According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), a child is sexually abused every 9 minutes. Amita Swadhin was one of them. In 1991, at the age of 13, she revealed to her mother that her own father has been sexually abusing her for years.
Mandated reporting requires the therapist to alert the authorities, and for Swadhin, that experience only heightened her trauma. “Social workers, police officers, and prosecutors descended on our home. And I use that word intentionally because that's how it felt," Swadhin remembers. "They threatened to incarcerate my mother who had been a victim of my father's violence for over 16 years.”
“Coming out for survivors of child sexual abuse, I feel like it's a very parallel process to coming out or coming out non-binary — which are two other pieces of my identity," says Swadhin. “Our intervention in rape culture is about uplifting who we feel are some of the most vulnerable survivors who often get left out of movements to end sexual violence. We center Black and indigenous two-spirit, transgender, intersex, and non-binary survivors of child sexual abuse specifically," says Swadhin.
Mirror Memoirs is one of several coalitions fighting for policy changes that would create safe and supportive resources for children who are sexually abused. Swadhin knows the grief that comes with addressing sexual trauma. She also knows how important community is to addressing sexual violence, fostering health relationships, and finding path to healing.
“How do you give consent for most of us who were raped or sexually assaulted as children, particularly by our family members or in our homes, it's very hard to learn these very basic things, but we have to figure out how to strengthen our ability to be in relationships, because that is literally the only thing that we have to rely on for our healing and our wellness.
To learn more about Amita's work and the upcoming archives project, visit Mirror Memoirs.
AMITA SWADHIN: There are so many of us. There's over 42 million child sexual abuse survivors in the United States alone. The rates are even higher for gender nonconforming kids.
80% of children who are being raped or sexually assaulted only disclose to another child, and then never speak of that violence again. I think we should all be using the phrase "global pandemic" to talk about child sexual abuse.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Hi, I'm Brittany Jones-Cooper, and welcome to "Unmuted." Today, we're joined by activist Amita Swadhin, who founded the Mirror Memoirs project as a place for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to share and heal. I read your story, and I know that you came out as a survivor of sexual abuse back in 1997. What inspired you to speak out so early?
AMITA SWADHIN: Coming out for survivors of child sexual abuse, I feel like it's a very parallel process to coming out queer or coming out non-binary, which are two other pieces of my identity. I was raped over 400 times as a child in my home between the ages of 4 and 12.
I was a teenager when I came out. For me, I was just trying to tell my mother my dad has been hurting me in this very incredibly serious way. Social workers, police officers, and prosecutors descended on our home. And it was a very difficult added layer of violence from the state when what we really needed was community support.
Because of all of that, I had an interest in systems change very early on. Because I understood that the systems were also hurting and not helping. That's why I helped to create a story-based archive that is also an organizing project. Because you have to be able to put language to that which you want to change.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: You call it an oral history project. So tell me what Mirror Memoirs entails.
AMITA SWADHIN: Mirror Memoirs-- we're a national organization. Our intervention in rape culture is about uplifting who we feel are some of the most vulnerable survivors who often get left out of movements to end sexual violence. Research is showing that its assigned male-at-birth children who are gender nonconforming who are actually experiencing sexual violence at the most disproportionately high rates, which means that we should be looking to the leadership of transgender women, particularly transgender women of color, to be the face of our movements to end sexual violence.
I traveled the country for a year and a half interviewing, one-on-one, other LGBTQI people of color who are survivors of child sexual abuse. Mirror Memoirs takes data from the stories and educates people. We're part of several coalitions that are fighting for the policy changes that we need across the country.
Many of our members were raped or sexually assaulted in state custody. In a system that is so violent and in which the state is actually a perpetrator for so many of us, we have to look beyond the state to think about what justice is. Survivors have the power and the wisdom to know what we need. That is why we use stories as a building block in our organizing work.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: What do you advise people if they want to come out and share their stories about being sexually abused?
AMITA SWADHIN: I think that there is a particular kind of grief that those of us who are child sexual abuse survivors must go through, where number one, we have to grieve our own experience. But then number two, as you start to learn about the ongoing pandemic of child sexual abuse, there is just grief about that.
And what I want to say to everyone who wants to support survivors is we should all be fighting for the passage of inclusive sex education curricula. Because young people are already experiencing this violence. They don't have training on how to support each other when they have mental health breakdowns.
I think a lot about James Baldwin saying "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Amita, thank you for all the work you're doing and the bravery to continue to push forward and talk about these issues.
AMITA SWADHIN: You're welcome. Thank you.