The Media’s Abusive Relationship with Survivors

Courage_LiveThe following commentary represents my personal opinion, not the opinions of the organizations named in this piece. (Part two of commentary after watching available here.)

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I have to come to my blog with the topic of the TLC “Breaking the Silence” piece which will air tonight. I have to write because I not only am a two-time survivor of crimes against my body and soul during formative years, but because I am an active advocate both for sexual abuse prevention and sex positive education.

I have to say something because I am not deaf to what survivors are saying and I’m not blind to what we are seeing.

The media has an abusive relationship with survivors…

How do I know? Because I am a survivor.

What is depicted by the media is the ignorance of bystanders, such as when reporters genuinely ask questions like, “Why didn’t you tell someone,” or “Why did you wait so long to disclose?” Furthermore, often survivors are recounting the traumatic details in such a voyeuristic manner that I can’t tell if I’m watching an interrogation or an episode of Law and Order SVU.

I’m not saying that the details of our stories don’t matter – they do! In fact, I arranged a training for my pre-school teachers this week, which was one of the modules designed by Darkness to Light, who is partnering with TLC and RAINN in this documentary this evening. The “Stewards of Children” is a well-designed training module where survivor stories are told in detail, along with an important list of steps that educators/families can take in order to prevent this crime against our children and their innocence.

RAINN also, has been advocating for victims of sexual assault since 1994. Many survivors associate their name with a safe place.

But the recent affiliation with TLC has caused many survivors to use words like “boycott” and “disappointment” when it comes to this documentary.

Such anger and readiness to walk away entirely from reputable organizations is a reflection on our fear (reasonably) that what will come out of cable news will just exploit survivors.

I saw it firsthand when I was a part of a cable special on OWN, which highlighted the survivors of conversion therapy and our interaction with one of the most outspoken hypocrites of the movement, Alan Chambers. (My piece with Sky News also exploited my experience.)

Lights, camera, action – our infatuation with these things has created an unsafe environment for survivors who off-camera, are still just trying to figure out how to do the following:

* Disclose to our loved ones.

* Live transparently among our families or coworkers without losing our boundaries.

* Believe in humanity.

* Trust that what happened wasn’t our fault.

* Separate from the negative beliefs about sex, religion, or community, which likely resulted from the abuse.

* Get online and not go numb when yet another article indicates that all anyone really understands is how to re-traumatize us…

So, if the “media” cannot be trusted with our stories, we have two options…

1. We can continue to boycott everything that screws up the WHOLE picture of our recovery and resilience (Not a bad option).

2. AND/OR we can find a way to bring our stories forward and connect with those who are LIVING out their recovery AWAY from cameras, lights, etc in order to fill in the gaps of what is presented in the media.

Look, I’m not sure what to expect of tonight’s “performance.” Surely I will hear things that will remind me of my own experiences. No doubt, I will see brave faces and hear things that embody the truth of my experience.

There will be gaps. It’s only a documentary. It will not be thorough and it will not be perfect. It’s also possible that when the mic is handed to someone whose belief in God surpasses the healing journey and reasonable psychological needs, I will cringe and maybe even feel sick to the stomach.

If someone blames the victim (or themselves) or even, in a sense, blames god, I may not be able to eat until sometime tomorrow…

But I’m making the choice to watch because I feel like RAINN and Darkness to Light wouldn’t produce something that puts their entire reputation at risk…

Am I wrong? Well, we can all turn to the comment section here and find out 😉 I will be live-blogging through the comments and on my Facebook Page throughout the airing.

Spring nature background with grass and blue sky in the back

Spring nature background with grass and blue sky in the back

In the end, what I can celebrate is that we are aware enough to challenge the media and call them to be accountable when it comes to representing our stories.

I support those who boycott, because I understand.

I support those who watch, because I understand that too.

The truth is that our journey of recovery with ourselves, our families and our communities will not be summarized by a show, a law, or any single movement.

We are brave because of what we do every day, off screen.

Remember that today, tonight, tomorrow – your courage matters.

I applaud the courage of survivors who challenge the “media” and ask questions of leaders who form potentially shady alliances. I also applaud the courage of survivors who take the risk of appearing in the media. Having been there, I can tell you that those who let themselves be filmed and recorded carry scars from those experiences that are almost never discussed on camera or off camera. If you boycott, keep the survivors who were involved in your thoughts…

Let’s hope education shines over exploitation. That is a hope worth having, my friends.

Namaste, yo.


RAY_7279Gail is an author, poet, blogger and activist whose new book, Enlightened-ish chronicles her spiritual awakening experience after witnessing a suicide, grieving her father’s unexpected death and leaving a spiritual community. Her first book, “Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams” was published in 2004. Gail has appeared in FOX DC News,SkyNews and Our America with Lisa Ling as an advocate for ex-gay survivors and young people. Her freelance work has appeared in God Allows U-Turns, Encounter Magazine and Outlook Weekly. “For Gail So Loved the World” is her blog, where she discusses spirituality, politics and social and emotional intelligence from a global perspective. Her spoken word pieces and drumming meditations are available on YouTube and she schedules private speaking engagements where these performances are shared. Gail is the only lesbian known to hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Currently, Gail resides in the Washington, DC Area with her wife, where she serves her local community as the Executive Director of a nature-based early learning center.

6 thoughts on “The Media’s Abusive Relationship with Survivors

  1. i feel you’re right and in support of rainn i will watch plus if others r talking about it i can give intelligent (hopefully) feedback


    • I agree that it’s hard to have intelligent (we all hope ;)) feedback without actually watching. Imagine if the press releases surrounding the documentary had been properly written to show some sense of remorse or efforts towards advocacy from the TLC execs? A communications piece that said, “Look, TLC executives are asking RAINN and Darkness to Light to help them turn a terrible wrong into an opportunity for survivor stories, blah blah blah” – that approach never came! Everything overlapped with the Duggar girls and the tragic things they said about their experiences or things that were QUOTED on their behalf… it just seems this documentary was either thrown together poorly or that we only got the sound clips that the PR folks messed up in putting out there, ya know?

      I’m eager to form an opinion based on the actual documentary, not on the awful PR that was either allowed or planned! It has been a public relations nightmare. I can’t even guess how many communications people either don’t know how to do their jobs, should be fired from their jobs, or weren’t asked to do their jobs.

      cheers, to intelligent feedback – and believe me, I’m gonna go Mamma Bear on this documentary if it is poorly done! Survivors deserve something that reflects the quality of the organizations involved… and if it isn’t quality, shame on them for being involved…


  2. As a survivor of childhood rape I am offended by TLC making money off of victims, and am disgusted by the victim shaming tone their ‘documentary’ will encourage.


    • I think your point is well-taken, Diane. I am not sure how to think about the “money” side of it because obviously a non-profit needs funds but is this the best way to bring awareness to a cause? Do RAINN or Darkness to Light gain in AWARENESS what they lose in a brief ALLIANCE? Or does it LOSE more important alliances because of a lack of awareness of how this looks to survivors? It seems another network could have covered this, but exactly who benefits from it being TLC? I will definitely check back in if the victim-shaming approach comes through – that will be unforgivable for all parties involved! Much love your way and thank you for speaking out!


  3. Pingback: The Media’s Abusive Relationship with Survivors: Part 2 | For Gail So Loved the World

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