A few weeks ago, Philadelphia Weekly won a national public-service award for a special issue we did on sexual-assault awareness. The Rape Issue, published June 22, 2011, tackled some myths (and outright lies) associated with sexual assault, including the age-old victim-blaming trope that women invite rape through their clothing.
Tara Murtha, a staff writer here who fights tirelessly for awareness on this issue, wrote about the unfortunate fact that Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that does not allow expert-witness testimony in sexual-assault trials. (Update: House Bill 1264, which would allow such testimony, finally passed the Legislature five years after state Rep. Cherelle Parker introduced it, and has been signed into law by Gov. Corbett.)
Also in the issue was a piece by a male survivor of sexual abuse. In the piece, he recounted how painful it was to cope in a world that stigmatizes survivors of sex crimes. That man’s name is Joel Hoffmann, and he is my husband.
Months later, when abuse allegations against former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky came to light, I wrote about the difficulties survivors—and their loved ones—face during the healing process. Joel and I both received a lot of positive feedback about our willingness to talk openly about what we were facing. The problem is that too often, survivors are paralyzed by a culture that silences, shames and blames them.
Philadelphia Weekly is dedicated to fighting against this. Which is why we need to hear from you—the survivor, the loved one, the advocate. We need you to tell your story, in your own words. To do so would help bring to light the one thing that’s missing from the national conversation: the reality of what it’s like to heal from the devastating effects of sexual abuse.
Contributors can disclose whatever details they choose about the abuse, but you should be prepared to write honestly about your experiences with healing. We encourage you to share the good and the bad because the primary goal of this project is to make it clear what it takes to get better.
And we’re looking for a diverse group of contributors—diverse in age, race, sexual orientation and socioeconomic background—in order to convey how universal this problem is. Joel comes from a white, working-class family in Delaware County. I am a multi-racial first-generation American. We will both be sharing our stories.
Please do not hesitate to email me with any questions you may have about the process. Our goal right now is to collect as many essays as we can.
You may be afraid to speak out. Joel and I both can assure you that staying silent about sexual assault will not help you heal. It took time, but Joel found the strength to tell his story. You can, too. And we are ready to listen.
Send your essays, and any questions, to senior editor Nina Hoffmann at email@example.com
What you are about to read is a selection of eight first-person stories chosen from our first ebook that all capture, in their own way, the long and turbulent recovery people affected by sexual abuse must endure.
There's still plenty of time to submit a first-person account of the challenges associated with healing. The deadline is Friday, Sept. 28. Selected essays will be published in the Nov. 14 issue of Philadelphia Weekly and in a subsequent book.
To date, the grand jury report remains one of the few accounts that documents what exactly these boys (now men in their 20s) had to endure. This is because, since Day 1, this story has never been about sexual abuse. And as the spouse of a sexual-abuse survivor, I’m heartbroken. My husband was abused by his stepfather when he was 6, and for a period of time no one believed him except for his dad, who reported the abuse to the authorities.
At 28, I’m learning to accept that my stepfather abused me—sexually, physically and emotionally. I may never remember everything that happened to me. But I know I did nothing to deserve it.
The lies that enable sexual assault to be practically a rite of passage while growing up—1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are molested—are already everywhere, so deeply rooted in our culture you have to dig deep to yank them out. Staying silent has never helped a situation of sexual assault, ever. We say no. We say there is no better time to learn more and write more reality checks.
Currently in Pennsylvania, alleged victims of child sex abuse have until the age of 50 to file criminal charges and 30 to file a civil lawsuit against their attackers. One proposed bill sought to abolish the age limit altogether on both the civil and criminal side. Another bill proposed that, Pennsylvania install a two-year “window” for civil suits.