Never again will a single story be told
as though it's the only one.
– John Berger
At eighteen years old, Sarah is sentenced to six years in prison for physical assault.
In South Sudan, a fourteen year old girl named Fiona runs away from her work and home to marry her new found Prince Charming.
Katheryn, twenty-one, storms up the staircase of her boyfriend’s downtown apartment to collect her belongings and flee.
Stereotypes say these three girls are “troubled”. They’re unruly. It’s their own decisions that brought about their downfall and messy lifestyle. They’re to blame for the friends they’ve made, the drugs they’ve used, and the repercussions that have since resulted.
So it seems, to the bystander.
However, if they were able to tell their stories, would the tales look different? If their stories were no longer untold would perspectives change? Would people be influenced to move from being bystanders to first responders? From standing as onlookers with judgement to activists with understanding?
If Sarah were able to tell her story she’d describe the day as a little girl when she was playing “Hide and Seek” in the Miami sunshine with the other neighborhood children. One of the boys took her to a hiding place, shushed her to be quiet, and told her not to tell anyone what they had done in hiding (what he had done.) The PTSD of being raped as a child took on a life of it’s own. As she grew up, she treated her symptoms with alcohol, drugs, and decisions that made her feel in control.
Years later, as a middle-school student and under the influence, Sarah was taken from a party brought to another “hiding place”. Again, she was violated, degraded, and shushed. Confused about who was to blame, and ashamed all over again, she stayed quiet. She didn’t talk. The painful secrets remained in hiding, yet she could not hide from them herself.
Her adolescence passed and adulthood came, by the time her teenage trespasser resurfaced. Cornered at another party, his hand framed her cheek and she panicked. With the trauma rushing back and the rage taking over, she hurt him. Consequently, she was arrested and tried. She told only part of her story, the part that at least helped her to still feel in control.
The second story is about a young girl in South Sudan. Fiona’s impoverished family couldn’t afford to send her to school. She was offered a job as a house helper. So, she took a bus and moved seven hours away from her home village to earn meager wages for mere survival. She spent her days doing the cooking and cleaning for a family that gave her a bed. They treated her well. But she was still poor, lonely, and far from home. She was vulnerable.
One day, the family returned after work to find the dirty dishes still on the counter, the laundry remaining piled in the hamper, and no supper prepared. Fiona was last seen boarding a truck with few belongings in hand, a smile on her face, and her new lover by her side. The two had made a hush plan to move away and find a better life. Why, then, was he seen a week later, but she wasn’t?
The final character, Katheryn, chose to date her boyfriend and move in with him. She was charmed (deceived) by his good looks and spacious apartment. But what about the sex? Not just the sex with him, but the sex with his friends… And their friends. What about the drugs? Did she choose the drugs that made her numb to it all? Did she choose the alcohol to help her forget? The other side of her story isn’t so black and white, after all.
Eventually, Katheryn got out. We were able to help her. Stomping up the creaking steps of an old, somewhat wobbly apartment in downtown Louisville, KY, I held a box of extra durable trash bags in my hand, with Katheryn and another friend by my side.
We looked upon a disaster. Empty beer bottles rolled around the floor, crinkled newspapers laid everywhere, McDonald's bags adorned the area, and drunken strangers slept off their hangovers in the common room.
We guarded Kat as she loaded into trash bags all that she owned. We turned towards the door and left for good, because that was not the life that Katheryn had chosen for herself. She was fed up with being treated like the neglected trash that laid piled in the apartment.
At first glance the court only sees Sarah as a psychopath, an out-of-control teen with a forceful kick, and who made use of the beer bottle in her hand. Little did the court see that she was a traumatized rape victim, whose story went untold. We met Sarah years later, when she was roaming the streets in desperate need of a job, a place to stay, and someone to help her rehabilitate into society.
At first glance Fiona appears naive and misguided. No one knew about the pimp who charmed her, who built her up with manipulative affection and broken promises. Her so called “Prince Charming” told her lies of a better life in another town and monopolized on her vulnerability. Fiona went with him, unaware that she would be sold. Yet again, another story went untold. Fiona hasn't been seen, nor found, by her family or friends since.
At first glance one might think that Kat made the decision to live in a drug infested house of “friends” with her boyfriend, and that this was the lifestyle she chose. She was locked in a house with her phone taken, her every move monitored, and it was a long time before her story was ever told. Several years passed by before she told her story, before someone cared enough to move from bystander to responder and help her escape. Soon after, she was welcomed into the Refuge for Women recovery program. There she was properly cared for.
We’ve been fortunate enough to witness these stories, and to be a voice for the voiceless. Katheryn’s story was noticed before it was too late, she got to tell her own story and change the way it ended. However, Sarah, Fiona, and countless others remain silenced and locked away. Their stories were noticed too late. And others, their stories simply remain untold.
We are excited to announce that Refuge for Women has assembled a team of writers, more so, a team of listeners, who are dedicated in sharing what God is doing at every RFW home across the nation. This blog will stand to give a platform to those who have been shushed, hidden, and locked away. Refuge for Women is going full exposure with our Blog launch series, “No Longer Untold.” May the light of Jesus Christ that has shown so heavy on this ministry shine through each and every blog written. Softening hearts, and connecting everyone no matter their journey in life.
No longer will their stories go untold.
Don’t remain a bystander. Share this post to make their stories known. Like us on FB to hear more. Follow our blog to join the movement. Pray with us and take part in this community of activists. Let’s be storytellers.
More to come! You can expect stories from the writing team every first and third Wednesday of the month.
Disclaimer: Please note resident quotes and testimonies are provided for use by Refuge for Women, Inc. and its subsidiaries for the purpose of general communications and updates to staff, volunteers and potential supporters of Refuge. Identities of residents should always be protected. The contents of testimonies should not be used for any professional publications without permission from Refuge for Women, Inc.