My body is a battlefield. Different people try to control it, take it, use it, own it, brand it for profit, demand their gender roles on it, or place their beauty and size standards on my body. My body. My beautiful body, covered in wounds of war.
― Kimmy DeVries
Violence is something we hear about and see nearly every day in our society. From local news reports to movies and even on social media, violence is very visible. Yet the survivors of violence often go unseen and unheard, and this is particularly true of survivors of sexual violence.
Even with all the media coverage recently of sexual assaults on college campuses and institutional cover-ups, we rarely allow survivors to talk about their experiences in their own words. By silencing the voices of survivors, we perpetuate a culture in which experiencing sexual assault is considered shameful. At Kansas City Anti-Violence Project, we work every day to inform survivors of violence that their voices are valid and that they do not deserve to feel shame.
After a sexual assault, the healing process can differ greatly among survivors. For Kimmy DeVries, one of KCAVP’s wonderful volunteers and a survivor of sexual assault, the telling of her story through writing had an impact not only on her own healing, but also in reaching out to others. I recently sat down with DeVries and we talked about the power of survivors’ voices and how she has reclaimed hers.
Victoria Pickering: You’ve been very open about your journey of healing after sexual assault. Do you mind sharing a little about what the experience has been for you?
Kimmy DeVries: The first time I was assaulted was years ago, and I thought I was OK, but not after it happened again last year. After the second assault, I was at a place of utter panic all the time. A friend told me to reach out to KCAVP, so I called and was able to start seeing Judi, my therapist. I realized that it didn’t have to be something that happened yesterday to call KCAVP and get help. Therapy has been really helpful for me because I’m doing all the work, but I have the support of someone who has the knowledge of how to handle these situations.
VP: Recently you have been writing about your experience and sharing your story with others. Why is that important for you?
KD: Through my writing, I can control the telling of my story, and I’ve been lucky that I have been given the tools to deal with some of these emotions. Through working with Judi, I decided to write a letter to the first man who assaulted me. I wrote it by weaving in parts of the poem, Blue Blanket by Andrea Gibson. This year, I met Andrea Gibson at MBLGTACC and I was able to tell her about the impact her poem had on my life. Sharing my story with her was amazing.
VP: Overall, what has been the reaction to telling your story?
KD: I have not had a single bad reaction, even when posting on Facebook.
VP: Do you feel safe using social media as a way to tell your story?
KD: For me, yes, but I’m lucky. I recognize that it might not be safe for everyone. It has been healing for me, as I share my story and take my voice back. I write for me, but if my words reach someone else, someone who might feel alone, maybe that will help them.
VP: I know last month marked the one-year anniversary of the second assault. Do you mind talking about the significance of that?
KD: I was surrounded by friends and I went to see live music, which was really important. A few weeks after the second assault, I started going to see live music regularly, and it really helped. I could listen and dance and I felt like I was coming into my own body. That’s when I started feeling alive again. On the anniversary, I celebrated it with almost as much joy and vigor as I had my birthday because I felt like I was myself again. These experiences don’t own me. They have created scars, but the scars have become something beautiful because I survived them.