Approximately 50 students, faculty and community members gathered in Weill Hall Tuesday evening for “Hope and Healing,” a discussion of sexual violence recovery. The Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center hosted the event.
Alisa Zipursky, University of Michigan alum and founder of Healing Honestly, led the discussion.
Zipursky clarified her goal to create a safe space within the community to talk about healing after sexual assault trauma. The event focused on debunking common myths surrounding the healing process. Zipursky said she hopes the event will inspire others.
“Tonight is more about the ‘what now’ and ‘what next,’ how to live full and vibrant lives (as) young people while we deal with the real impacts of our trauma on our lives,” Zipursky said.
At the beginning of the event, coordinators reminded attendees that SAPAC is a free and confidential resource for students, staff and faculty on campus.
The first myth Zipursky focused on was the concept of a “real” survivor. She explained how various unique factors can lead survivors to feel silenced. Zipursky said many survivors feel increased stigmatization due to internal guilt or lack of ability to immediately identify their trauma.
Zipursky also explained how survivors who delay reporting sexual assaults or do not have clear memories of their assaults often fear that their claims will be perceived as illegitimate.
“There are so many ways our survivorship is invalidated,” Zipursky said. “For me, my survivorship was invalidated by the fact that I didn’t have clear memories of what happened to me. I have what I would describe as body memories or sensory memories that are sometimes called somatic memories.”
The second myth Zipursky expanded on was the idea that college is supposed to be the best time of a person’s life. She explained how the pressure to have the perfect college experience leaves little space for survivors to make space for their pain and healing.
Zipursky said while college should be a time for fun and friendship, her experience at the University also included struggle and pain. She said she struggled with the discrepancy between these two feelings.
“I felt that two things couldn’t be true at the same time,” Zipursky said. “I wish I could tell myself that the joy I was feeling was real, and just because I was having fun didn’t mean I wasn’t taking what I had been through and my pain seriously … We are allowed to feel all of it and to feel fully alive, whatever that means for us.”
Zipursky said some survivors feel they are incapable of developing meaningful connections during the healing process, such as through friendship or a romantic partner. She said helping others is a community effort between survivors and allies.
“Community is a source of resiliency and healing,” Zipursky said.
Zipursky said healing is different for each survivor due to a variety of factors, including socioeconomic status, sexuality, race and gender. She said prescriptive advice can lead to a singular sexual assault narrative being accepted, and those who do not relate to that experience or set of identities can feel silenced.
“I am a cis white hetero woman from a great deal of financial and economic privilege, and I was harmed by a cis man,” Zipursky said. “That follows a specific narrative of survivorship. This is the narrative that gets told most. I have friends whose story doesn’t follow this same narrative and feel very invalidated … Especially when it comes to people who are survivors who are queer and/or trans. There is this thing that happens due to homophobia and transphobia in our country, especially for child sex abuse survivors, people will pathologize survivors.”
Zipurksy also explained how the #MeToo movement has impacted how survivors who are privately coping perceive their trauma.
“I see it a lot with sharing our stories and being a public survivor,” Zipursky said. “Especially in this moment in time, in this particular iteration of Tarana Burke’s MeToo movement, we see a lot of public survivors who are being exalted as being courageous and brave, and it is having an unintended effect of having survivors who feel that doesn’t feel that is part of their healing journey feel less brave.”
In an interview with The Daily after the event, LSA senior Nicole Ireland said she enjoyed the discussion about using sex as a method for reclaiming a sense of control over one’s body.
“I like to hear about how sex can be used in a positive way and to take back your bodily autonomy, just having that control over the choices you make and how that can be helpful for those who have felt their choice has been taken away in the past,” Ireland said.
LSA senior Celine Roest said events such as these are crucial to creating a supportive campus environment.
“This is something that is so prevalent in the news and the media that we get,” Roest said. “Bringing in experts who can break it down for us and answer our specific questions is so helpful.”
Reporter Sofia Urban can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.