person. It is incredibly rewarding for me to see even the smallest of changes with clients. To be there as clients learn one new way of coping, or experience one tiny change in the way they see themselves, is a huge honor.

It’s a really special privilege to walk with them on their journey of healing. Knowing that I could be there to provide even one ounce of encouragement makes it worth it to me. It’s rewarding for me to know that someone who has no reason to trust another person because of their traumatic experiences entrusts me with their thoughts and feelings.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

I work with an amazing team at STAR. Their compassion and encouragement is a major source of joy for me in the sometimes bleak work that I do. We incorporate a lot of humor in our interactions. We support one another and really just help one another understand that “Yes, this is hard work, but I’m here.” Brooke and Dana are both incredible counselors whom I’ve had the privilege of working alongside and learning from for over a year now.

It motivates me to know that there are organizations like STAR that work to help people who have been hurt while simultaneously working to prevent trauma from occuring by changing the culture. I’m faced with some of the harshest realities of human nature in my job, but I’m also daily reminded that there are positive forces for good through my coworkers every day.

5. What are some other ways you promote positive change in your community?

When I’m not at work, I do everything I can to separate myself from counseling. Self-care is my main priority, so I just live my life. I try to have fun and leave work at work. The topic of sexual trauma is everywhere right now though, so when people talk about it, I present the knowledge I have to the best of my ability and try to be a voice for survivors. It’s a small contribution, but I know change happens in the small moments.

6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of the movement to end sexual trauma?

Becoming a part of a movement looks different for different people. Find out your style and what fits best for you. Use your strengths to do things that matter to you. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

A great first step is to educate yourself. Whether that means researching local organizations to find out more information, volunteering, or having conversations with people around you, know the facts and follow your intuition from that point on.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

Agents of Change: Mark Primeaux

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“The essence of ending sexual trauma is to make the world a better place for all people.”

– Mark Primeaux

1. What is your connection to STAR?

My wife, Lisa, has been a longtime volunteer for STAR and got me interested in working with their 3-D Peer Educator program as well as participating in their Hunks in Heels fundraiser.

2. How did you come to volunteer with STAR or in the field of sexual assault prevention/response?

When my wife introduced me to to STAR, I was a little hesitant to get involved because I felt like I did not have a lot to offer. However, I realized that in my day job as an educator, my primary motivation was to improve the lives of young people by equipping them with the tools that help them navigate a complex world. The work that STAR was doing was a perfect extension of that very mission.

For that reason, I wanted to be involved with the 3-D Peer Educator program to equip promising young leaders to be the people who carry on that mission to their peers.

3. What do you find most rewarding about your involvement with STAR?

Perhaps most rewarding is the feeling that I can make a proactive impact on unhealthy sexuality. STAR provides services to people who are struggling with the results of sexual trauma, but when I can reach a young person in a way that empowers them to make choices that can prevent sexual trauma from happening, then I feel as if I have made a difference. The most rewarding part of STAR is being involved with an organization that hopes to one day rid the world of sexual violence.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

Thinking about the young people who will or have become the voice of change for their peers motivates me when others seem to have missed the message.

5. What are some other ways you promote positive change in your community?

Voting in local elections and speaking up in-person when I see things that I question are concrete ways to incite change. I also promote positive change by considering the implications that my actions have beyond myself. It’s more than not being selfish, it’s considering things in a global perspective; as in, “Will this action affect someone else in a way that I haven’t considered?” It’s being intentional about the choices I make by considering if they add value to my life, the lives of others, and/or the world.

6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of the movement to end sexual trauma?

I’d like to direct this statement at other men who are hesitant to become involved. I think that the message of healthy sexuality is sometimes construed as a “slander against men” (as one pundit put it). I’d like all men to distance ourselves from our ideologies, our in-group biases, and even our personal relationships, and consider that the essence of ending sexual trauma is to make the world a better place for all people.

It’s important to realize that even for a man who hasn’t been touched by sexual violence directly, our lives and our relationships are negatively impacted because unhealthy sexuality exists. Making the world a safer and healthier place without sexual violence or trauma has the potential to improve all of our lives.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

In Mixed Company: Surviving Beyond Gender

Written by Dana Rock, LMSW, Jordan Gonzales, PLPC, NCC, and Sarah Baniahmad

Many people see sexual assault as a women’s issue. When men are included in the conversation, it normally centers on what they can do to protect or support women. With 1 in 5 women being raped in their lifetime, it is easy to see how this idea came to fruition1. In reality, sexual violence can happen to anyone, including men and transgender individuals. In fact, statistics show that 1 in 71 men have been raped1. A 2015 survey showed that 47% of transgender people were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime2. These statistics are likely an underestimate, due to the barriers that men and transgender individuals face when coming forward about their assaults.

Our culture holds many myths that make it difficult for male survivors to disclose sexual assault. Our society portrays the image that all men want sex at all times; therefore, unwanted sexual encounters do not exist. If a man has received sex in any form, he should be thankful for it. Men are viewed as strong and able to fight off anything; thus, people believe that men can and will stop sexual interactions from occurring if they choose. In addition, our culture holds males to an impossible standard with regards to emotional vulnerability. In an effort to never appear weak, men are discouraged from talking about their feelings or outwardly displaying vulnerable parts of themselves. All of these factors are part of the seemingly insurmountable mountain male survivors must climb when thinking about coming forward.

At STAR, we serve all survivors of sexual assault, regardless of gender. It is normal for survivors to experience feelings of shame and guilt following a sexual trauma, and group therapy has been proven to be highly effective in helping survivors work through those feelings. Men often face feelings of shame and guilt to an even higher degree due to the myths surrounding male sexual trauma. In the past, groups at STAR were only open to female survivors. To our knowledge, similar sexual assault centers around the country were separating their groups out by gender. However, we did not have quite enough interest to host an all male group, which led to the idea of starting an all gender inclusive group to meet the need.

Several concerns arose as we discussed the possibility of a mixed gender group. Men and women are both more likely to be assaulted by men, which can cause a great fear and distrust of men. Would women be reluctant to join a group that included men? Would men be comfortable enough to discuss their trauma with women? Would these two genders be able to find common ground among their experiences? Would gender-specific concerns go unaddressed with an all-inclusive group?

We talked through our potential concerns and received guidance from a webinar on hosting all-gender groups provided by FORGE, a transgender anti-violence group. Through this training we realized that we were not being fully inclusive to transgender survivors with our current group model. In addition, STAR as an agency has been seeking out ways to become more accessible to male survivors in the community. We ultimately decided that all survivors, regardless of gender, deserved a chance to experience the healing that can come from group. This was an opportunity to show men that we believed them and wanted to serve them just as much as we wanted to serve women. By expanding our current group model to include males as well as transgender survivors, we created more access to services for our entire community.

To date we have completed two all gender support groups in the Baton Rouge branch. We were very upfront about the makeup of the group from the start with all potential participants. To our surprise, group members expressed few concerns about having a mixed gender group and were open to the idea. At our initial meeting, group members discussed concerns of not being able to relate to one another across genders. As co-facilitators, we used this as an opportunity to talk through the many differences that can appear in any support group: different ages, races, ethnicities, religious affiliations, types of trauma, etc. While survivors always bring their unique personalities and experiences to group, the power lies in finding common ground with one another. Sexual assault causes real pain and affects so many aspects of a survivor’s life. Group participants connected on their shared experiences and feelings, such as experiencing shame, guilt, trust issues, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The survivors were able to see that they were not alone in their struggles.

During group sessions, several female members shared that simply having males present helped them shift their perspective of men from a negative light to a positive one. This was reflected throughout group as well as in feedback we received from an anonymous survey given at the end of group. One group member stated, “It is important to have all genders participate in group therapy because sexual assaults happen to all genders.” Another group member shared, “It was very difficult at first, but I think it was helpful to know that men go through the same things.” Experiences and lessons learned in group therapy can help one apply those concepts to the outside world. By allowing all genders, especially males, to participate in groups we are ultimately providing the opportunity for healing to occur on newer and deeper levels for all participants.

As counselors, watching the group experience unfold the same way with different genders, as it had with one gender, reinforces what we have always known about survivors. While their traumas and their backgrounds might be completely different, sexual assault in any form can cause the same lasting effects. At their core, male and female survivors do not have as many differences as one might think. We are continuing to see interest in support groups from male survivors and we are excited about continuing the mixed gender model for our groups in Baton Rouge.

 

Citations:

#LiftEVERYvoice: Recy Taylor

This final segment of our #LiftEVERYvoice series features Recy Taylor.

About Recy Taylor

It is September 3, 1944 in Abbeville, Alabama. After a night of praying and singing at the Rock Hill Holiness Church, Recy Taylor, her friend Fannie Daniel and Daniel’s eighteen-year-old son, West, began their stroll home. As they walk, a green Chevrolet passes by a few times. Taylor, a twenty-four-year-old mother and sharecropper, immediately takes notice. The group watch as the car passes for the last time then slows to a stop. Seven armed white men approach the women. Herbert Lovett waves his gun at Taylor, stating the local sheriff, George H. Gamble, has sent them out to take her in for questioning. They declare she is the assailant of a young white man who had been cut earlier in the day. Fannie comes to Recy’s defense stating that they are wrong. They circle around the young mother as Lovett grabs her by the arm. After she manages to rest free of his grasp, Recy attempts to escape. Lovett cocks his gun, pointing it at Taylor’s head, warning her not to run or he will shoot.

The men shove Taylor into the backseat of the green sedan and drive off the highway into the woods. Upon their arrival, Recy is ordered to remove her clothes. She sobs and pleads with the men to let her go home to her husband and her toddler. Herbert Lovett lays a hunting coat on the ground, ordering Taylor to lie down. He hands his shotgun to one of the men as he proceeds to remove his pants. Standing over Recy, Lovett threatens to cut her throat if she doesn’t act like she does when she lies with her husband. After Lovett rapes Taylor, five other men do the same. Once everything is over, someone assists Recy with getting dressed, ties a handkerchief over her eyes, and pushes her into the backseat again. After driving for a while, the men stop and put Recy out of the car, warning her not to move until they are gone. Once they are gone, Recy Taylor removes the blindfold, pulls herself together, and begins the long walk home.

Once reunited with her family, Recy told her story. Telling her story came with a severe cost, including death threats, porch bombings, and public scrutiny. Recy feared to go to town, in fear that her rapists would kill her. Her father would spend long nights in a tree as he watched over his family home with a shotgun. The brave survivor went forward to report her story to the local law enforcement, trusting that she would be believed and given the justice she deserved. Sadly, as with most of these types of attacks, Recy’s case did not go to trial. The case was shut down twice by grand juries composed of all white males. None of the assailants were arrested nor indicted, even after one confessed. Governor Chauncey Sparks as well as many other powerful political figures of that time put in minimum efforts to give birth to justice, for fear that too much bad news would harm Alabama’s reputation.

Rosa Parks was assigned to Recy’s case as an investigator from the NAACP. The horrific crime was extensively covered by the NAACP and black press. Rosa Parks allied with many African American organizations, labor unions, and women’s groups to form the Alabama Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor. Together they developed one of the strongest campaigns for equal justice during this time. The national campaign used the power of stories to mobilize communities.

Even though the justice they deserved was rarely granted in the courts, Black survivors risked their lives to protect their family, using their voices as weapons against white supremacy. Storytelling was action. The refusal to remain silent sparked a national movement to defend the humanity of Black people, dismantle White supremacy, and gain personal autonomy. The outcry and anger expressed amongst the black community led to what we know today as the Civil Rights movement.

Yet even today, there is still a high demand for basic human recognition. Survivors of color are not given the same level of empathy as those who are not of color. Stories are met with disbelief, ignorance, or silence on the matter altogether. The story of Recy Taylor was silenced for a while, but its importance could not be ignored. This story highlights the reality of a movement to end sexual violence that has never been carried out with full inclusion and integrity. As a result, Black people have carried the burden of transgenerational trauma for centuries. In the Black community, survivors have struggled to be heard, and that needs to end. If we are a really going to do the work to live in a world free from sexual violence then we need to #LiftEVERYVoice. If you don’t know the depth of this issue, how can you really create change? If only certain voices are granted volume and attention, how will this movement be successful?

 

A Letter to Recy

 

#LiftEVERYVoice is a movement created by STAR® to amplify the voices of survivors silenced by racial oppression.  We seek to uplift, support and empower survivors of color.

 

#LiftEVERYVoice: Ruby Atee Pigford

This week’s #LiftEVERYVoice segment features Ruby Atee Pigford.

Ruby’s History

By Airzola Cleaves, Staff Attorney

Ruby Atee Pigford—a black teenager—was raped by a “well-to-do oil dealer” named James Lee Perry.  On August 7, 1947, James Perry picked Ruby up after he promised to pay her $0.70 per hour for a babysitting job.  However, instead of taking Ruby to his house, James Perry drove to a nearby bar. When Ruby refused to go inside the bar with James Perry, he beat her until she was unconscious.  He then raped her, tied her body to the bumper of his car, and dragged her body through town. Later that evening, James Perry dumped Ruby’s body outside of her home.

Ruby told her parents what happened, and her parents told their friends.  The African-American community supported Ruby and demanded justice. Edward Knott, Jr., the secretary of the NAACP chapter in Meridian, Mississippi wired the story to the Pittsburgh Courier and airmailed a letter to the national NACCP office.  The Assistant Special Counsel, Marian Wynn Perry, recommended that the case be widely publicized in an effort to draw attention to Mississippi. As Danielle McGuire indicated in her novel, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance—a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power, “[t]he only feasible way to hold white men accountable for raping black women—since Southern courts would not—was to draw outside attention to the crime.”

 

Letter to Ruby

 

#LiftEVERYVoice is a movement created by STAR® to amplify the voices of survivors silenced by racial oppression.  We seek to uplift, support and empower survivors of color.

 

 

 

#LiftEVERYVoice: Harriet Ann Jacobs

This week’s #LiftEVERYVoice segment highlights Harriet Ann Jacobs, an African-American writer who escaped from slavery and was later freed.  Jacobs is best known for writing the revolutionary autobiographical novel, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, one of the first books to address the struggle for freedom by female slaves, and explore their struggles with sexual abuse and their effort to protect their roles as women and mothers.

Harriet’s History

By Kirsten Raby, Capital Area Regional Director

Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery in 1813. At 6, after her mother’s death, she was sent to live with her mother’s master. When she was 11 she was bequeathed to the niece of her former owner’s wife. For 17 years Harriet fought off the sexual advancements of the father, Dr. James Norcom, of her young master. She not only had to fight off a perpetrator but also had to deal with the never-ending abuse by his wife. While she attempted to navigate the complex life she was given and the constant hate she lived amongst, she entered into an agreed (while still secret) relationship with Samuel Sawyer, an unmarried white attorney. Together they had 2 children, Joseph & Louisa. All the while Harriet continued to fight off the unwanted sexual advancements from Norcom. She was soon banished to work on Norcom’s son’s plantation because of her refusal to be his “mistress”. Her children were sold to their father so she started her escape plan by going into hiding, in the small attic of her grandmother’s home for 7 years. In 1842 Harriet finally escaped and fled to New York to be reunited with her children. In 1860 she published her book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; she was the 1st woman to author a fugitive slave narrative in the US. Harriet’s primary goal in writing out her story was to confront white women of the North on behalf of the many “Slave mothers that are still in bondage” in the South. She wanted to indict the southern patriarchy for its sexual tyranny over black women. Harriet spent her free life fighting for freedom, teaching, and doing relief work. She died in Washington DC in 1897. “The secrets of slavery are concealed like those of the inquisition.” Harriet wrote. “My master was, to my knowledge, the father of 11 slaves. But did the mothers dare to tell who was the father of their children? Did the other slaves dare to allude to it, except in whispers among themselves? No indeed? They knew too well the terrible consequences.”

 

A Letter to Harriet

 

#LiftEVERYVoice is a movement created by STAR® to amplify the voices of survivors silenced by racial oppression.  We seek to uplift, support and empower survivors of color.