Trigger Warning: rape and sexual assault
…If I could write just one poem about sexual violence
it would be this:
What do we do with #metoo?
Long before there was a hashtag, there has been a movement. Long before it was headlines, there was a conversation. A conversation about sexual and gender-based violence. A conversation about how to end it. Agnes Török’s book We Need To Talk: solidarity and survivorship is about turning that conversation into concrete action. About ending sexual violence in our lifetime.
A message from Agnes:
Today is the UN’s International Day against Gender-Based Violence. #metoo has shed light, yet again, on how big the issues of sexual violence are. On how many people are affected. To those of us who have lived in abuse or been targeted by assault, this was not a surprise. If anything, it came as a relief to me that #metoo made our stories come to light. Because they’ve been bubbling away under the surface for years and decades and centuries. It is about damn time they see the light of day – and newspaper headlines.
That said, I know it’s easy to say “I knew that, I recognize that there’s a problem here.” It’s much harder to say “I’m sorry, I had no idea so many people were affected. What can I do?” To everyone who has woken up in the weeks since #metoo – thank you for becoming part of the movement. We’ve been fighting this fight for a long time and we’re glad to have you be part of it. If you’re scared or confused or shocked. If you don’t know what to do to solve the problem – don’t worry. Some of us have spent years thinking about this, talking about this, organizing for this. The feminist movement, in its various forms and branches, have fought for this issue for generations and decades. We know what we’re talking about here.
So if you’re looking to do more than press ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ – if you’re looking to actually end this problem, to make sexual violence history – let’s talk about how. Because I’ve got a few ideas.
I wrote this book to speak with fellow victims and survivors. To reach out to our loved ones, our friends and families. And to write about sexual violence in a way that was understandable to people who had no experience of it (lucky you! and welcome on board!). Because so much of ending sexual violence starts with changing how we treat victims.
If we were to stop blaming victims (with questions like ‘What were you wearing? Had you been drinking? How do I know you’re telling the truth?’) for being harassed, assaulted and abused, we would need to look at who is to blame. And the answer is, our whole societies are. If we were to stop silencing victims (with newspaper headlines like ‘rootless allegations ruin [a rapists] career /athletic scholarship /relationship’) we would need to start listening to what they had to say. If we were to stop doubting and disbelieving victims, we would need to start addressing the issues. And the issues are big, and long-running, and deeply rooted in our societies.
The issues of rape and assault and harassment and abuse do not go away because we listen to victims, but the normalization and belittlement of sexual violence is shaken to its core when we do. Because when we recognize that victims are never at fault for crimes committed against them, we start rehumanizing victims and stop excusing the violence done to them. To us.
This is where change starts. This is how we begin to Change Everything.
Sections of my book, We Need To Talk, are speaking specifically to fellow victims and survivors. They are focused on recovery and community and creativity – on banding together and creating change, without losing focus on our self-care and safety from further harm. The bonus section of the book is full of writing exercises, part of an arts therapy approach to coping with trauma and reclaiming our stories.
Other sections speak directly to our loved ones. They give concrete advice on how to support a loved one who has been raped or abused, and function as a guide to keep your loved one safe, recovering and supported in making their own decisions for how to move forward.
But the largest chunk of the book is about the big picture. Because this is more than instances upon instances. More than individual victims and individual stories. This is structure. This is societal issue. This is something that will take genuine political and social change, that will require organization and movement and us banding together. This is about How To Change Everything – which, coincidentally, is the last section of the book. If we are to move forwards, together, and end sexual violence for good – I think this is how we do it. (this poem is called How To Change Everything and it’s from page 227 of We Need To Talk).
how to change everything
start with yourself
with examining your attitudes
might differ from yours
speak to those around you
there is more than individual experience
more than statistics and facts
there is plenty to learn
if you’re willing
make it a journey
make it a mission
make it worthwhile
learn about the laws
the police practices
the histories of violence
written on our bodies
let those who have lived through
but join in the second rank
follow their lead
amplify their voices
build on their movement
enter their strategy
add to their strength
make a plan
make a change
make a difference
We Need To Talk: solidarity and survivorship by Agnes Török is launching today. 10% of proceeds from the book go to organisations that support victims and survivors of sexual violence, and that do important work in bringing about a world free from sexual violence.
Get your own copy of the book and become part of Changing Everything.
10% of our online sales goes to Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Assault Support
To find out more about 16 Days of Activism to end Gender Based Violence, visit the UN website and find out how to get involved locally.