The Unapologetic is a group multi-disciplinary art show focusing on sexual abuse in our community. It is a movement empowering women as the truly inspiring survivors they are; giving voice to our daughters, our sisters, our mothers, our friends. Unapologetic is a demand for our healing, us reaching our for redemption. This is turning the community that sanctifies and protects predators upside down; casting light into the dark corners of our neighborhoods and institutions. We are unapologetic, and we are not alone or afraid any longer.
Developed and Curated by Mary Gagnon
All mediums, including but not limited to, painting, illustration, poetry, sculpting, etc with a focus on the empowerment of women and the transformation of victimhood to survivor-hood. The call is open to all women from the Metro-Detroit area.
SUBMISSION DEADLINES Thursday February 17, 2019
Monday, April 22, 2019 | 6:30 – 9 PM | Arab American Museum
This event and exhibition is developed and curated by Mary Gagnon. Supported by DMJStudio.
Please consider being a part of this inspirational evening and help us raise awareness to this epidemic ending the stigma and shame of sexual abuse.
Sharing stories can be very vulnerable and at the same time empowering. Read a few of the stories from Unapologetic below. You can also share your stories by submitting them here.
(photo credit Rosa Maria)
I’ve been thinking about all the young girls who have grown up in Dearborn and who are growing up here now and I’ve been really mouth gaping at how much suffering and traumas occurs here in so many different spheres and how normalized this pain for women here, how expected and we are conditioned from an early age to silence ourselves in the names of modesty, and hide our wounds in the name of honor and familial honor and self preservation.
As the first generation daughter of immigrants in a community that still upholds and maintains archaic social norms when it comes to its daughters,sisters, mothers, and wives, I can say that one of the earliest things I was taught about my body was that it was a source of shame. It was to never be spoken of or displayed it was to be hidden and kept sacred and there was nothing more shameful or filled with malice then a women who allowed her body to be desecrated by the male gaze.
In a community filled with men who have normalized, propagated, and uplifted the perversion of the bodies of young women, this sends one clear and co flirting message :the woman’s body is sacred and ought to be withheld and off limits from the control of the women who fill them, and yet these same bodies are at the disposal and mercy of men who consume, dehumanize, abuse, and degrade. How can we tell our daughters to protect their bodies and in the same breath tell them to just accept that this is how men will treat them? This is how men will dehumanize them, touch them and look at them without permission, silence them and suffocate the essence of innocence of them, and expect them to just take it and move on. Well, I for one am done. I’m done being silent or afraid. I am no longer held captive by what happened to me.
What happened to me and countless others was not to be blamed on us. What happened to us and continued to happen and continued to be hidden, and silenced, and undermined, and stifled in the airless conclaves of our deepest most painful selves. What happened was not our fault. Why does this community silence and discredit these girls when they come forth and speak on their sexual abuse? Why do we bolster of protecting our daughters and then let them down so blatantly. Didn’t ever let anyone touch you, they say, come forward right away. But what happens when girls in the Arabic community come forward? We strip them of their honor and sanctity, we accuse them of inviting or liking it, we tell them they are being over dramatic and over emotional, we gaslight and shame them. We humiliate and silence them. We do nothing. We say nothing.
Our fear of being exposed or dishonoring our families leaves us immobile demonizes our children. As a child, as first born in this country, the world has always been a confusing and conflicting please for me. As a child I was always trapped between American norms and middle eastern expectations. As a Muslim girl, my self worth was built around my virginity and my ability to maintain modesty. Being sexually abused by my neighbor robbed me of my self value, my self pride, my confidence and self Knowlege. It stripped me of the youth, my innocence and my faith in the world. It ingrained in me such self hate and self loathing that I’m still to this day trying to rewire my brain. Growing up I had a neighbor, a very grown man in at least his forties who had children of his own and who’s home and family had always been like family to me. Our block was very communal, everyone was poor, we didn’t have much to eat or savor, we didn’t have much to do or places to go. We had ourselves, this small band of children who was always taught to stick together.
This particular neighbor was in a higher income bracket, he owned a boat, which lived in a garage that faced the small park we played in. One day, when me and the girls from the neighborhood were playing he lured us into the garage with the promise that if we helped him clean we would be allowed to play on the boat and be given delicious snacks that none of our families really had the luxury of providing. Of course this seemed like prime opportunity for seven and eight year old girls. We knew him and his family and children well. I yelled across the street to my mom and let her know what we were doing. She didn’t even bat an eye. Everything seemed fine, but of course it was not fine. What happened to us in that garage was not fine at all, in fact it would be something that was had to endure for for a long period of time out of fear because when you put a gun to a seven year olds head and tell them not to ever say a word, well you can imagine the echoing silence of the screams.
The summer dissipated as did my sense of self, my courage, my fire, the light in my eyes. I spent so much time In furious agonizing rage that i am convinced that when that garage burned down, with the boat inside, on devils night, that it was my rage and anger, and suffering set that morherfucker aflame. I’m not sure how it all stopped, mayb
(photo credit Rosa Maria)
“In 2010 I was sexually assaulted by a stranger who wore glasses and had a profound birth mark on his left cheek. A mark that makes him distinguishable and easy to identify. He also happened to be a Marine. While the actual details of the assault are unsettling, it is the actual responses of the various institutions that I reported him to that left me feeling depressed, hopeless, and objectified. My story is not unique, but I think it should be shared. I reported the assault the day after it happened. I bring this up now because we continue to live in a society where the reputation of a rapist is more important than a woman seeking justice. We live in communities that continue to shame victims into silence. We continue to appoint political leaders who blame the victim and ask them why they waited so long. The morning after the incident took place, a few friends convinced me to report what had happened.
I was asked to tell my story at least 10 different times and was asked the same questions from every police officer. Most of the statements were more like warnings than an investigation. They would say…“If he is a Marine then it is possible he could be dishonorably discharged. Are you aware of that?” I would repy, yes. “This will have to go through a special military court. Are you willing to do that to him?” Yes. After telling my story multiple times, I was sent to a hospital on Long Beach because the medical facility on Catalina Island where I was staying did not have rape kits. The nurse on Catalina told me that she had been requesting rape kits for quite some time but was never granted the funds. The hospital took pictures of me and sent me home in a monochrome blue sweat suit. The rest was kept for evidence. I was told to report back to the police department on Catalina Island. When I got back to the island the following day there had been an awful car accident. The island is small. Not much happens.
So when I approached the glass window to tell the person working the front that I had an appointment with Detective so-and-so, I was interrupted and yelled at to go away. “NOBODY CARES WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY, THERE WAS AN ACCIDENT ON THE ISLAND!” This is not an exaggeration. I tried to explain to the man that I was told to meet with a detective, but his protest just got louder. I was mortified. I cried on the walk home. Feeling unheard and disrespected, yet again, by another man in a uniform. He did apologize when I was told to come back and meet with the detective. He felt bad, but I felt worse. I told my story one more time to another officer. A few months later I received a voice message from another detective wanting to continue working on my case. I called him back multiple times and was never able to reach him. I left messages and never got a response. He hasn’t contacted me since. Case closed. The man who assaulted me should have been easy to find, but I really don’t think anyone actually looked for him.
He had a distinct look that was extremely recognizable. I could point him out right now if I was asked. But I wasn’t asked. The police officers did not hesitate to remind me that I could ruin his future, with no regards as to how my future may be affected. While the actual assault is still something that keeps me up at night, the way it was handled was even more frightening. I was not only questioned, but made to feel like I had been the one to do something wrong. This is the first time I have talked about the incident since 2010. I wonder if the guy who assaulted me or if the detective that was assigned to my case think about it in the middle of the night like I do from time to time.
I still question whether or not I did the right thing. Would it have been easier if I didn’t report it? So many of the institutions involved failed me during one of my weakest moments and continue to fail sexual assault survivors to this day. The harassment I faced, not only from my predator but from the police officers themselves, forced me to be silent. My attacker’s future was more important than my story. I silenced myself because I didn’t think anyone cared. I silenced myself because I didn’t want to hurt people. I tell this story now because I have been surrounded by strong women who have encouraged me to speak out.”
(photo credit Rosa Maria)
I had a lot of anger issues growing up. Part of this was because, when I was 6, my parents adopted my older brother. He was actually my cousin (mother’s brother’s son ) and his mother had left, while his father slowly was dying of aids. As a young child, going from “oldest” to “middle” child really upset and angered me… if we got into an argument I’d tell my brother “at least my parents aren’t dead”. I was a horrible and said a lot of hurtful things. I was desperately in need of counseling and because I was becoming physically violent towards both of my brothers and my parents, my parents began to seek a therapist that could help me. My parents found the “best” psychiatrist they could, and started taking to me see him. At first he would talk to all of us at once- my parents and I. He would ask questions about why I was angry and then he would validate my feelings. Of course, he diagnosed me with “rage disorder” (which is grossly incorrect, as I found out in an inpatient facility years later, officially diagnosed with Bipolar 2 and PTSD…. ) and heavily medicated me with depakote and other heavy psychiatric medications not recommended for children my age unless absolutely necessary.
Then, the touching began. About a year into therapy he told my parents he wanted to ask me some questions privately because we had been fighting a lot still and things were very tense. I remember being slightly happy when he kicked them out of the room. He turned on a noise machine, “For privacy” he said, and asked me to sit on his lap. Your basic child predator. There are naked polaroids of me somewhere that I never had the chance to recover. He robbed my of lot of milestones. I never got to experience a lot of “firsts,” with consent. The counseling went on once a week for another 3 years. I cut my hair short, so people would think I was a boy.I thought “this doesn’t happen to boys.” I had my first suicide attempt at 11. I tried to slit my wrists and was promptly admitted to havenwyck for a week. This was something I dreaded because it had always been used as a threat against me. I was told if I said anything to anyone about what was happening, I would be thrown into a mental hospital, and this was especially terrifying because if the gaslighting and everyone already thinking I was “crazy”. After that he told my parents he couldn’t work with me anymore and recommended we find a new therapist I think I scared him. He thought I would tell. I was super promiscuous from the time of 12 until about 14 when I met my first “real” boyfriend. I had a lot of issues that took me years to work out.
I finally told my mom a few years ago and it broke her heart. “Now I know why you fought so hard with us every time you had an appointment,” she said. She feels heartbroken. I’m still not sure if my dad knows. I’ve been hospitalized seven separate times, the last time being 2012. I’m not strong but I fight like hell. Unfortunately so many women have gone through things like this, usually with an older man, in a position of power, abusing a child’s trust. aI know I wasn’t the only one. When I think of the confidence he had and how bold he Was, I wish I had been strong enough to tell.”
(photo credit Rosa Maria)
Forty-one Starbucks. This is where I get most of my work done. Iced coffee. Sugar free vanilla, lots of cream. Trying to watch my sugar. I eye a donut. “Can I get a donut, please?” Coffee and donut in hand, I mistakenly sit under a speaker. Lauren Hill is serenading me a bit too loudly. I find solace in her lyrics as she is a badass. Badass. I have been called a badass. Am I a badass? How did I become a badass? I have been called a hero. I have been told that I am brave. I do not feel like a badass. I do not feel like a hero. I am not brave. I am tired. I am tired of running and hiding from the atrocity that has been chasing me since I was a child. It so often alludes me, like a ghost passing through nightmares and terrors; moving through memory, space and time. A generation has passed. I am ready to tell this story. It needs to be told. I owe it to my daughter.
To all of our daughters. Sons, too. I open the laptop, I sip the coffee, I bite the donut. Glucose straight to the abyss of malice that I have recently unearthed, its soil toxic and lethal. This soil is ready to be tilled. Forty “Happy birthday, Mommy!” Ah, I love them, I love them. I have been in this place a few times before, in complete and utter bliss. These are my people, my tribe, my home. They tell me they love me and I cry. Because this is forty. I have not yet arrived. I have not yet made my way. But I have these people that I love with a madness and a fierce juxtaposition to protect, let go, nurture, support, leave. I have raised the three of them well and we are secure. We are safe. We are home. We have love. “Daddy got you a cake!” my darling daughter, my ten year old who is so carefree and full of sunshine goodness; jumps up and down with excitement. She is pure joy. She has been since the moment she was born and she is the apple of my eye. I smile down at her innocent head. My heart swells because I am so blessed. This child is me. I live all the days of my life through her.
She is a million times better than what I should have been only if I had not been subjected to the landscape of my childhood. I have escaped these clutches and here I am; surrounded by warmth and bliss. “Mommy! A picture! Let’s take a picture!” She is ten. She still calls me Mommy. She is sweet. I melt. My oldest boy takes the selfie. My first born, my Number One Son. He has the strongest arm. Sixteen and filled with sarcasm, angst and wit. He has been with me the longest. He is my Savior. He saved me. My first born. He saves me still. My middle child is a boy. I am blessed with two boys; he is a golden cherub, yet a concrete thinker. He is logical and thoughtful. As his older brother stands tall, over reaching to enclose us all in this fleeting moment, my golden boy leans in for the shot. He knows this is important to me. And I am the center of his universe. To him I am paramount. I am vital. I am the rock. I do not know how I have earned this trust, this love, this loyalty. But they all are devout to me. I do not understand the magnitude of this on my fortieth birthday. I realize it later on that year; because I have found a freedom that is foreign to me. I have done well by these children that are a gift.
The candles illuminate my face, I glow. The picture speaks a thousand words and I am no longer broken, I am whole. Forty and some “Mom, I don’t like your dad.” This proclamation from my middle child, my golden boy, catches me off guard. It startles me a bit and I try to contain my anxiety but I laugh, outright. He is my most careful child. He is sensitive, serious and philosophical. He is thirteen and coming into his own. School bores him because he is too far above the nonsense that they are teaching him, as he already knows most of it. He embraces information, knowledge, facts. He needs life, not condescending social studies books. He is perfect and beautiful; angelic with dark golden curls and somber blue-green eyes. He knows things well before I do. Wise beyond his years. “Yeah, well. I don’t like him either. As a matter of fact, I don’t know many people that do like him.
Why, babe? What’s up?” I speak frankly with him. Very matter of fact. I always have. There are no shades of blue, green, gray, orange or yellow with him. Nothing is gray. With this child, everything is black and white. I panic a bit on the inside. The wildfire inside of me that I have struggled to suppress, catches wind and ignites; sparking anger and rage. I taste blood. I swallow hard. There is a despair that is forming in the pit of my stomach. Acid and fear. I have been in this place before. I do not welcome the familiarity. “He’s is just a terrible person, Mom. Last winter, when I sat across from him at our cousin’s wedding, after all of you left the table to go get dessert, he looked right at me and said, ‘Jibraeel, did you know that your parents are pigs?’ and he went about drinking his coffee. Mom, why did he do that?” I swall
(photo credit Rosa Maria)
I cannot hug my mother. I have tried to think of ways to minimize the brutality of these words, but I cannot. It is brutal. It is honest. And it is true. I cannot hug my own mother. If you know my mother, you know she is often stubborn to a fault, devout is an understatement, and compassion/generosity is rooted in her core. Yet, I cannot walk up to the woman who has seen me at my worst and give her a hug. I have tried. I have done it playfully, using comedy to help. She has forced me at times, throwing things at me when I dodge her, laughing along with me. I have traveled to some beautiful places on this earth. Every time I leave, I vow that when I come back, I will hug her. By the time I arrive, I have managed to convince myself that it’s going to happen. I walk through the door and I just can’t do it. There have been a few times where I see the hurt in her face. She just stares at me, trying to show that she’s ok, but I notice. I often wonder how hurt she is in these moments. Those moments are a struggle. This is part of the damage that occurred when I was sexually assaulted. I don’t remember much. I was 9, turning 10. I know it lasted about 2 years.
I remember my first friend, who lived next door, moving away. I remember being terrified when she left. I don’t know why. I also recall crying on the first day of 5th grade and thinking ‘who cries in 5th grade?’ I was being sexually abused, and still could not comprehend my emotions. I remember stealing gum in Mrs. Sohn’s class and being so proud that I never got caught. Didn’t even try to hide the gum after school. Passed that trident gum out to others like a damn rebel. These are the only memories of 5th grade. I don’t remember who was in my class or how my classroom looked. I don’t remember who my friends were, who I sat next to, who I went to recess with. I don’t remember if my hair was short or long. I remember 4th grade. I remember 6th grade. I lost 5th grade. Mrs. Sohn, crying on the first day and Trident gum. This is all I have going for me. If you were in Mrs. Sohn’s class, let me know. If you took Trident gum from me, it was stolen merchandise. The thing with sexual abuse: It strikes at the sources of love, innocence, and security, concepts introduced to me by my mom. She is the source of my security in the saddest moments of my life, the truest love I have ever felt. Her presence in my life was so strong. Yet, when I was assaulted, she was ripped from me. I still remember how I felt in those years.
I feel a genuine discomfort when calling her mama. I call her Mom instead. Mother when I’m being sarcastic. While I may have presented as mature, quiet, and well-behaved (all the qualities of a young lady) back in those early years, the fear and pain I recall is reminiscent of a child’s emotions. I was a child who still had not learned how fucked up the world was. I was still sheltered from the brutality of humans. I was, without question, completely innocent. So innocent, that I wasn’t even aware that everything had just been ripped from me. I was not aware of the concepts of innocence, power, security, freedom of thought and expression, rights to my body, justice, etc. When they were all taken from me, I could not and did not come close to understanding the gravity of what had just happened. Kids don’t speak out because they don’t even have the ability to comprehend what is happening.
The only thing I could comprehend was the intense fear that had consumed my life. Fear that consumed me in such a way that I stopped going to my mom for comfort. I stopped hugging her. This is what my mom is forced to comply with. She cannot hug me. She found out her child was assaulted. She struggles with regret, what if’s, trying to reason with the construct of time, begging it to turn back to undo what has happened. And she cannot. And her need to hug her child for what happened to her was taken, continuing to this very day. She knows. She knows I cannot hug her. She knows I struggle with affection. She probably knows how much I need it. And she knows she cannot do it. I do not need to be a mother to understand what she must be going through. To recognize that someone assaulted her daughter when she was a child and she cannot console her.
Two things happened when I was abused: Hate emerged. A hate so strong that I ultimately directed it at myself and thought myself to be undeserving of anyone’s touch. But when hate emerged, so did compassion. While I believe I have always been a compassionate person, I learned empathy before I completed the first decade of my life. When I saw others in pain, I didn’t just see pain, I felt it. In the game of evil vs. good, when I was assaulted, my compassion emerged in defense of my soul. And it fucking won. But when I look at all the damage and carnage that remains, one that stands out is my inability to hug people. Those close to me are aware. They tease me about it. For
(photo credit Rosa Maria)
“It’s hard for me to put my guard down; even with those I love; even to simply say ‘sorry,’ when I’m wrong. It’s not that I don’t want to. I just don’t know how. Part of it is fear; the other part is anger.
When you have been violated by someone and subjected to the kind of assault that has you question your very being; when that someone—and those around him—attempt to break down your every defense and destroy you in the process, you forge steel barricades. Maintaining those barricades becomes a matter of self-preservation. They make you less vulnerable. They keep you safe.
My barricades came up 15 years ago, during my first job out of college at a civil rights organization, of all places. In the years since, they have become impenetrable. And so, I don’t know how to lay down my defenses, without fear that in that moment of vulnerability, I am leaving myself open to pain again.
I fight this battle EVERY day—my own personal conflict between right and wrong; good and evil; patience and anger; strength and weakness. It’s exhausting. However, I know that I can’t give up. The fear and anger that motivate me are stronger than the fear and anger that, at one point, tried to destroy me.
My mom tells me I was born a fighter. She likes to joke, I came out of the womb swinging; ready to challenge authority or confront any injustice. In those early years, my anger was not my enemy; it was my motivator. At four years old, I stood up to my father for punishing my younger sister unfairly. That moment of defiance did not end well. I received an even harsher punishment than my sister had. But that didn’t deter me from refining my technique and continuing to push boundaries. In my sophomore year of high school, I reported one of my teachers for calling me ‘stupid’ under his breath, when I couldn’t solve a geometry problem on the chalkboard. I would not allow that label to dictate my academic trajectory. During my freshman year at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, I assembled a group of friends and convinced them to organize on campus around issues that impacted the rights of the growing Arab American student population. We quickly became known as rebels on campus. We were loud and proud.
And so, it was no surprise that I would end up at a civil rights organization, advocating for the rights of my community, in the wake of the greatest tragedy to befall our nation. 9/11 changed our world. It also reinforced the fight within me. I was determined—more than ever before—to do my part to fight injustice. I was pissed, and I was damned if my own government was going to try and take the fight out of me.
Ironically, it was those I trusted—my supervisor and employer, along with members of my own community whom I had fought alongside with—who tried to strip me of my spirit. The first time he attempted to touch me, I brushed it off; convinced myself I was overreacting. When the harassment continued, and the behavior could no longer be rationalized, I began to blame myself, because that is what we are conditioned to do as women. So, I changed the way I dressed for work; stopped smiling and laughing, so as not to send the ‘wrong’ signals. I shut down completely. The first of my barricades came up. I refused to discuss what I could not bring myself to believe; that my person and my being were being violated by a man I had once trusted. When the harassment turned into clear assault, I could no longer deny or excuse it. Another barricade came up. When I finally found the courage to report it on my behalf and on behalf of the other young women who worked with me, my employer—the very organization meant to protect my rights and the rights of others—did nothing to protect us. They kept him in a position of power. Another barricade came up. My anger shifted and grew.
Six years later—long after I had escaped what had become a prison, guarded by an unchecked predator—I finally gained my fight back and found the courage to publicly speak out about my abuse, in the hope that I could help put an end to his continued abuse of other young women…but the barricades stayed up and the anger flourished. While I had the unyielding support of many who put their own reputations and careers on the line, I never fathomed that other members of my own community would turn their backs on me. I was called a liar. I was blamed. I was shamed. My barricades further solidified. My own best friend’s husband (who was fiercely and irrationally loyal to the man who had repeatedly violated me and countless other women) made it his mission—and failed miserably—to destroy my credibility. The walls grew thicker. Women in my community whom I had looked up to, trusted and regarded as dear friends and mentors, chose sides, questioning my motives and my character. I could no longer see past the compacted barricades. I couldn’t wade through the stilted anger. The assault wag