Dear Survivors: A reflection from ten years of Take Back the Night

This is the tenth Take Back the Night I have participated in and has led me to really reflect on my journey from survivor activist, to volunteer, to a career in advocacy. I remember my very first Take Back the Night. Sitting in a cozy women’s center, hearing and being validated by other survivors as I shared my own story for the first time. Having that moment of just being around people who get it was so healing. To now. There we were. Virtually together. Still uplifting and honoring survivors in whatever way we can. It felt like a very empowering and meaningful moment to me. 

One of the greatest honors of my life has been to be able to support survivors and to hear their voices. I think about the 1000’s of survivors I have worked with in my career and I think I carry a piece of them and their stories with me every day in all that I do. Not a day goes by where I don’t remember one of them and their healing.

So I wrote a letter to some of the survivors I have worked with throughout the past ten years that I wanted to share

Dear Survivor:

I still remember the very first hospital advocacy call I ever went. I was nervous. I was new. And there you were. I remember walking into the room and you telling me how glad you were I was there. In some ways, you comforted me when I was there to comfort you. I remember holding hands, hearing your story, bearing witness to all the pain you had been through in your life as you talked with the nurse. I remember watching cartoons on tv as a distraction while we waited for the exam to start and feeling amazed that after all that you had been through, we could sit together and laugh at the animated scene on the tv together. It felt like the most human moment and what was the most de-humanizing day. It has been over eight years and I still remember your name and I still sometimes wonder about how you are doing.

Dear Survivor:

As you proclaimed all the things that you were going to do to make the system better for other survivors, I was right there with you and I saw a little bit of myself in you. You wanted to change the world. And I could see, just from the look in your eyes and your spirit, that was just what you were going to do. Now, years later, I am proud of you and all that you continue to accomplish each day. 

Dear Survivor:

I will never forget the comments that the court advocate said to you. When she told you she thought you needed to dress less black if you wanted to win your case, I was there with you. You are you and I am sorry that a system didn’t see or respect you for you. You deserved to be seen and respected just for being you. Your courage and strength in going forward were inspiring. But you don’t exist to inspire me or others. I remember you.

Dear Survivor:

I am sorry that the world told you how to feel and how to act. I remember your anger and I remember sitting with you when you were told to calm down. I remember others not understanding why you were so angry. And I wanted to shout with you, of course, you are angry. You have every right to share everything you feel and need.

Dear Survivor:

I am so sorry that you were hurt again. You deserve all the love and respect in the world. I heard your pain and I want you to know that you still deserve love and safety even after what happened to you.

Dear Survivor:

I am sorry that reporting outed you and your identity to your family. You deserved protection and support. I am proud of you for continuing on and all you have done to survive.

Dear Survivor:

Sometimes I only get to meet a survivor once and other times we work together for a while. When you had decided that you needed to move on and that this school we both loved couldn’t be the school for you anymore after what happened, I felt for you. When you asked if I would forget you, I haven’t. I still have the post-it note with your signature and I know you still have mine.

Dear Survivor:

I am here for you. I am with you. Thank you for letting me be a part of your story.

-Courtney

P.S. if you are anyone you know needs support or more information about resources, we are here for you!

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