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#SVYALit: Author Christa Desir discusses the Voices and Faces Project

Four years ago, I participated in the first Voices and Faces Project survival testimonial writing workshop. Entitled “The Stories We Tell”, this is a two-day writing workshop geared toward survivors of rape, domestic violence, and sexual trafficking.

I have long been affiliated with the Voices and Faces Project. I am one of the founding members and remain president of the board. The mission of the project is to give a voice and a face to survivors of sexual violence so that myths about rape can be dispelled in media, in culture, and more importantly in people’s minds.

The writing workshop is a natural offshoot of this mission. It’s not a “healing” workshop so much as a workshop to teach survivors about the power of testimony in changing culture. The workshop itself is full of important readings: from Martin Luther King to Sandra Cisneros to Primo Levi. And the writing exercises are what ultimately led me to a first draft of FAULT LINE.

The two days in that workshop changed my life. Not just because for the first time I was able to find a voice in my writing, but more because of the stories other people told in that room. Over and over again I heard horrifying stories of unimaginable violence followed by absolutely amazing tales of resilience and survival.

In that room I met a beautiful woman named Sarah who was gang raped with three friends on the Appalachian Trail. This went on all night until she and her friends finally hid in the trees and the perpetrators were too drunk to track them. When she got home and went through the trial, things were equally as bad for her because there were no rape shield laws at that time to protect her from the defense attorney’s horrifying scrutiny of the girls’ sexual past or the media’s printing all their names, ages, and schools in the paper. Her story cut me to the bone and yet her survival has been the thing I keep going back to when I’ve felt that there was little hope for anything ever changing. Sarah changed my life. In the same way that every survivor I’ve ever spoken to or advocated for in hospital ERs has changed my life. They have all become my sisters and brothers. My family in sorrow and survival.

When I sold FAULT LINE, I always knew that half of whatever I earned from that book would go back to the survivor testimonial writing workshop. Because I want other survivors to have access to something like this. I want them to be able to find their own voices and write their own stories. I want them to be in a room with other survivors and know that there is hope, there is a way to make it through, and that they have people who want to listen.

Because of FAULT LINE and my readers and the writing community, I have now been able to fund two additional writing workshops. And “The Stories We Tell” has grown. Other people have participated in it and helped to get more funding. Last year we did five workshops. This year, we have plans for more. I am so proud of the work that we’re doing with survivors and so incredibly grateful for all the people who have come forth to donate, offer assistance, spread the word, help in whatever way they can. You have all helped me and other survivors more than you can ever know.

About Christa Desir: I live outside of Chicago with my awesome husband, Julio, and our three children. When I’m not writing, I am an editor of romance novels. I am also a feminist, former rape victim advocate, lover of coffee and chocolate, and head of the PTA.

Christa Desir is the author of Fault Line and Bleed Like Me

About Lived Through This:

In these pages you’ll meet a community of rape and sexual violence survivors who have been shaped, but refuse to be defined, by their histories of violence. They are brave, and they are outspoken—but, mostly, they are hopeful.
From its insistently resolute opening essay to its final, deeply moving story, Lived Through This is a book that defies conventional wisdom about life in the wake of sexual violence, while putting names and faces on an issue that too often leaves its victims silent and invisible.

Part personal history of Anne Ream’s own experience rebuilding her life after violence, part memoir of a multi-country, multi-year journey spent listening to survivors, Lived Through This is at once deeply personal and resolutely political. In these pages we are introduced to, among others, the women of Atenco, Mexico, victims of rape and political torture who are speaking out about gender-based violence in Latin America; Beth Adubato, a woman who was raped by a popular athlete and then denied justice when her college failed to fully investigate the attack; and Jenny and Steve Bush, a rape survivor and her father who are working together to share Jenny’s testimony of surviving rape at the hands of a veteran in order to alter the US military’s response to sexual violence committed by those in its ranks.

Writing with compassion, candor, and, at times, even much-needed humor, Ream brings us a series of stories and essays that are as insistent as they are incisive. Considered individually, her profiles are profoundly moving, and even inspiring. Considered collectively, they are a window into a world where sexual violence is more commonplace than most of us imagine.

The accomplished and courageous women and men profiled in Lived Through This are, in the words of the author, “living reminders of all that remains possible in the wake of the terrible.” (Published April 2014 by Beacon Press)

About Fault Line:

Ben could date anyone he wants, but he only has eyes for the new girl — sarcastic free-spirit, Ani. Luckily for Ben, Ani wants him too. She’s everything Ben could ever imagine. Everything he could ever want.

But that all changes after the party. The one Ben misses. The one Ani goes to alone.

Now Ani isn’t the girl she used to be, and Ben can’t sort out the truth from the lies. What really happened, and who is to blame?

Ben wants to help her, but she refuses to be helped. The more she pushes Ben away, the more he wonders if there’s anything he can do to save the girl he loves. (Published October 2013 by SimonPulse)

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