Crime Victims Right's Week Keynote Speaker
This past Tuesday, April 26th I was invited to speak at the annual Crime Victim's Rights Week candle light vigil. The event is held each year to honor all victims and survivors of violent crime. Traditionally, Crime Victims Assistance Center (CVAC) hosts a week of events honoring the victims we have lost and their families, as well as the first responders that are responsible for handling their cases. Locals might remember going to the Oakdale mall during this week and seeing the portraits of those who had lost their lives to violent crime in Broome County. That Memorial wall was always such a moving experience for me, as a child an as an employee at CVAC. I was lucky enough to work at CVAC for 5 years and am still a volunteer Crisis Advocate--but I made the decision to leave the agency in October of 2021.
During the years that I was an advocate at CVAC, I finally found a way to advocate for myself and went through the process of turning in the man who abused me as a child once the Child Victims Act has passed in New York State. That man pled guilty in 2018 and I know I would never have been able to get through that experience without the support of the individual counselors and my personal advocate during that time. It is a bittersweet time to reflect on for many reasons--as you can imagine. But it has gotten increasingly difficult for me to be both an advocate for survivors in my community, while advocating for the agencies and systems in place that are responsible for upholding their right's.
If there was one thing that I learned during my healing process is that all we truly have is our Selves. There can be endless people who come with offers of help, guidance or support--but the decision to truly set down your trauma is entirely on you. For me, it took leaving CVAC to focus on something more than pain and suffering. It took admitting that I can only advocate for others as long as I'm advocating for myself. It's a relief not to have to focus on my traumas and others traumas day in and day out--but it doesn't mean that I am any less fierce in my advocacy. So just because I went to support this event, hosted by this agency--I am deeply saddened by some of the harm it has caused our community in the most recent years.
This is a small town and secrets never really are. I wanted to share the piece I recited at the event on Tuesday. It started as a poem I wrote while processing the trial, my experiences at work and the decline of my relationship during the years following his guilty plea. I chose not share intimate details about my experience because this is not about pity. This is about the process of becoming empowered. This is about how I found my voice. This is about the good things that I can take with me and what I chose to leave behind. This is about knowing that my affiliation and my advocacy are not the same thing. I am aligned with the members of my community who choose the heal their own way. I am aligned with the members of my community who lack safe spaces and must create their own. At the end of the day, we keep us safe.
This piece is called Secrets, and it was prepared for the annual Crime Victims Right's Week event.
The secret about secrets is that they never really are
Could never be without its keeper or keepers
Secrets are more like water if you ask me
We all seem to need them, oddly—obsessively
Fluid and never fixed, the holder truly matters
One decides what to transfer into the next keeper—and so on
Sometimes—like water—your secrets might evaporate before anyone could notice
Other times our secrets get frozen in time like a snapshot of shame, or barbaric lust
Hanging off of the lips of those thirsty for the undisclosed
Spilling out through feeds air waves tabloids and headlines
Circulating as an element of the human atmosphere—60% of the human condition is water
I’d say 60% of the human condition is keeping secrets
40% is freeing them
And yours pour out of me these days
Held within for far too long and I’m drenched in them from head to toe
Still having bouts of detox and body shakes—cold sweats and tears
Not as often as before
I’ve forgotten so much of you its a blessing
Some secrets never get to experience the beauty of exposure
I’m painfully aware how lucky I am that mine have been purged
I’m also painfully aware how many survivors hold onto their stories without the pursuit of quote, unquote Justice.
I recently took a look at some statistics, while preparing for this I was alarmed to find that in March of 1987 it was determined that within a 20 year of an individual’s life they have an 87% chance of experiencing a violent crime. This was nearly 40 years ago and I’m guessing we can all assume what this number looks like today.
What I really wish is that there was more that I could do but if there’s anything I’ve learned in my last decade of advocating for trauma survivors it’s that there are so many things that we have no control over in this life. All that I can do is role model it looks like to have lived it, survived it and healed. And then kept healing some more. And then did it every single day for everyone to see so that they know they can too. That they can reclaim the narrative of their lives and find healing in aspect of their lives. I know that I could never have done that while I was holding onto someone else’s secrets.
More than anything today I find it urgent to remind everyone to be kind to themselves and to be kind to others. I find it urgent to remind you that there are individuals who are able to help you and support you through your darkest times. I find it urgent to remind everyone that the probability that you are surrounded by people who have survived unbearable trauma and life changing events is higher than ever. At this time, I would like invite you join in lighting a candle in honor of Crime Victims Rights Week, in honor of a loved one, in honor of your Self. And I would also like to extend the biggest thank you to CVAC for hosting this event.