Category Archives: Outcry: Sexual Assault Awareness/Child Abuse Prevention Month 2011 Poem Series

“Walk a Moment with Me” with cmottenwess625


A poem from your new admin: “#blamingthevictim”

Good day, readers,

 

My name is Särah Nour and I have the honor of being the new manager of “Writing for Recovery.” I intend to continue furthering Sarah Ann Henderson’s cause of spreading awareness and providing a safe, open forum for those recovering from mental illness, abuse, sexual violence, and eating disorders.

 

I’d like to start off with a poem I wrote a while back, when I was repulsed by the victim-blaming, slut-shaming reactions to the Steubenville rape case. All my anger, revulsion, and horror had to be channeled in a healthy manner, so I choose to copy and paste the appalling quotes found on Twitter and use them to my advantage.

child-rapist1

#blamingthevictim

 

Twitter deems her a cautionary tale:

“Remember kids, if you’re drink/slutty at a party,

and embarrassed later, just say you got raped!”

#Steubenville

Who would ask for it?

 

Twitter has a firm grasp on her situation:

“So you got drunk at a party

and two people take advantage of you,

that’s not rape that’s just a loose drunk slut”

#BiasedResults

Who would ask for it?

 

Underage drinking is the bigger crime here:

“These guys that are in this rape case

should be charged if guilty.

But it’s the girl’s fault too.

She is 16 and got drunk until she passed out.”

#dontdrink

Who would ask for it?

 

Who would ask to be blamed

For not following the dress code,

For drinking too much,

For being taken against her will?

 

“I’m not saying what they did isn’t wrong

but it’s not rape… It’s the girl’s fault.”

#justice

“I’m not blaming the victim here

but how do you get that drunk in the first place?”

#Steubenville

 

Who would ask to be judged nationwide

For a night that will haunt her dreams

For years to come?

 

No one would ask to be

Violated, dehumanized, objectified;

No one would ask to be

Raped.

 

To be the prey

First of two young men

Then of the media

Then of strangers on the Internet

Who know nothing about her

Yet hold her responsible—

Who would ask for it?


Outcry: “Honorable Woman”

So, after four weeks, we have come to the final poem in our series. The first six poems I posted dealt specifically with rape, sexual assault, and child sexual abuse from a victim’s point of view, recognizing the difficulties people who endure these crimes suffer with as victims. This week I wanted to change that, so I posted the piece about letting go of my past with my father; a poem dealing with the issue as a survivor.

For the last piece, I don’t want to be either. This poem is not about being a victim, it is not about being a survivor- it’s about being a person. A woman, specifically. When I wrote this poem, it was more of a wish list than anything else. These are all qualities I aspire to have, qualities that I try to live up to everyday, qualities I see in others around me that I admire. This is the woman I want to be, beyond the victim, beyond the survivor, beyond who my trauma made me. This is the woman I made, and no one can take her away from me because I am her.

I hope someday every single one of you gets to know the power of that.

(Note: I mostly talk about women and female victims here because they are the majority of victims and because I am female. I of course recognize that men are raped and abused and I don’t want anyone to feel ignored or disenfranchised; I know you are there and I am fighting for you too!)

Thank you to everyone who read these poems, whether just one or the whole series. It means so much to be able to share these pieces and help put a voice behind the silence of sexually violent crimes.

6/17/10

Honorable Woman

I am an honorable woman

I live in an authentic way

Honesty suits me well

You can trust that I mean what I say

I am an honorable woman

I know when to walk away

To not take less than I deserve

If it’s not right than I won’t stay

I am an honorable woman

I am loyal to those close to my heart

Love is what gives life its meaning

Even when we are apart

I am an honorable woman

I hold myself in respect

I treat others how I wish to be treated

I never abuse or neglect

I am an honorable woman

I’m accountable for my actions

I’m responsible for my part

Of my personal interactions

I am an honorable woman

I stand up for what I believe

I want to change the world

And I don’t think that is naive

I am an honorable woman

I have faith that things will work out

I believe that God’s on my side

Even when I am in doubt

I am an honorable woman

I work as hard as I can

To maintain the standards I hold

I will not be controlled by a man

I am an honorable woman

I have a powerful voice

I use it without holding back

To proclaim my freedom of choice

I am an honorable woman

My love is both tender and fierce

I will love through pain and desire

I will love through laughter and tears

I am an honorable woman

Who continues to learn and to grow

I am an honorable woman

And should be regarded as so

© Sarah Henderson 2010


“Outcry”: My Father, My Perpetrator: An Epitaph

Welcome to the last week of WfR’s “Outcry” poetry series honoring Sexual Assault Awareness and Child Abuse Prevention Month. This week I’d like to change things up a bit and end on a really positive, empowering note.

For the final two poems, I’ve selected pieces that were written just this past year. This one in particular, My Father, My Perpetrator, is about a process that was extremely painful and yet in the end, possibly the most freeing thing I’ve ever done for myself.

A little background here: My father was my perpetrator throughout my childhood; my mother did not know this. He left when I was sixteen and my parents divorced a few years later. He left my mom virtually broke after the divorce- she chose to go back to school and complete her nursing degree while working other jobs- so I was in a position where if he didn’t pay for my medical and psychiatric care I was screwed. At the time I was on the verge of death from anorexia and desperately needed hospitalization, etc, so was forced to take his money. The therapy and inpatient care saved my life, but he made stipulations that I had to have contact with him and he was allowed to have contact with my treatment providers otherwise he would not pay. This went on for almost ten years, until finally I got to a position where I was well and recovered and financially secure enough to be able to refuse. He had me very confused by saying that he was concerned for my health and he cared enough to pay for my treatment, all the while denying any abuse or neglect or mistreatment of my mother and sister. One final phone call last summer, and that was the end. He is dead now, in all but a physical sense. And I have never felt more free. So here’s to you, dad, and all your lies and manipulations and crap that you pulled over the years. And by the way? I’m keeping your last name, so when I publish my writing everyone knows who I’m talking about when I refer to my abusive father.

7/2/10

My Father, My Perpetrator: An Epitaph

Bits of reality, torn from time

Which version is yours, which version is mine?

I know what’s real, but then, so do you

Who gets to decide whose truth is true?

Is it in the middle, a mix of the two?

I don’t want to compromise my truth for you

I thought I had settled this, thought I was done

Thought we’d get to this point and be mutually shunned

But you planted this seed of tortuous doubt

And I couldn’t let go if I didn’t find out:

Who the hell are you? Who were you then?

Do you really love me? If so, since when?

How can you deny the things that you did?

The abuse that I suffered and dutifully hid

You speak to me now as if you weren’t that man

Like you don’t hold the phone with the very same hand

That put a gun to my six-year-old head

That slipped under the covers of my childhood bed

You seem to think that because we’re polite

That you have a point or you could be right

But when you mentioned Mom everything became clear:

I will never find love or nurturance here

I have only one parent, an incredible mother

Never again will I wish for another

She’s all that you aren’t, all I could need

I’m no longer willing to bow to your greed

To pretend like you care, to fake-like your wife

To pretend like you know anything of my life

God Himself could tell Mom to leave me and she wouldn’t

Tell her to stop caring for me and she couldn’t

This is the woman that I’m a part of

You can’t imagine the force of her love

You never got it and you never will

The love between father and daughter you killed

You may not be dead but all hope and doubt are

I’m not letting you cause me anymore scars

This is it, you’re no more, at last there’s an end

There are some things for which there’s no making amends

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2010


Outcry: “Mouthing the Words”

Here we are at the third child abuse poem in our series. This poem was written to describe what it’s like to live with the burden of secret abuse; to harbor the shame, guilt, rage, and terror of experiencing constant trauma and being totally alone with it. Often the perpetrator has threatened you to keep you silent; other times it is strictly fear and shame and confusion that stop you from reaching out for help. There’s the idea that you were somehow at fault for what’s happening and you are afraid to be punished. Sometimes, the abuse is the only attention you receive from someone who is supposed to love you and you don’t want to lose that. Whatever the reason, as a victim you are still utterly alone with this secret and it weighs on your soul until you share it with someone. This poem is about that experience.

4/11/08

Mouthing the Words

 

Dying to speak, but I’m not allowed

Not that they’d listen– they don’t know how

I have been silenced, my voice of no use

My throat has been slit by this nameless abuse

Secrets and lies build up in my chest

My body absorbs them, never confessed

I wonder and hope that there might be a day

When someone will see me, hear something I say

But most of me knows that’s some childish dream

I’m resigned to put up with the internal screams

For I have to be normal, I have to be good

I have to be quiet and do what I should

Because I’m the glue that holds us as one

I am the girl that gets everything done

So I’ll keep the secrets, Pandora’s Box closed

I’ll make sure that nothing and no one’s exposed

But wait– watch as her scarred body grows

Careful, she’s letting some hidden things show

Triumphant, she feels that she’s finally spoken

Though for this divulgence, her family has broken

Today it still takes all I have to say “No”

To set my own limits, let that drama go

But it’s getting easier year after year

I’m working hard to conquer my fears

And find other ways for my voice to be heard

No more must I lay, just mouthing the words

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2008


Outcry: “Touch”

Here is third sexual assault poem in the series. This poem has less to do with sexual assault itself and more to do with the effects that one lives with afterwards; particularly the effects on the body. This is based on my own experience and may or may not be true for others, but from most sexual assault and abuse victims I have known, this describes at least one stage that most of use went through on the way to healing.

2/17/05

Touch

 

Her body’s a war zone, it’s ravaged and razed

Old violence still lives there; she’s damaged and dazed

Oh God, there’s a hand, it’s touching my face

Now it thinks it can penetrate me anyplace

He pulses beneath, his lap under her back

She feels his arousal, a silent attack

She can’t wriggle free, her would has gone black

And now one friendly gesture can cause a flashback

I learned very well: “safe touch” doesn’t exist

But part of me feels that I should be pissed

That he stole that away, made closeness a threat

Just one more human need I’ve had to forget

A wound that I haven’t reconciled yet

A vital heart-need that I can’t have met

A mother’s warm lap, a sister’s embrace

The want for these things was always replaced

With the need to not need, a fierce, frantic quest

A desperate marathon from which I could not rest

Running from kindness and comforting hands

Fearing that touch came with other demands

He made innocent contact connected to sex

And I’m always afraid that’s what one will expect

So I try not to feel, close my heart up once more

Quickly slam it shut and lock up that door

Knowing the longer that I keep it caged

The more work it will take to break loose as I age

How could he do that, make me so afraid?

That every reach toward me is meant to invade?

His torture created a unique form of dread

Where each touch is a sign that says “DANGER AHEAD”

But I’m tired of running, of feeling the fear

Of shying away from a touch that’s sincere

Fuck him and all of the pain he instilled

I want to fight now; I can and I will

© Sarah Henderson 2005


Outcry: “Tamar Pleads Insanity”

Here is the second poem in the series dedicated to the issue of child abuse. This poem is about the tragic assumptions that children can make when they’re being sexually abused, particularly by a family member. Almost all children in that situation will assume it’s their fault, something they did wrong, either because the perpetrator is flat-out telling them that, or because it’s easier than believing that the person they love and are supposed to be able to trust is a monster. If the abuse is my fault, they think, then there’s some way to control it. I can be better. I can be a sweet girl. I can be a strong boy. If I just don’t cry. If I just don’t tell. Maybe then it will stop. If you’re not the one to blame, on the other hand, then there is no control and you are completely at the mercy of this person. They have all the power, and you have no hope. Taking on the guilt, in a weird way, gives you hope that you have the power to change the situation. That’s the best way I can explain it when people ask why a child- who is obviously totally blameless- would take the blame for these crimes. Because no matter what, children just want to have hope.

Also, just to note, I wrote this when I really believed that the abuse I suffered was my fault. Thankfully, I have decided conclusively that this is not the case, and never was.

3/30/02

Tamar Pleads Insanity

When love means possession, a choice must be made

One has to decide what she’s willing to trade

 

How about innocence? That can’t be worth much

A valuable would be respected as such

 

So slip on the veil, prepare to pretend

Just don’t let your role and reality blend

 

It’s clear what he wants, so before he can ask

You play along and hop to the task

 

Who knows when you mutated, became a whore

Decided that you wouldn’t fight anymore

 

The entire world dimmed and this became love

A hard iron fist in a red velvet glove

 

The only attention you could guarantee

From Father, a person you wanted to see

 

So desperate for him to notice you there

You knew what would happen but just didn’t care

 

Questioning, Daddy, is it time to play?

Stupid to ask, you know what he’ll say

 

He leads you inside, pray with all your might

Please let Daddy be different tonight

 

But he never is, you idiot child

For the one millionth time you trusted that smile

 

And now you must own the decision you made

The amount that you bet, the price that you paid

 

© Sarah Henderson 2002


Outcry: Hear No Evil, See No Evil

This poem is the story of a rape. When I was 16, I was raped by a stranger, a radiology technician in a hospital. I wrote this poem long before I could write or speak the actual story; that’s usually how it went in my therapy. I did eventually write my story, though. This is it, with the poem that started it.

This incident of sexual violence was not the first– not by a long shot. My father, who was a surgeon, began molesting me at age three, raping me at six. This rape was just one more experience that convinced me I would never be safe.

I was sixteen years old, 68lbs. pounds, and having chest pains. I was two weeks into my first stay in residential treatment for anorexia. It took a full half-hour to drive from Shades of Hope treatment center to Abilene General Hospital. Another half-hour before I was even taken back. I was hooked up to an EKG and a pulse oxymeter, BP cuff and IV. The counselor who had brought me in left me there by myself, saying that another counselor would come by a later. I was told by a nurse that my heart beat was slightly irregular but that it didn’t look serious. They concluded that I was having a panic attack, and decided that sedation would cure me. The only problem? They dosed me by my age instead of my weight. I may have been sixteen, but I had the body mass of a nine-year-old. I was given two different drugs; Toradol for pain, and Ativan for anxiety. In ridiculous doses.

It only took about fifteen minutes for me to start feeling the medications’ effect. The lights seemed to dim, and I started to get very, very cold. By the time the radiology tech came to take me for my mandatory chest x-ray, I was so dizzy that I couldn’t even sit up. This wasn’t a fun kind of high– it was a frightening one. I had no control over anything and I could barely move and I couldn’t have fought anyone off if I needed to.

And as I turned out, I would need to.

I still don’t know his name. I know he wore brown scrubs. He had dark hair. He was white, or maybe Hispanic. His voice was low and gravely, probably because he was a smoker– I could smell it on him.

I remember the sound of the lock. The door to the radiology area had a lock and I remember the metallic click of it. I was freezing; it was January in north Texas. When I came to the emergency room I was wearing a sweater, a skirt, and tights. They had taken my sweater and given me a gown, but they let me keep my skirt and tights on. I was lying on the gurney under two blankets. He rolled the gurney right up next to the x-ray table, pulled down the blankets, and since I was having trouble moving, helped me slide onto the table. It was terribly cold and hard. I could feel every place where bone met steel. As I was lying there, shivering, it occurred to me that something was wrong. Wasn’t I getting a chest x-ray? I asked, my speech slurred.

You have to be sitting upright for a chest film.

Shhh, he whispered.

I could barely keep my eyes open. Something was wrong. It felt like a kind of drowning; as if these chemicals were holding my head under water, with me struggling and fighting against them, desperately trying not to submit. I had to stay awake.

Something was wrong.

I was so cold, but I could feel his hands; they were warm in contrast. He was lifting my skirt. I tried to move, and found that I couldn’t. He was pulling down my tights. My underwear. I tried to move. To struggle.

He said he needed to remove these things for the procedure. I knew that was bullshit. What the in the hell was going on? Suddenly, I felt his fingers sliding up the inside of my naked thigh.

He leaned in close, and his foul breath invaded my mouth. I’m not going to hurt you, he said. As long as you shut up and don’t move.

My God.

It was only then that it struck me what was about to happen. I was in deep, deep shit. Even being as doped up as I was I clearly recall the hideously helpless feeling that hit me then. He was going to rape me.

And I would just have to lie there and take it.

There was no way to fight. Certainly no way to run. I was skeletal, frozen in terror, and drugged within an inch of my life. He was a large man, fully conscious, and I had no doubt would use force in an instant.

The next thing I know he is up on the table, on his knees, straddling me. I turn my head and involuntarily whimper as he unties his scrubs, a sight all too familiar to a little girl that is still so present within.

And the last thing I remember before passing out is him pinning my wrists above my head, almost unnecessarily for I had basically given in.

I didn’t tell anyone this for almost five years. I really didn’t think anyone would believe that something like that could happen. It was too late to do anything about it legally– but I was still able to process it psychologically. I trust my memory of this incident and I understand that I had no choice but to submit, I had no way to fight. There is nothing I have to forgive myself for because I did nothing wrong. I had an expectation of safety in that hospital and HE was the one who violated that.

I was raped. And I am not ashamed

8/2/08

Hear No Evil, See No Evil

Prone to injury and illness

Prone to violent attack

Lying prone on a hard metal table

The cold searing into my back

The man– surely prone to this crime

Whispers his evil plan in my ear

He undresses my paralyzed body

And is thrilled by my increasing fear

Knowing I’m drugged and defenseless

The perfect victim come his way

Just a dumb little pussy, what more could you want?

No witness, a quick, easy lay

Helpless and stranded am I

With no way to run, scream, or fight

God, this can’t be happening

Nothing about this is right

A hospital’s supposed to be safe

I arrived there hurt, in distress

And instead of giving me care

He grabbed the chance to transgress

All I needed was one fucking X-ray

Was that honestly so much to ask?

Just my luck, I run into a rapist

Who can’t perform one simple task

Look at me, lying there, passive

This malnourished skeleton-child

What kind of sick fuck’s attracted to that?

I’ll tell you– a power-starved pedophile

The son of a bitch has got me

And there I’m so cold almost dead

I may have been nearly unconscious

But I could still feel waking dread

I realize then what’s going to happen

And that if I’m going to make it

He’ll go ahead with his plan to rape me

And I’ll just have to lie there and take it

I whimper as he straddles me

And begins to untie his pants

I do my best to just close my eyes

And try to fall into a trance

That picture, untying his scrubs

Is all too familiar to me

My little girl knows it well

I do my best to not let her see

The worst part is coming– he’s on top of me now

And I feel myself slowly descend

All the while wondering if all of this violence

Will ever come to an end

© Sarah Henderson 2008


Outcry: “Asylum (Requiescat In Pacem)”

This is the first poem in the series dedicated to child abuse. I wrote this with the sexual abuse/incest I endured at the hands of my father in mind;  despite the subject, it’s one of my favorites. It was one of those rare poems that seemed to show up in my mind pre-written, fully formed, as if I was transcribing it rather than creating it. It came up right after a particularly difficult therapy session. I was at a nearby Starbucks, where I often stopped after therapy to decompress before going home, when suddenly this whole poem came to me. I grabbed some napkins, turned to the guy at the next table and literally grabbed the pen he was using out of his hand with a hurried “Excuse me” and began scribbling these verses on the napkins. He probably thought I was not only rude, but insane. I didn’t really give a damn. When the universe opens up and hands you a gift, don’t ignore it for anything.

5/21/02

Asylum (Requiescat In Pacem)

smothered

buried

encapsulated fear

dulled

destroyed

my selective ear

voices

screaming

not one vocalized

a plea

unanswered

should be no surprise

bound up

and gagged

i look on from above

affectionate

violence

he redefined love

arrested

disarmed

paralytic dismay

body

response

take this heat away

clenching

choking

i recede from here

imprisoned

sobbing

invisible tears

distant

tomb-like

protective darkness

the motions

his breathing

can’t penetrate this

tragic

delusion

assumption of blame

silenced

sentenced

to oppressive shame

cut-off

closed-up

let the impulses burn

alone

untouched

who knows when i’ll return

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2002


Outcry: “Outcry”

The first poem if this series is where the title came from. Originally this poem was titled “Lost for Words”- then I realized that was inaccurate. This poem is about finding oneself after sexual trauma, finding one’s power and voice. The first person a victim speaks to after a sexual assault occurs is called the “outcry witness”- that’s the second reason for the title. The third reason is that an outcry is what I am literally trying to raise in written form. An outcry of anger, an outcry of disgust, an outcry of protest saying that we refuse to allow this kind of violence to take place anymore.

At least, that is my hope.

 

2/16/11

 

Outcry

 

My body’s a breathing crime scene

I’ve known no other life

 

My memories are riddled with trauma

It’s a miracle that I survived

 

I live in a long-dead war zone

Flinching at threats that aren’t there

 

At night every horror comes back

I’m ravaged by rage and despair

 

I was killed before I got to live

No chance to be my own girl

 

He deadened all but a spark of my soul

To keep me in his depraved world

 

Terrorized, raped, and abused

He used every weapon at hand

 

To make freedom impossible for me

And perpetuate his evil plan

 

Through the years the silence got louder

And the darkness left me nearly blind

 

I could stay caged no longer

So I left clues for others to find

 

When it was clear no rescue was coming

There was only one thing left to do

 

I reached deeper inside than ever before

And forced my voice to come through

 

And before I knew what was happening

The walls of my prison had shattered

 

My pain and I were finally seen

For the first time I felt like I mattered

 

I looked around for my jailer

But he had apparently fled

 

My testimony served to terrorize him

There was power in what I had said

 

I used my voice to break free

And I had to use it to heal

 

I spent years on a couch using my voice to purge

The violence he forced me to feel

 

Now I use it to help others break free

To realize the power they hold

 

If I’d known I wouldn’t have spent all those years

Wishing that I had told

 

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2011

 

 


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