I’m not really ready to talk about how I’ve been doing. I’m doing better–less depressed. I have a new psychiatrist. She’s awesome. That’s sheer luck, since I found her via the insurance company directory and chose her because her office is two blocks from my house. What I am happy to talk about is some fundraising work I’ve been doing for The Joyful Heart Foundation. I turn thirty, tomorrow. Here’s what I want for my birthday: donate to or shop a fundraiser I’m running, to give money to this foundation.
Have you seen commercials that repeat “No more” or marathons of Law & Order SVU with the hashtag #nomore? That’s Joyful Heart. Have you heard about SVU’s star, Mariska Hargitay, donating money to any police department who will work with her, in order to pay for rape kits to be processed? No? Well, she created Joyful Heart, and its cornerstone project is to make a dent in the backlog of unprocessed rape kits that sit on shelves in evidence lockers, sometimes until the statute of limitations on the crime has run out. Rape victims are waiting, for years, for the DNA collected during the incredibly difficult examination that collecting a “rape kit” involves; sometimes, that DNA has degraded, before underfunded and understaffed police departments get a chance to process it. Databases are incomplete. Crimes go unsolved. I’m going to talk about the reason that this is so important to me, and it’s going to be hard to read. Fair warning.
When I was a little girl, just about 10, exactly 20 years ago this month, a man my mother trusted came into my room and sexually assaulted me. He was careful, quiet, and probably didn’t leave any DNA. I was terrified. I didn’t tell anyone at all, for another four, maybe five years. When I did tell my story, it was terrifying. My body shook, uncontrollably. My therapist at the time was pretty incompetent, so I don’t know if he actually did anything, but he told me that he had reported everything I had told him to the police, and that they would keep it on record, in case anyone came forward with a similar story. I hope that helped someone else; I was certainly not the first person he had harmed. In my mid-twenties, I went to a police station to report that a man I didn’t know had tried to walk me home from the subway, and that I was petrified that he had seen where I lived, and would come back. The atmosphere in that police station wasn’t awful; it was hardly conducive to a scared young woman remembering enough detail to make any difference. One officer made a comment about the way the clerk looked, and I could tell from the look on her face that she was used to that. I don’t think he knew that that qualified as sexual harassment, but it did, and it happened while I was reporting harassment.
My story makes me believe in Hargitay’s mission to educate, “heal the healers,” and ask police departments how her organization can work with them. I know that Rape Culture minimizes the experiences of survivors. But I believe that much of the law-enforcement side of this problem can be solved with more education, listening, and financial help directed at the right places.
I learned about this organization from my aunt. My dad has one sister, and she has been a pillar of strength in my life. She has loved me for ME, as long as I can remember. We haven’t had a lot of time together; she has lived in California, as long as I’ve been alive, and I lived in Minnesota, for as long as I can remember. But she threw my mom a baby shower, and I have a picture of that day, and the cake she baked for us. When my family visited a few of my dad’s siblings, in California, I remember her most clearly, because she talked to the kids like we were just short people. My dad’s family yelled a lot, but I never heard her yell. One aunt-in-law, and my beloved aunt, distracted the kids, when the brothers stared up. I’ve pieced that much together. When I was processing the memories I had finally talked about, at age fourteen or fifteen, she just sat and listened to me. And she even told me to hold up, before deciding that it was all my mom’s fault, because she said she knew what it was like, as a mother, to see her children hurting, to know that it was her “fault,” and that I couldn’t understand that pain. When I wanted to punish my mother for letting that man into our house, my aunt told me that my mom was suffering and to be gentle. Her voice echoed in my head when I made the decision to start calling my mom during therapy sessions, to work through some of those feelings.
Now that I’m an adult, I know more about the life my aunt has lived. It’s not my story to tell, but she is the victim of incest, rape, domestic violence, emotional and verbal abuse, from family members, now ex-husbands, even my own father. She’s got medical problems that keep her immobile, sometimes, but every day she can, she walks for at least twenty minutes. I want to tell you about what she’s doing, now, because my heart feel stronger, every time I think about how she spends her time. She’s the one who told me about The Joyful Heart Foundation and its mission to flood cooperative police departments with money to process the backlog of rape kits that plagues our nation. She hasn’t ever had the kind of closure that DNA proof from a processed rape kit can provide, but she wants it for other survivors. You can learn more about the project to End the Backlog, here. My aunt goes to group therapy for survivors and ends up supporting the therapists by telling the younger women understand that they are making choices, even when they feel like they are trapped. She tells them about the way her own children have suffered, when she stayed with abusive husbands, after she left, just because life is hard. She’s honest about the mistakes they have made, now that they are all grown, and how she feels responsible for that. She talks, because she hopes that knowing about her life and the lives of her kids will help someone else. Her imperfections, “wrong” choices, and the sheer force of her will to keep on going – this is how she helps the rest of us.
One more thing about my aunt – she was worried about me, this month, around the same time that I was silent here on the blog, because I hadn’t returned her calls (only two, because she doesn’t want to bother me). She called my sister to make sure that I was ok. I’ve felt invisible, often. That happens when you grow up with an emotionally abusive father preoccupied by his own paranoia. I know that she’s thinking of me. She even told me once that sometimes, she might not call me back right away, because she never wanted me to have to bear the burden of her depression. It means the world to me that she is so careful to maintain healthy boundaries with me, not a little bit because my dad didn’t even understand that concept.
I could tell more stories about more women I know who never had justice or closure. I can’t do anything to give that to them. But I can do something for the women whose rape kits just need more money and more pressure to get processed before the statute runs out. I can do something for the women who will be raped and whose assailants’ DNA must be included in a database, where it can be matched with the results of other rape kits.
As I leave my twenties behind, I look back on a decade spent using my wits, my will, my time – every resource I could grasp – to take back my life from the people who asked me for my power. My father. The man who assaulted me. They are the worst offenders. I learned to love my body, to feel its power. I learned that some of the people I love can be trusted, implicitly, and that where the trust is too corroded for a relationship to continue, I can love and maintain boundaries, from afar. The only thing that I needed, outside myself, were other people to believe in me. And THAT is what The Joyful Heart Foundation does. It connects the people who need healing with people who can help them heal. Not everyone is as lucky as I am, to have such an aunt, a husband, a sister, a mother, to believe in me.
Donate directly to The Joyful Heart Foundation, here.
Until Monday, October 13th, you can join a Facebook “party” where my friend Vanessa and I are selling jewelry and Jamberry nail wraps, together. I’ve made it “public” – you don’t even have to have a Facebook account to see it. If you join us by clicking “RSVP” you’ll have a chance to win discounts and free merchandise! You’ll find the short version of everything I’m about to post in that party, so go there!
If you’re not a Facebook person, keep reading. You can shop for beautiful jewelry at my friend Vanessa’s Chloe + Isabel website. See the bumble bee? I have one! It’s amazing. Mine is a charm clipped to a turquoise beaded “convertible” piece that can be one long necklace, one long + one short + one bracelet, one medium + one bracelet, etc. I wear it all the time!
For every $1 you spend, she will donate $0.12 to the foundation, as long as you remember to choose our “pop up shop” like this, during checkout:
And, of course, I’m selling Jamberry nail wraps and lacquer for the cause! Like Vanessa, I’m donating $0.12 for every $1 you spend on my site. Choose “Gems & Jams” as your party, at checkout. Jamberry will ask you “Don’t you want to pick a party?” if you forget, and I can fix it, in case you forget twice.
I have a special project, too. If you buy order a design I did myself, I will donate 100% of my commission to the foundation. This is the design:
And you can fill out an order form, here. It will ask you for your email address, so that I can email you an invoice for $20. (The words are a watermark–they won’t be printed on the design! And, if this form isn’t working for you, click on this link.)