By Jen Schenker, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
It has taken me a long time to be able to admit that I was a victim of sexual assault; once when I was five and once when I was 19. It took even longer for me to recognize myself as a survivor, but once I did, I knew that I wanted to work with others who had their voices stolen. However, it was difficult to hear other people talk about their experiences when I still had not figured out how to heal from my own trauma.
Every time I told my story I struggled to find the perfect words that would describe what it felt like to exist in a space where someone I loved destroyed my spirit. The English language has so many fantastic adjectives, nouns, and verbs but none of them seemed to do a good enough job. Some say that the arts were created to go where plain words cannot; to abstractly represent the myriad of thoughts and emotions that we humans experience but cannot entirely describe to others. When I heard about FORCE and the work that they were doing with The Monument Quilt, I knew that it would be a chance to recount my journey from victim to survivor.
The quilt is made up of 4’x4’ red squares that survivors and supporters create and send in to FORCE. Once all the squares are completed and received, they will all be stitched together into a massive quilt that will span the lawn in front of The National Mall in Washington, DC. The quilt project allows people to come together nationwide to support one another while also raising awareness about sexual assault. I could not resist the chance to get crafty and have some time for self-reflection.
Yet, how does a story of sexual assault fit into a 4’x4’ space? This was something that I struggled with when I began designing my quilt square. I knew that I wanted to put some sort of message on my square and that I wanted it to have a figure or image that represented my narrative. I finally settled on a quote that has been very important to me and the image of a phoenix to symbolize how it felt to overcome the trauma. Throughout the process of making my quilt square, I found that I had to take a lot of self-care breaks. With each paint stroke and stitch in the fabric memories that I thought were long gone came rushing back to the surface. Neither one of my attackers went to jail and one of them died eight years ago, so many of my questions will never be answered nor will justice ever be served. Time has dulled the pain quite a bit, but those times in my life will always be tainted.
During my moments of self-care and reflection, I realized how proud I was of myself for getting back up after being knocked down. My design started to become a reality and I was surprised by how well my square represented my journey to the present. I started to get excited about the finished product and traveling to Washington to see the squares that others have made. Many of the survivors who will be making quilt squares will do so at various workshops across the country so they will have the ability to meet other survivors and supporters. I think I would have gotten even more out of being able to work on my project while talking to others who have their own stories to tell. My journey is not complete, but I am very much looking forward to the future and I hope others can get as much as I did out of this project.
Jen Schenker is a graduate student at UNC-Greensboro working towards her MS/EdS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. As a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault, she is passionate about advocating for other survivors and likes to divide her time between counseling and fighting for social justice. In the future, she plans to pursue a doctoral degree in Counseling and Educational Development, continue advocating, and counsel others affected by domestic violence/sexual assault.