© 2018 by Kate Ryan.

It was ongoing, and definitely during my childhood, before the age of 10. 

At home.

And it was a family member unfortunately. 

 

That became really hard to navigate, living in a space where my harm-doer was around often and not being able to share that with someone until I was an adult. 

 

I remember being a little girl and watching Oprah episodes with my mom.

Survivors would come on and tell their stories. 

And I was like, "Oh my god, I'll never do that." 

 

*

 

Right now my work is in anti-rape advocacy and child sexual abuse prevention, which I never in a million years thought that I would do. 

 

For so much time, I was in denial that anything had happened to me because no one was saying anything about it, and no one was doing anything about it. 

 

So I am really grateful that this is my work. 

 

*

 

I grew up in Michigan.  

I'm the youngest of seven. 

My mom wasn't a single mom, but my dad was away for work very often. 

So he didn't really know what was happening in our household either. 

 

I was homeschooled, which I'm also really grateful for.

But also that makes things complicated too. 

 

When violence is happening in your household, and that's your learning environment…that's supposed to be where you're most comfortable and where you rest and where you eat and where you do everything.

 

And that's something that I hold as an adult definitely. 

Now making my home space extremely comfortable for me is part of my healing journey.

This is my nest. 

I actually had a home birth. 

I was ready to leave home. 

It wasn't just the violence that I had experienced, but there was other violence in my household. 

I was over it. 

I was like, I'm running as far as I can. 

 

So I applied to lots of scholarships and had a really great financial aid package at my private liberal arts college. 

It was in Western Massachusetts.

 

I was very liberated to be out of my house.  

That's when I realized how important it was for me to make space for myself.

I was like, “I'm decorating everything.” 

I think that's what it means to reclaim your own space, that it's uninterrupted and not disrupted.

 

I have elephants around me all the time.

It kind of reminds me to be big and loud and take up space. 

And I also like textiles, like African inspired textiles. 

More recently, meditation pillows and yoga mats. 

 

When I found yoga I was definitely able to come back to my body in ways that I hadn't really before.  So that's been a big part of my healing journey as well. 

 

*

 

It was in college that I just started meeting other people that were talking about it.

And there were opportunities in college for me to be trained to be a first responder, to be on hot lines in campus. 

 

There was this moment where I stopped going to parties to have fun and I started going to police inappropriate behavior. 

I felt kind of armed and ready and very defensive, taking care of my friends. 

It's almost like you're the designated driver, even if you're not driving. 

Because sexual assault and sexual harassment happens so quickly. 

 

I was like, “This is something I can do like all the time. 

This is advocacy and purpose-driven work that I can do.”

 

*

 

It was my first job out of college at Black Women's Blueprint. 

It's been a dream come true to work at an organization is completely survivor led, survivor centered.  

 

I get to bring my full self to the job, and it's not just a saying. 

It's my lived experience that informs the work that I do. 

And then just the team. 

Working in a feminist space is very rewarding.

 

*

 

We did a study that revealed more than 60% of black women and girls experience sexual assault before the age of 18. 

Out of every 15 black women who have been sexually assaulted, at least one of them doesn't report it. 

 

We understand why people don't know that black women and girls are being assaulted in such a pervasive way, and it's because there's so much silence and shame in the community. 

 

We need more programs that are specific to black women. 

We need more programs that are specific to women of color. 

We need more programs that are specific to LGBTQ. 

We need the data so we can "justify" the services and support and funding and grants.

 

We’re trying to make more safe spaces. 

Maybe not a public space or maybe not a police precinct, but you can come here and talk to us. 

 

*

 

I'm also a doula.  

I support women, specifically low-income women who need birth support. 

I started doing that work in 2014. 

I was trained to be an abortion escort; I didn't even know that that was available. 

And I've gotten the chance to work with some survivors which is very near and dear to my heart.

I think I'm attachment parenting.  

That's something that I've been doing as a bonding experience, and also I believe in it educationally for him. 

But also as a protective measure. 

I don't leave him with anyone but my partner, who's his father. 

 

And when I go into the office, I can bring my son. 

And a lot of the spaces that I'm in, whether it's a conference or a protest or a rally, I can bring him with me. 

 

But what is that going to look like when I do send him maybe to school at some point in his life?  

 

I can't live in fear that this world can't hold him or that he can't be in this world, right? 

I can teach him everything that I want to teach him, but I can't control how other people receive him or behave towards him. 

 

It's exciting that I can do that education with him, that I can give him a feminist practice, that I can teach him about consent. 

I can practice consent with him, say, “Can I put your socks on?  Can I put your hat on?  Do you want to go to the park?  Do you want to say hi to that person?” 

 

I don't think it's ever too early to start talking about it.  

We talk about how yoga is a part of that too, about how his autonomy, his bodily autonomy is wrapped up in that practice.

 

*

 

I surround myself with other moms. 

It takes a village; I always say that. 

 

I thought that being a mom or seeing a mini version of me would be really triggering. 

I wasn't sure what that would feel like. 

And if that happens at some point, I feel grateful that I have a community to lean into.

 

*

 

Something about sexual trauma is that it has 150 consequences, right?

 

For me it's just the event of traveling back to Michigan.

There's so many of my loved ones there, my nieces and nephews, my maternal grandmother, my parents are there, a couple of my siblings.  So it's a big deal. 

 

That usually happens around the holidays, which I know for a lot of survivors is a really triggering time.  You need to be around people who may have harmed you and were complicit in harming you or didn't stand up for you or didn't believe you.  Or that you haven't told. 

 

It takes me all day to pack. 

I'll have lavender oil with me or I'll make a playlist. 

 

I have a sister that's one year older than me, and I've been able to talk to her about this as well.  And she's definitely been my protector when I go through those moments and when we go home together.

 

Talking to my family about my work is really interesting, because I think my Grandma's always like, "What do you do again?" 

And I tried to skirt around it for a while. 

And so becoming bolder in that and speaking truth to that, that's definitely been part of my process being at home.  And it opens up so much good conversation. 

Carrying that from my childhood has been a task of remembering and also recovering and reclaiming parts of myself that I want back.

 

I've been wanting to return to things I like doing, like going roller skating. 

I loved roller skating as a kid. 

I'm obsessed with books and collecting books. 

I will have stacks of books around me if I can. 

I love having fun, having wine with my friends. 

All the things that we love to do as women. 

 

I'm glad that now as an adult I don't have to feel like I'm living a double life. 

I'm like running away from this experience to try and live. 

I feel like now I can lean into it and speak about it, be open about it and incorporate it into my work and tell people about it, about my experience and where I'm at in my healing journey.

 

-Sevonna