Monday, October 1, 2018

Things We Haven't Said: Sexual Violence Survivors Speak Out - Edited by Erin Moulton

Summary: Things We Haven't Said is a powerful collection of poems, essays, letters, vignettes and interviews written by a diverse group of impressive adults who survived sexual violence as children and adolescents.  Structured to incorporate creative writing to engage the reader and informative interviews to dig for context, this anthology is a valuable resource of hope, grit and honest conversation that will help teens tackle the topic of sexual violence, upend stigma and maintain hope for a better future.  (Summary from book - image from amazon.com)

Note:  I desperately want to get this review right, but my reviewing skills feel rusty and unequal to the task.  Nevertheless, I persist.  Please forgive my inadequacies in speaking about such a sensitive and important topic!

My Review: I read a lot of books. Not as many as I'd like lately, but on average more than my fair share.  Most books I can read, enjoy, and walk away without looking back. This is not one of those books.  This is a book I will never forget.

I found Things We Haven't Said on a shelf at my local library and opened it to a random page.  What I read was an instantly compelling punch to the face -- a few lines of brutal poetry written by a young woman coping with the resurfacing memories of childhood sexual abuse.  Her harrowing, heart-rending account is one of many others in this compilation, told by women and men who have suffered appalling abuse, frequently at the hands of those most trusted and often before they were old enough to fully understand what was happening.  I know that's hard to read (and it was)....but keep reading.

Each story is told in its own unique way, be it in essay form, poetry, or letter to an abuser, to a mother who failed to protect, or to their younger fractured self, etc.  Some survivors spoke in voices that were angry and/or empowered. Others simply relieved to finally speak, or devastated, raw with grief and the weary exhaustion of pain long suffered. All had something important to say to those willing to listen. After each account, is an brief, unfiltered Q&A session between the survivor and the book's editor, Erin Moulton.  I felt these Q&A sessions were invaluable, as they gave a bit more insight into the writer's circumstances, what has happened since, and why they chose to present their story in a certain way.

I won't go into the details of each story; you'll have to decide if you're willing to open this book and let their voices out.  I will say that in account after account, three aspects consistently stood out to me.
  • The importance of speaking out.  Survivor after survivor stated that their recovery began when they found their voice.  So, when you can.  If you can.  TELL YOUR STORY.  
  • The importance of allies.  If you are one of those fortunate few who have not been victimized yourself, you likely know someone who has been.  Learn to be an ally.  Learn what that means for each individual survivor (what one person needs might not be the same as another).  Learn to listen.  Hear them.  Believe them.  Be there. 
  • The third aspect of this book was one that took me completely by surprise because, while I expected to be horrified by the subject matter, I did not expect to feel uplifted!  And I was!  Nearly every individual's section ended with some type of comfort or encouragement to others who might be living in similar circumstances.  Each story put it a bit differently, and there are too many to quote them all, but the gist was this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  You are stronger than you know!  Keep fighting.  Take your time.  Keep speaking.  YOU CAN DO THIS! 

I devoured this book.  Not in the way I normally do (for pleasure), but because I felt a keen desire to understand and help others who may have experienced similar trauma.  Aside from the moving first-person accounts, this book contains vital information on where to find help, important statistics about sexual assault, a glossary of frequently used terms, and useful online resources.  Those looking for an easy read will not find it, but those hoping to educate themselves and help shine a light on a subject that has been shoved into the shadows for far too long, will find a great resource.

Make no mistake, this is not fluffy chick lit.  It's the ugliest kind of waking nightmare, but a book that I highly encourage you to read if you feel up to it.  In doing so, you honor a survivor's voice and give them an opportunity to tell you their story on their own terms.  I promise, you will come away changed in some way.  You'll definitely understand more about the nature of sexual assault perpetrators and the experiences of their victims. You'll no longer find that rape "joke" funny (hopefully, you never did) and you'll shut it down at take the opportunity to educate others.  You'll speak up when you see someone being harassed.  Maybe, you'll start listening to that voice that's been telling you something is wrong.  Or you'll recognize the signs of abuse in a loved one, hear them, and become the ally they need.  And perhaps, someone reading this, maybe even you, will finally be able to acknowledge your own pain, find your own voice, and tell your own story.

For the sensitive reader:  In general, I don't recommend books that have graphic language, graphic violence, graphic 'sexual' imagery, or alternative sexual partnerships to anyone who pays attention to this section.  This book has all those things in varying degrees.  That having been said, I think this book is important and worth your consideration, if you are of a certain age and think you can manage it.  It's not glorifying anything.  It's just real life and real pain and, in my opinion, worth acknowledging.

My Rating:  5 Stars.


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