Daily Triggers

Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor on stage in Madison, Wisconsin, 2017. Photo by Callen Harty.

Trigger Warning: This post is about sexual abuse, harassment, and child sex abuse. Please take care of yourself first and foremost and please seek help if anything along these lines has happened to you.


Pretty much every day now there are new stories about sexual assault and sexual harassment in the media. In the headlines today:

  • Former Today Show host Matt Lauer broken and ashamed
  • Congressperson John Conyers resigns after sexual harassment claims
  • Multiple storylines about Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore
  • Former Apprentice contestant sues Donald Trump for defamation for calling her a liar after she claimed he groped her
  • 18-year old in California admits to sexually abusing upwards of 50 children
  • Top gossip editor accused of sexual misconduct (Dylan Howard of the National Enquirer and other titles under the umbrella of American Media, Inc.)
  • Terry Crews suing agent who allegedly groped him
  • Hyperloop cofounder Pishevar takes leave after harassment allegations
  • Netflix fires Danny Masterson after rape allegations
  • John Oliver grills Dustin Hoffman over harassment claims

These headlines are from just a quick glance at two different sites that present stories from various news sources.

The amazing and wonderful thing about this is that victims and survivors are speaking up and being heard in ways that have never happened before. Women are claiming their power. People who have held pain and secrets for most of their lives are finally speaking their truths and releasing themselves from the chains of horror that have held them for years. It can be empowering to witness how quickly some perpetrators have fallen from grace and have had to face what they have done to countless women and, in some of the cases, men and children. In many cases it feels like some form of justice has been meted out, even when the statutes of limitations have long since expired and it seemed like there would never be any resolution.

One can hope that this is a seminal moment on the long path toward the goal of eliminating sexual assault and some of the barriers for reporting it. It has historically been difficult for victims to come forward for many reasons–shame, fear, the likelihood of not being believed, the inability to face what happened, victim blaming, and more. Watching dozens of people coming forward and stating their truths and getting results could very well lead to many more secrets being revealed, and that is a positive thing. Bringing these kinds of secrets into the light makes it more difficult for acts in darkened corners to remain hidden.

The flip side of it is that for survivors of sexual assault to see and hear each of these stories and all the sordid details can be incredibly triggering. Some cannot deal with these stories. Some will not read a single one of the articles because they bring up too many difficult emotions. For some, just the headlines are too hard.

As a survivor of nearly eight years of childhood sex abuse I feel connection with those who are talking now and I want to know their stories. I empathize with them. I don’t care about the famous people involved, but I know that through their fame they are drawing attention to a story that is not new to those of us who have survived and pushed our way through our own sometimes difficult, sometimes beautiful healing journeys. While the stories draw me in they also sadden me because I feel them so strongly. They remind me of my own painful past and the long road I have traveled to where I am today. The last several weeks have been both exhilarating and deeply depressing and there are entire days when I am pretty much numb from it all.

Part of the numbness is from the stories that remain unresolved. The Roy Moore story is the most difficult for me. Multiple women have accused him. One was only 14 years old. One has a yearbook with his signature. Yesterday it was revealed that one of the women has cards and other memorabilia from the judge, who claims he never knew any of the women who have come forward. And yet, there are people who choose to believe that all of these women are lying–that Roy Moore’s denials are more believable.

This is the kind of disbelief that survivors often intimately know. It is often easier for a mother to believe that their child is lying or misinterpreted something than to believe that a close family member or friend would violate trust in that way. It is easier for a person to think that a woman is making up a story because of her political beliefs than a friend of theirs would do the things she claims. I believe that most people know underneath it all what the truth is, but they can’t face it because it is too horrible or it doesn’t fit their conception of the world. Or they choose to ignore it because other things like winning an election are more important to them. This is what causes the most numbness, to understand that the lives of women and children who have been victimized are so worthless to some people that they can be tossed aside in the name of other gains.

If Roy Moore wins his election it will silence countless victims who will see that society doesn’t care about their stories despite the handful of powerful men who have recently lost jobs. If Kevin Spacey makes a triumphant return to the screen there will be boys who suffer in silence well into adulthood, knowing that their perpetrators can get away with it, too. These thoughts make me numb. I believe the women who have accused Roy Moore. I believe the men who have shared stories about Kevin Spacey. I believe the women who have accused Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, and others. And even though I have always admired Al Franken, Garrison Keillor, and others I also believe their accusers.

What I want, and what I believe most of these victims want, is for those who have assaulted others and gotten away with it to face themselves, their victims, and society, and acknowledge the sins they’ve hidden all these years. That is the biggest thing, because with that as the beginning we can all begin to move toward a place of healing for ourselves and for the world in which we live. We can talk about these issues in honest ways and we can recreate our culture at this juncture in our timeline. We can create a world in which everyone is respected and honored and sexual assault and harassment no longer exist. That can only happen if we accept and understand how prevalent sexual abuse is, deal with it honestly, and work together to end it. Let us hope that these daily triggers can help lead us to that day.


About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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