Revisiting Black History Month: Highlights from the RAINN Survivor Summit

In February, RAINN held a survivor summit with three inspiring Speakers Bureau members to discuss child sexual abuse and how racial barriers can impact a survivor’s healing journey. Each panelist discussed the systems in place that limited their access to receiving help or created roadblocks in their healing journeys. They also share how they have found healing through art, group discussions, and writing workshops and how they have become community activists in their career and personal lives.

The RAINN Speakers Bureau panelists include:

  • L’Tomay is an author, Christian Life Coach, Substance Abuse Counselor, Social Worker and Co-Founder & President of WORTHshop Inc, a 501c(3) organization. L’Tomay is a survivor of domestic violence and child sexual abuse. L’Tomay is a WORTH Strategist, facilitates live events, and helps people and women see their beauty no matter what they have experienced.
  • C. Alexandria-Bernard Thomas is an award-winning poet, teaching artist, an advocate for child abuse prevention, the LGBTQIA community, and mental health awareness.C.Thomas is named a pioneer of poetry by the National Underground Spoken Word Poetry Award. They work as a community organizer and educates adults on how to respond and react to child sexual abuse through Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children and becoming a board member for Touch Me I’m Tellin.
  • Mark Godoy Jr. is an artist, an illustrator, an advocate, and a survivor of child sexual abuse. Mark recently graduated from The Savannah College of Art and Design with a M.F.A. in Animation and a B.F.A. from UCONN in Illustration & Printmaking. Mark prays often, draws a lot, and has a few tattoos. From early in his childhood, Mark found an outlet for his emotions in his art. Mark has used those talents to help his own healing process and shares it with the world.

RAINN’s content writer Sierra Scott started the conversation asking each panelist what the grooming signs looked like.

The perpetrator who abused Mark isolated him and groomed him which stemmed from the environment he was living in at the time.

“At the time when I was abused, I was living with my grandmother and my parents divorced when I was very young…the house then became filled with a lot of kids… [with so many children present and my parents gone] my perpetrator saw me as the target. I was vulnerable…He started asking me questions about school and if I had a girlfriend. That’s how it escalated. That’s how it started; I started looking up to him as an older cousin and ultimately, he was lowering my defenses to the point where he started to sexualize the relationship. He started to ask about kissing and touching. That’s how the abuse started to escalate.”

L’Tomay shares how a friend of the family built trust with her family over time to gain regular access to her. The perpetrator would babysit her whenever her parents hosted family gatherings.

“We were told we always had to listen to her [the perpetrator]. It started out with her not letting me go to the bathroom right away to the point where I would actually go on myself. And it seemed like a problem at first - that she had to clean me up - but that is how it started at first. And then it elevated where I would spend the night at her home since that’s where our family gatherings ended up…I often raise the fact that I was in my bed and I was in my pajamas. That’s where it started.”

C. Thomas was sexually assaulted by a friend of the perpetrator. He had access to C. Thomas via them and shares how he groomed him over time.

“His connection to me was buying me things. My favorite color was blue and orange so he would always surprise me with things that were blue and orange. He would help me with my homework and one day he started to expose himself to me. That’s where it all started. I told my perpetrator what was going on and I was told to fight back or to walk away or ignore it. It then became more aggressive to the point where it was done in front of her. It went down from there…every time he would come over, it would just happen.”

Black men and women face particular stigmas and stereotypes that make them fear they won’t be believed, which makes it harder to access support and resources after experiencing sexual violence. Each panelist was asked about the barriers they encountered when reaching out for help after trauma and how it impacted their individual healing journey.

For C. Thomas, the issue was not about being believed, but being told to stay quiet.

“That’s a huge thing within a lot of Black families; that you are told not to talk about it or that it happens to everyone. It is then accepted and normalized which then gets brushed under the rug. There is this expectation that you are supposed to go on with your life as if nothing happened. There’s never no moving forward and it’s just always moving on. Moving on is forgetting. It's removing conversation and removing what you are feeling. Whereas moving forward is acknowledging. But even when you acknowledge it or begin to acknowledge it, you are the victim or the trauma survivor or the bad guy. Because you are talking about something that happened to you. You are talking about something that happened to you in order to heal yourself.”

Mark experienced abuse over the course of several months and struggled with how his disclosure affected his family.

“I went to a counselor when I was around 29 or 30. They were ill-equipped and not trauma informed… It was very generic and, in that process, culturally, they didn’t understand how to identify with me or to speak to me in a way that was culturally sensitive. There is a lot of stigma in the Black community for survivors especially for men as we are expected to be strong and expected to uphold the family. When you speak about certain things, you are tearing the family apart and then it becomes a thing where you feel guilty for trying to alleviate the trauma you are dealing with which was caused by the family. Not addressing these issues was a main barrier for me to communicate with my therapist; I had a lot of generational things in the family that I was trying to overcome and express.”

As a woman, L’Tomay faced additional barriers and also had some similar challenges to Mark and C. Thomas.

“A barrier was when I experienced the abuse at 8 years old and my perpetrator was a babysitter and a woman…when I did tell that someone else abused me, I was told to sit down and be quiet. I was told I was being too fast. Another barrier was a religious one; my entire family was Pentecostal. I would call out people according to what they were teaching…and as a Black woman, and as I got older, it continued into my adulthood when I was raped by a police officer. The barrier is that with everything happening with Black men in America, I didn’t want to be that Black woman to be the downfall of a Black man. That additional barrier really impacted me because I didn't know if that person was or is doing to someone else.”

Each survivor faced barriers in their healing journey and have now reached a place where they are giving back to their communities. C. Thomas hosts a workshop called Writing to Wellness, using poetry as a tool for healing when navigating trauma. L’Tomay created Brand Me Beautiful, an organization that empowers women to embrace their unique identity, honor the power of their voice and own their truth. Mark is a fine artist, motion designer, muralist, and victims rights advocate. His art is primarily abstract figurative using mixed mediums, including collage, acrylic, and spray paint.

All three RAINN Speakers Bureau Members share a final message with survivors about healing after sexual trauma.

  • Healing doesn’t have a look. Healing doesn’t look like someone who is always happy. Healing can be messy. Healing can be joyful.” — L’Tomay
  • Allow yourself grace. Don’t rush or try to keep up with anyone else’s process. Don’t listen to how someone else is telling you how to heal. You heal on your terms, in your way, and what is healthy and beneficial to you. I always lead with a personal quote: ‘Your pain may know you but it has no power over you” — C.Thomas
  • This is a lifelong journey…This will be with you for your life. It’s a lifelong healing and learning process…we have to evolve in this process and gather tools and communities that we can bring with us and evolve with.” — Mark

Watch the full Black History Month Survivor Summit here.

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