In this episode of Wellspringwords: The Podcast, Nkem chats with writer Kaley Roberts about her reported memoir, Unreported, a book that investigates the unreported nature of sexual violence in the USA. In the safe space of this podcast, Nkem and Kaley’s conversation acts as a form of resistance as they speak openly about sexual violence. Throughout the discussion, the two speak about moving through the conditioned silencing they’ve experienced as women and sexual violence as a spiritual issue. It’s a heavy subject, but Nkem and Kaley handle it with care, compassion, and as much clarity as they can. Let us know what this episode brought to mind or heart for you in a podcast review, on Instagram, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be well!
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Kaley brings to us her courageous story through her experience of sexual assault, sprouted from pain but also curiosity. Since publishing Unreported, she has continued living in Manhattan and has recently begun tapping into her spirituality. Especially given her location in New York City and the seemingly never-ending pandemic, Kaley has sensed an underlying low feeling and energy from the city’s inhabitants as well as herself. While our own mortality is constantly being threatened, — and therefore can only, in rare moments, leave our minds — Kaley knew she needed to connect with something greater than herself. She and Nkem recognize that our insights don’t have to be revolutionary or innovative — the simple truths can resonate the most when you truly sit with them. When something resonates, listen.
Kaley’s journey has brought her to spirituality and an essential part of that journey has been her book. It feels amazing to have her work and her story out in the world, especially after the long and complicated process of writing an entire book. As writers and artists know too well, according to us, our work can always be improved, there is always another draft that could be written but that’s when deadlines come in handy. Kaley came to the conclusion that submitting the manuscript made her finally feel comfortable with the world reading. Fortunately, turning it in gave her more space to play and be free with the other aspects of selling a book like designing the cover and doing marketing and book signings. What was to come once readers actually got it in their hands would be even more rewarding.
For Kaley, the process of writing this book, however excruciating, was also a source of healing. Since it deals with experiences of sexual violence, her own, and the stories of other women, this project had a very specific goal of not only being informative but also creating a safe space. The book can be described as a reported memoir — it contains the stories of nine other women who did not report their assault as well as interviews with advocates, detectives, and others who are well-researched on the subject. The bookends are about the statistics and establishing the scope of the problem, which is obviously huge, given the intense patriarchal nature of the USA. Kaley’s inspiration for highlighting the need for a safe space, “the front porch revolutionary”, came from nights spent growing up on the front porch of her family’s house. That front porch held a space for the women in her family: her mom, aunt, grandmothers, and sisters, to have open and honest conversations about anything. As women, cultivating a space to have such an experience is powerful and revolutionary in that it can ease the weight of our oppression when a large part of our oppression is forced silence and threats to our safety.
At the core of this book is Kaley’s experience with sexual violence which demanded deeper thinking on the subject. When Kaley was assaulted, she thought reporting it would be extremely harmful to her healing process but, a year later, she started to question it. As she started to have more and more conversations with her friends and partners about this phenomenon of sexual violence being the most unreported crime in the USA, she asked, “Why do we have a system for reporting that feels so juxtaposed to what victims need?”
The book highlights individual stories but Nkem points out that sexual assault is not just an individual or societal issue — it is also spiritual. For so long, we as a global society have catered to the hyper-masculine energy of war, over-productivity, and other values of an overly-augmented patriarchal society, but it is now time for the feminine values of feeling, love, compassion, stillness, and authenticity to come to the forefront. Our current paradigm has made it so the perpetrators who enact violence on others are enabled, causing a massive imbalance and continued abuse. However, because these perpetrators are often just responding to and continuing cycles of hurt, can we confine them to labels of being inherently bad or good people? Perhaps it is because of these innate complexities of human nature that in Kaley's conversations and interviews, she’s found that the responses she got were extremely spiritual — individuals reported feeling heard, seen, knowing they belong, and using something greater to guide them.
Kaley’s healing journey after sexual violence was deliberately just that, deep healing, as opposed to being about justice. She made this choice because her assault had already occurred, there was no going back to prevent it, so she didn’t see why she should punish and alter her assaulter’s future with the potential of carrying the weight of his consequences. A conversation with a past boyfriend caused Kaley to look at justice in a different way: that the act of reporting could stop the perpetrator from doing the same to other people. Or not. Reporting may protect others but that doesn't change how inaccessible it feels. On top of that, it places so much responsibility on the victim to pursue a battle for the sake of others on top of the trauma they are already facing. In different cultural contexts, this is especially relevant since people experience assault and oppression to smaller or larger degrees within any given environment without necessarily useful support structures. As well, a lot of the time, you can’t make the decision to take action when you have other responsibilities to uphold.
As women, the experience of being resilient by taking what comes and bracing it despite any pain, tends to be an expectation placed on us, but it has consequences for our inner peace. For Nkem, her expression cannot be separated from her sense of self-worth. If she feels that she can't fully express herself, she will also feel like she isn't worthy of being in that space. Rejection of her authentic expression is detrimental to herself and her ego. When she is silenced by someone, it is another thing she has to take and brace against. This need for expression, as much as it comes from creativity, is also probably because of being silenced as a woman in the past and now bursting open with a need to make up for not being able to share her mind and her worth with others. Kaley points out that expressing is also about the incredibly gratifying desire to connect and be seen as well as see other people.
This expressive quality doesn’t appear the same way in everyone and especially varies in the way that people deal with and express their trauma. Kaley’s experience with assault was a secret from certain people in her life — the same goes for the women featured in her book. In her book, many people chose to be anonymous and go by aliases. This can be quite helpful in the context of assault and various other traumas and persecution for the sake of protecting yourself from more harm. At the same time, it can leave you dissatisfied and consumed with hypotheticals of worst-case scenarios. When you don’t fully express yourself, you’re left to wonder how people will perceive you; coming from a place of fear often means assuming they will not accept you if you present your full self. When possible, despite how intimidating it can feel in the moment, choosing to be vulnerable can be the key to connecting with others. The hardest things to say aloud to another human being can be what they need to hear, and it can also be the key to lifting that weight off of your shoulders — letting someone else help you carry it.
Kaley’s book utilizes the power of narrative reclamation by doing just that: being vulnerable in the act of sharing. She is a big believer in stories serving as a tool for connection and has noticed recent mainstream popularity for boldly presenting your story to the world. Storytelling is beneficial to the storyteller as well as whoever may be on the receiving end. The storyteller gets the opportunity to abolish all the false narratives they’ve created about how people will react if they share their story; the audience gets to feel less alone, as stories so often portray a reflection of our own self. Particularly in the USA, we tend to bounce pain off of each other and continue to hurt, instead of opening up and helping each other. We forget that we are all one single consciousness who is worthy of love and share the same pain. Oppressing one group of people may benefit the other to some extent, but there will always be negative consequences even for the group that holds the power. There is a lesson to be learned in all of our suffering, and unfortunately going through the hard stuff is often necessary for us to grow as people. Thinking back to episode five with Clare, Nkem brought up the idea that any of us could raise children who turn out to be assholes. Although that may not be our ideal scenario, it still serves a very important purpose. Assholes potentially create scenarios and lessons for other people to grow from — which can at times be more effective than a warm & gracious teaching hand. With the exception of extremes, finding something positive in negative experiences is essential to survival and growth. In this respect, many of the women Kaley spoke with experienced sexual violence but after, with time, pushed themselves and found more success as a result.
We’ve discussed sexual violence on the individual and spiritual level, but thinking about it societally can be hard to grasp given how pervasive it is. Kaley realized how common sexual assault was when she left her hometown bubble and heard stories from her friends who experienced it in college, as well as stories on the news. She wondered, “Is that going to happen to me?” because of how common the experience became for all the women she knew. Nkem feels this more as a black woman as opposed to just as a woman. While people see her body and identify her as a woman, it is being black that garners more attention. Outside of the USA, the people who may stare at her or give her strange looks do so because of the rampant fetishization of attractive black people. Throughout Kaley and Nkem’s lives, as they’ve navigated the challenges and oppression that come with being a woman, they’ve learned that healing does not need to happen alone — in fact, it shouldn’t. Telling someone about how you’re feeling and what you’ve gone through makes the healing journey so much more bearable because you get to take the experience out of your mind and your body.
While Kaley and Nkem can only speak to their own experience as women who have experienced assault, the male experience of sexual assault is just as, if not more, complex. With men, there’s an added element of secrecy due to the existing cultural homophobia, making it even harder to be open about their experiences. Shame and invalidation take form in an entirely different way especially considering that men already don’t have as many spaces to be open and honest with each other.
Nkem recognizes that when dealing with such intense experiences and feeling the weight of them, she has to turn to joy. She’s naturally very optimistic as well as inclined to feel safe and at home in joyfulness. If you’re at all familiar with astrology, she has a Leo stellium: a stellium is when you have three or more planets in one sign/house, and Leo is all about expression, creativity, joy, and ego — making those some of her most ingrained values and practices. Kaley also relates to this because she has Mars in Leo in her first house, meaning Leo energy is very prominent in her identity and feelings — however, juxtaposed with being a Taurus and having a Taurus stellium. When it comes to delving deeper into yourself and getting to know others, astrology can be such a useful and accessible tool for connection. It allows us to have a shared language that makes its way deep into our identities and personhood with just one conversation. It can help us understand ourselves and others in a way that is especially necessary when having conversations about trauma.
To connect with Kaley, her email is email@example.com. Feel free to reach out if you want to hop on a call to talk about healing or what steps to take next on your healing journey. Her book is at any bookstore; just tell them you’re looking for Unreported by Kaley Roberts and they will order it for you. Or, you can order it on Amazon. Let us know if this conversation brought anything to mind or heart for you in a podcast review on Apple Podcasts or Podchaser, on Instagram, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be well!