Sexual abuse is a topic that many refuse to speak about, even though one in four women and one in six men will experience it in their lifetime, according to current national statistics. And those statistics are only based on cases that are actually reported.
Temple alumni Joel and Nina Hoffmann took it upon themselves to collect an anthology of more than 50 essays from both survivors of sexual assault and the loved ones of survivors, creating “The Survivors Project: Telling the Truth About Life After Sexual Abuse.”
Philadelphia Weekly, which published the book online, held an event to debut the work at the Free Library of Philadelphia Monday, Nov. 19. The Hoffmanns, a survivor-essayist and other advocates spoke about the issue, as well as read a few of the essays featured in the book. No seat was left vacant.
One of the most important points repeated throughout the event is that sexual assault can effect anyone, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, race, or religion.
Joel Hoffmann, now an adjunct journalism professor, said the media tends to focus on the gruesome details of a sex crime, without ever really explaining the long-term trauma to the people involved and process of healing that follows the initial incident.
It is not just a temporary crime, but also the act of taking someone’s innocence that many never get the proper resources in order to recover from, Joel Hoffmann said. It is something that not only hurts the individual who experienced the cruelty firsthand, but also something that can tear whole families apart. The focus of The Survivors Project is to shed light on survivors who are all in a different stages of their healing, with no story being identical to another, he said.
Those in charge of the event also stressed the importance of moving away from the stigmatized term “victim.”
Ari Bank, 38, read his own essay, telling the story of a lifetime of struggle that resulted from abuse he received when he was only six at a summer camp. He spent decades after the incident as a recluse, not having the strength to tell his parents what had happened to him until well into his adulthood, he said. However, Bank said, he has been getting better day-by-day since then and is now happily married, but still recovering.
A standing ovation followed the end of his speech.
“I do know that this is a part of me, and I can live with that,” Bank said at the event. “I can live with a lot. I survived. I healed. I have scars, but I healed. I think we all can if we want to.”
In closing, Nina Hoffmann, senior editor at Philadelphia Weekly, said that survivors need more opportunities to fight against the culture of shame and secrecy.
“We can’t let it stop here. We have to seize this moment and make sure that no one has to suffer in silence anymore,” she said.
Samanatha Stough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Full Disclosure: Nina Hoffmann worked at The Temple News during her undergraduate years at Temple.]