Before you hear my story,
you will have already determined
whether I am worthy of your sympathy.
You’ll want to know what I was wearing,
what I said,
or if I had anything to drink.
You’ll want to know if I smiled.
Did I flirt?
Why did I go to the party in the first place?
Your micro-aggressions will sound like questions so you don’t have to say the words, “You asked for it.”
You’ll critique my coming forward as another conspiracy against the black man.
For proof, you’ll require pictures of him on top of me and voice recordings of me saying no …
You’ll need to see the tears,
and vaginal bruising,
all as a sign of my truth.
You will send me interesting articles
about how to walk in pairs while on campus
and reminders to park my car where there is ample lighting.
You will offer self-defense classes,
so I can learn how to fight back the next time I’m attacked,
almost as if you know there will be a next time.
You’ll convene an assembly
and inform the students about violence on campus.
You’ll remind the women to be extra vigilant and to dress with class,
nothing low-cut and nothing too short.
We all know there is proof
that women who cover themselves respect themselves,
and women who respect themselves force others to respect them,
thus eliminating them from the pool of women who deserve to be raped.
I, on the other hand, chose to wear those tight jeans and formfitting V-neck sweater.
You will get angry when I question why you prefer to regulate my dress rather than police your sons’ behavior.
You will be incensed when I suggest you prefer to control my wine intake rather than talk to your sons about rape.
You will sit in silence
when I ask you what you will say to your daughters.
It was roughly three years ago when I started to write poetry again. I was a news junkie and would watch MSNBC, CNN, and other news outlets all day long. Even at work, I would have the news on. This particular day, there was a story about a teenager named Cherice Moralez.
A Montana judge was under fire for sentencing a 54-year-old former teacher to just 30 days in jail for raping the then 14-year-old Cherice who later died by suicide. District Judge G. Todd Baugh, in sentencing Stacey Rambold (the man who admitted to repeatedly raping Cherice in his home, car and office), said Cherice Moralez was "as much in control of the situation" as her teacher, referring to Cherice as a troubled youth "older than her chronological age".
Watching the news that day was very painful. I was angry. I was hurt. I was disappointed. I kept seeing her face and hearing her voice. And at some point, our voices joined and I saw exactly what I was to do. Start writing again. When I wrote the poem "Sleep Without Sleeping", it was as much for her as it was for me. And it is as much for me as it is for every other person who has been sexually assaulted. Although we never met, I still hold near my heart the memory of Cherice.
I try to write about other things. But I hear the voices of the violated cry out. And I am forced to write what I see and hear. And as I watch/listen to/read the news today, I am feeling much like I did on August 29, 2013 (when I wrote Sleep Without Sleeping). Although it is not the same rape case, I still hear Cherice speaking. I still hear her crying out, "Thirty days".
I do not know the name of the woman that Brock Turner raped. I understand her desire to remain anonymous. But I hear her voice. Six Months. I hear her voice. Twenty Minutes.
I hear their voices. Thirty days. Six Months. Twenty Minutes.
I hear their voices...And my soul aches.
Sometimes I wonder if every person in the world has been sexually abused. I am aware that the nature of my work biases my perspective, perhaps severely. You see, for as far back as I can remember, I have been interested in supporting survivors of abuse, addressing the laws that add to our frustration, and changing our “church-talk” which in many cases hinders healing. I’m invited to enter into the lives of many women: women who are your next-door neighbor, your kid’s Sunday school teacher, your pastor, your physician or your best sister-friend.
For so many of them, a history of sexual abuse lingers like a chronic toothache, so familiar that it is no longer recognized, dulling the senses but not interfering with the capacity to perform the routine tasks of life. I too have been there, making my way through life slightly numb because of the sexual abuse I suffered as a child. I didn’t realize the ways my body, mind, and spirit were impacted by the abuse until I asked myself why I continued to do certain things. For example, I never really got a good night’s sleep. In fact, for roughly 30 years, I averaged about 4 hours each night. There is no reason a 7-year-old should be living off of 4 hours of sleep each night. Sexual abuse impacted my relationships with myself and others. I normalized living from a position of “not quite whole”. Sexual abuse is not only a crime against the body, it is a crime against the soul.
Statistical information varies. Some reports show 1 out of 4 women will have been impacted by sexual abuse by the time she is 18. And some reports show that the numbers of African American women are as high as 1 out of 2 women. With the number of abused women being so high and percentage of women in our congregations being so high, why is the only thing I hear about sexual abuse about how I should forgive my abuser? That is, if I hear anything at all. Please don't get me wrong. I certainly have a deep belief in and appreciation for forgiveness. However, when forgiveness is built on forgetfulness we are inviting people to normalize their pain. For example, a woman who was abused by her father shared with me that she was told by her pastor that she was to forget the past because God made her more than a conqueror. This is absurd.
But in many ways, this is how we address issue of abuse in the church. We are taught to deny what has happened to us. We are taught to believe that it is not that big of a deal. We are encouraged to keep those dirty details to ourselves and move on because they make people feel uncomfortable. And if we continue to express pain, sadness, or anything that points to our trauma, we are somehow denying the power of God to heal us. But if we accept that, we will not be free to face the parts of our souls that remain scarred and damaged by the effects of sexual abuse.
But God does not intend for us to live broken. And the result of silence on the subject of abuse is often a greater deadening of the soul. I want to invite us to do more than talk about Tamar every couple of years, and instead, find ways to engage in conversations around the issues that cause damage to our souls more regularly. I want us to invite God into all of those closed doors where we’ve stuffed and locked away our pain. I want us to reach out to therapist and healers and our sister circles so that together, we become whole. God is big enough to handle our questions, our sadness, and our rage. So can we talk about this?
I never did tell anyone about the times he touched me when I was six.
It’s probably because I didn’t say stop.
I didn’t know I should.
I didn’t know I could.
After all he was family.
The painful urination eventually stopped, and I came to expect him-- finger,
I learned how to sleep without sleeping, always aware of every movement around me.
That sound is my baby brother leaving his room to go to the bathroom. And that sound is my mom,
going downstairs now, no doubt for a Pepsi and some pretzels.
She always wanted a Pepsi and some pretzels.
And that sound is him,
using the connecting door to enter my room once he thinks everyone is asleep.
But I learned to sleep without sleeping,
to always be aware of every movement around me. And I know he’s coming.
Even before he enters the room, I can hear him. Even before he is close to me,
I can smell him.
Even before he touches me, I can taste his breath.
He stopped once I was ten,
and I didn’t see him after that for almost ten years.
I no longer had to pretend to sleep,
but I had learned to sleep without sleeping,
to always be aware of every movement around me.
Yet I was completely oblivious to what was happening in me.
Because of what he did to me,
in me, grew shame, anger, and disgust.
And those deadly seeds, once planted,
would take years to pluck up.
Always trying to fill that void,
I went looking for love in all the wrong places. I was stuck.
I was pregnant at thirteen,
yet no one ever checked to see if anything had ever happened to me. They just assumed it was me.
“Fast” was what my mom called it, what she called me. Why would she assume it was me? I hated her for that.
I thought for a while that she hated me too. So I learned how to be with her-- I mean, live with her while being apart— connected by DNA but disconnected at heart.
It took years for me to like her,
to not hold what he did to me against her.
Then at fifteen I had an epiphany.
In order to be free,
I could no longer let my mother’s disappointment have power over me.
When I saw him again,
it was at my grandmother’s funeral.
I was nineteen by then.
Someone there told me he lived in a shelter when he was a kid and was probably abused.
It’s no excuse for what he did,
but holding on to it the way I did was choking the life out of me.
And again I had an epiphany.
In order to be free,
I had to take back my cousin’s power over me. And I did.
But the hardest work was learning to like me, not hold what he did to me against me,
not let what he did to me define me.
I didn’t realize it until now,
but I hadn’t dealt with me.
I had pardoned everyone else but me.
I never even allowed myself to cry, to really feel the hurt, anger, or pain.
I left that me in Philly with all her bitterness and rage.
Until one day the me I buried was resurrected from her grave and forced me back to me to deal with all the anger and shame.
Then one night in August,
I sat with my tears, anger, and hurt. I gathered my strength and took a deep breath.
I told that six-year-old,“It wasn’t your fault.”
I told that thirteen-year-old,“You shouldn’t have had to go to the clinic alone.”
I told that twenty-year-old,“You are special just the way you are.”
I told that twenty-seven-year old,“You don’t have to hide who you are. You just have to be the best you.”
I told that thirty-year-old, “You’ve come a long way but still have work to do.”
I told that thirty-five-year-old, “It is okay to smile and cry because it doesn’t say you’re weak.”
I told that thirty-six-year-old,“Get yourself some sleep.”
Because I had learned to sleep without sleeping,
to always be aware of every movement around me.
And at thirty-six,
it was becoming tiring.
So for the first time in a long while I slept.
And it wasn’t the sleep without sleeping I had become accustomed to doing for thirty years.
I really slept
without waiting for the connecting door to open.
without hearing or smelling him or tasting his breath.
without pretending not to notice the unwanted finger, penis, or tongue. I slept for the first time in a long time.
I was finally able to sleep,
Because At thirty-six I had another epiphany.
In order to really be free, I couldn’t hold my past against me.
(For more, click below visit our store to purchase your copy of "Getting Naked To Get Free")
Children who witness domestic violence on a regular basis can develop a variety of reactions. Some of the common reactions are nightmares, sleep disturbances, bedwetting, school problems, fighting, failing to make friends, abuse of siblings or pets, depression, becoming very aggressive or retreating to silence. The type of reaction will depend on factors such as the frequency and level of violence, the age of the child and his or her personality. Some experience several of these, some may experience something different. Often, there is this feeling of being trapped in a hopeless situation. The child might believe they are responsible for the violence. Many also think they should be able to prevent domestic violence and may feel that they have failed the family.
Witnessing domestic violence during my early years, I most certainly believed that it was my fault. I didn’t think that I had done anything to cause the violence, but I believed that I should have been strong enough to prevent it; to protect all of the women I knew who suffered in silence. I had only witnessed one domestic incident in my home. But that single incident, that one day, changed my life forever. I was only two-years-old, but my life was changed. Fortunately, my parents were soon separated and I never saw my mother in a situation like that again. But the damage had already been done. I became increasingly distrusting of men. I was unable to sleep throughout the night. I became nervous whenever I heard men elevate their voices because I knew that something was about to happen to whatever woman was nearby.
Over the next several years, I witnessed domestic violence in so many settings with extended family, friends, and even strangers. I tried on a few occasions to intervene. I even pulled a knife on someone once. Thankfully they backed away and I didn’t have to find out if I would actually use it. I don’t know if I would have although I always say I would. Most of the relationships where I witnessed domestic violence did not end as a result of the violence. Instead, the family learned to live with the violence. They learned to do whatever they could to avoid the violence and outsiders learned to ignore the violence.
As a teen, I was so aggressive with victims/survivors of domestic violence. I couldn’t believe that they would stay. To me, it just didn’t make any sense. Then one day, I think I was about 14 or 15, my mother and I were driving down 55 Street, just before you hit Baltimore Avenue. (If you know Philly, you might know the street.) There was a car in front of us and it stopped in the middle of the street. We could see into the car clearly. The guy in the car had on a red hat, he turned it to the side and punched the woman in the car so hard that her nose started bleeding. He then got out of the car and walked away. I lost it. I started crying and screaming and my mother pulled over and tried to get me to calm down. The woman pulled the car over and my mom asked me what I wanted to do. I told her that I needed tissue. I was shaking. I needed to go to the car. I jumped out the car and went over to the woman. I know my mother thought I was crazy, but she had learned by then that there are some things that I just NEED to do. I got to the car, knocked on the window. The woman just looked at me. Now, keep in mind the fact that I am crying and waving tissue. She rolled down the window and I hand her the tissue. I pause for a moment to cuss out the four men standing on the corner for not apprehending the dude and beating his… Yes, I mean it. I really cussed them out. They just looked at me as if what I said meant absolutely nothing. I focus my attention back to the woman. I tell her that we must call the police and that she must never go back to him. At the end of our conversation, she told me that I was a remarkable young lady, thanked me for the tissue and for stopping. Then she said that she was going back home to work things out. To say that I was devastated would be an understatement.
I was even more angry and hurt after the conversation than I was witnessing the event. I got back into my mother’s white Hyundai Excel. (Yes, this was when we had that Hyundai) No longer shaking, I speak calmly and begin to her how angry I am. She stopped me and said, “Baby, you don't know what people have to go through in order to get out. It is not that easy”. In the next few minutes, my mother taught me that leaving an abusive relationship is not as simple as walking out the front door. She taught me that sometimes you leave and the abuser still comes after you. She taught me that abuse is not only physical but economic, emotional/psychological and even sexual. In those few minutes, she taught me about compassion and care. She encouraged me not to be angry because this woman couldn’t leave TODAY. But most importantly she reminded me that what I did was a good thing. She said, “Somebody will need you to listen without judgment, to care without criticizing, to support and maybe to help escape. Don’t stop caring. Someone needs you".
If you are experiencing domestic violence and need help developing a safety plan, we have resources posted on our site for each state.
If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, I say to you what my mother said to me. “Somebody will need you to listen without judgment, to care without criticizing, to support and maybe help them find safety. Don’t stop caring. Someone needs you".
To get more information, please visit www.ijustbelievegod.org or email us firstname.lastname@example.org
To schedule a workshop in DC, Maryland or Virginia, please contact us email@example.com
Once upon a time, a 17-year-old girl was in a relationship with a man who meant her no good. He attacked her, and in the process of trying to get away, she jumped off a retainer wall and broke her ankle. She didn't escape. She landed in a hospital; and had to learn how to walk again. She had to quit playing sports. She lied to her mother, protected him, and stayed with him for 4 months after the incident occurred. To this day every time it rains she remembers...
That girl was me.
Tonight in my women's batterer intervention class, we talked about things that we don't forgive ourselves for. These beautiful women shared their stories of trauma, and I listened with unending support, but also from a place of deep understanding.
I am not glad that this is a part of the story of Amber. God did not intend for this to happen to me to make me stronger, or to prepare me to do this work. My God would never put me in harm just to turn me into a great therapist. I do not go to work and think "thank God for this personal experience I have with this topic." Being a survivor of domestic violence is not a gift.
Instead, I choose to live in my truth. I'm a great therapist who just so happens to be many things and one of those things is a survivor of domestic violence. Like me, each of these women and each of these men that I work with are more than just a story, more than just a situation. it is my humanity that makes me a good therapist. it is their humanity that makes them worthy of the chance to have abundant life. I thank God for the work I do. one day it is my prayer that the world does not need a therapist who do what I do.~ Rev. Amber Burgin
Be part of the community that helps and heals. We thank Rev. Amber Burgin for doing the work to help others heal!
Remember, for adolescents, rates of experiencing some form of dating violence vary but it is estimated that at least 20% of teens experience dating violence. Women age 16 to 24 experience the highest per capita rate of intimate partner/domestic violence.
Have conversation with the teens in your life today. Don't ignore the signs.
There’s a lull in the middle of the night.
There's no yelling, punching, crying.
No one begging for him to stop.
There are no sons sitting in the corner with covered ears and tears streaming down their faces.
No daughters plotting revenge.
Should be asleep, yet still wide awake replaying the noises of the day.
Rehearsing how I’ll fight if he ever comes for me that way.
Wondering why no one says anything.
Looking toward the window, I notice day attempting to break through.
Soon everyone will be awake.
Pretending not to notice the bruises he left
or the screams heard the night before.
We will walk on eggshells, wear our best fake smiles,
pretend that all is well.
See, we've been taught to ignore our pain, even if it kills us.
Only here for the summer,
so as soon as this summer ends, things can go back to normal.
I won’t have to pretend that I don't hear the screams for help,
or that I don't see her purplish-black eye,
or that I don't notice my brothers growing bitter inside as they watch their mother’s spirit die.
But my fear is that it will be hard to go back to normal.
I’ve witnessed so many beatings, the sight of abuse no longer makes me ill.
My fear is that I’ll be her 20 years from now…
That thought gives me chills.
When Fall is here, I cannot un-see the bruises.
Winter and Spring, I’ll still hear the screams.
I carry the pain of summer with me long after the summer ends.
And before you know it, its time to go back and pretend.
To think, summer used to be my friend.