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Cover 05/22/2013

The Survivors Project

Excerpts from ebook that gives sexual-abuse survivors a chance to tell their stories

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My husband, Joel, outed himself seven months ago as a survivor of child sexual abuse. Very quickly, we discovered that the simple act of telling his story was a life-changing experience – and that, as journalists, we were in a unique position to help other survivors speak out for themselves. That summer, I wrote an editorial in Philadelphia Weekly to invite submissions of first-person stories from sexual-abuse survivors, their loved ones and advocates.

As word about the project spread to local and national organizations, we were eventually flooded with inquiries from male and female survivors of child sexual abuse, partner rape, incest and other forms of sexual violence. They were all ready to tell us – and the world – that they would no longer suffer in silence. They were all ready to share their stories of abuse – but more so, of healing, and what that process looked like.

What resulted was an anthology of more than 50 personal essays, written largely by non-professional writers and edited by journalists, all connected by pain and tragedy. We have turned this collection of stories into an ebook titled The Survivors Project: Telling the Truth About Life After Sexual Abuse. What you are about to read is a selection of those stories. They capture the long and turbulent recovery people affected by sexual abuse must endure.

And it is long. I know because I have been down that path; the shadow of sexual abuse nearly destroyed my marriage. Joel struggled for years before he could face the reality of what had happened to him. I am thankful every single day that he had the courage to heal. So for us, The Survivors Project is more than just a public-service journalism project produced by an alternative-media company. We are connected in a very real way to the people who had the courage to tell you their stories.

Reading these essays won’t be easy; writing them certainly wasn’t. I know that putting my story on paper required the retelling of events, feelings and specific moments in time that have altered me forever. I wrote most of my essay through tears, as I suddenly found myself back in that dark place – the place I had been when I thought Joel and I would never make it. Even after completing the essay, I fretted over whether he would be hurt by my words. I found myself feeling guilty all over again for expecting Joel to meet my needs as a spouse while also going through the most intense emotional upheaval of his life. But that is what healing looks like. It is hell. And it needs to happen if you want to be happy.

No doubt every single contributor to The Survivors Project has felt a range of emotions during this process. Dredging up memories from the past can be an emotionally taxing and painful experience. But for many of us, writing is all we have when we feel our voice isn’t strong enough – which is exactly why this project needed to happen. The more we talk about the effects of sexual abuse, the more we can prevent it.

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