To the Hidden Warr;or Women

I love my job. However, when I describe what I do, it takes place in hushed tones—the word “rape” escaping my lips with caution, watching the listener closely to see their reaction. People have shied away from me because of what I do, drawn closer within themselves while also telling me that I am brave, and that must be a tough job. I smile and tell them that it is, and thank them for their kind words, while changing the subject to something more acceptable. How can I say I love a job that requires me to talk to your children about how to deal with someone touching them in a place that you can’t talk about. Having to tell teens how to avoid someone taking advantage of them on prom night. Or sitting beside the hospital bed of a person who has just been violated in the most intimate way possible? How can I say I love my job when I fight so many sad things every day?

I’ll tell you how.

Through this job, I have met an army of women—women who keep going in the face of the greatest sadness, the greatest hopelessness, living out some of their biggest fears. (Don’t worry, men, some of you all have stepped up to join the fight, too, but this is for the women.) These are women I might never have met had I not chosen this path, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I can barely begin to describe the wonderful people that I know in this work, but I’m sure as hell going to try.

To the women who fight by my side in the trenches: you are my heroes. I don’t know how we get up and go to work every day in the face of some of the hardest things any human being will ever see, but I can tell you that my journey is made a lot easier with you walking it, too. Sometimes you go out in the dead of night, wiping the sleep from your eyes as you speed down the highway to someone who needs you, and sometimes you walk into a classroom in the middle of the day, armed with knowledge and a burning desire to help keep students from ever getting to see one of those nighttime responders, sitting beside the beds of the broken. (And I have sat on both sides of that table with you.) How could I have been so lucky to meet people with such incredible power, strength and conviction? You women are my greatest teachers, my friends, and I don’t know what I would do without you.

To the women whom I have sat beside: you are my inspiration. I have never seen such strength than seeing you go through the most horrible thing a person can experience, and you coming through to the other side, able to go on with your life and put the pieces back together. You fight a battle that no one can see, as you try to heal from the worst tragedy that you could possibly imagine: being ripped open from the inside out while someone took something that did not belong to them. The amount of courage it takes just to keep going through your life after something like that is something that I sit in awe of, praising the ground you walk on for crossing my path and showing me that bravery comes in many forms.

To the young women I teach: you are our future. I am honored to get to stand in front of you and talk to you, hear your opinions and give you information that can help you live your life in a healthier way. Sometimes I share pieces on my story with you, and sometimes I just tell you that I didn’t get this kind of education in school, but either way, I get to stand in front of you and see your young faces, facing harder things than I ever did in my youth, absorb the information that I’m giving you and exchanging ideas with me, willing to have a dialogue about the good things you deserve in this life, and how you can avoid the sh*tty ones. We might not always agree, but I pray that you take my words and tuck them away, saving them for a time that I hope never comes, the time when you need to take them out and remember that you deserve better and who can help you if someone else forgets that.

Some days I can’t imagine why I was called to do this job, what made me wake up one day and decide that I was going to spend my days immersed in the horrors of sexual violence and the frank conversations with teenagers about dating abuse or teaching young kids how to respond if someone hurts them. I can’t imagine who would want to go through this life every day surrounded by this sadness, this struggle, this fight for justice, even as I pull my car into work and get ready for another day. And then I look at the army of women around me, the ones who seek to build the strength and those that need the strength, and I remember. I remember what it’s like to be lifted up in strength, what it’s like to witness pure amazing power of will and vigor, what it’s like to spend my days in rooms of people that believe the same things that I do. I remember what it means to be sitting in a safe space, surrounded by people who want to do good, who have overcome demons and who want to empower and be empowered. I remember what it’s like to be overcome by tears of gratitude for the pure vulnerability and openness in the room, overcome by the courage and heart that people have shown by bearing their souls. And most importantly, I remember that I am not alone in this fight, that there are warr;ors beside me who are willing to stand beside each other, battle alongside each other and help carry each other’s swords when the war seems long and one of us gets tired.

So, you ask me why I love teaching consent to teenagers, body boundaries to kiddos, and sitting beside survivors of sexual violence? Because through this job, in this life, I have met so many warr;ors, and I am more than honored to do life with them. We are warr;ors, we are fighters and we don’t all wear capes. We wear armor, armor that the layperson can’t see, but armor, nonetheless. We are warr;or women, heroes in our own right, and I can’t wait to keep saving the world with you.

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