Speaking Up About Abuse In The Age Of Trump

The time is now to break the silence and harness our collective power.

One of my earliest memories was when my mother was several months pregnant with my brother. I was 5 and it was winter in Chicago. My mother slipped down a flight of icy stairs in front of our home as we were leaving the house. She began crying, fearful of the impact this fall could have on her unborn child. My father started yelling at her, calling her “stupid Mexican.”

That memory is vivid in my mind almost 25 years later. And as Election Day approached, I thought a lot about that incident and hoped that a President Hillary Clinton—a daughter of a survivor of gender violence—would help us collectively break the silence around violence.

Like Hillary Clinton’s mother, my mother also faced gender violence and poverty as a child. In Mexico City, my mom was the fifth of nine children. She witnessed my grandfather drinking heavily and beating my grandmother with his belt. I grew up hearing the stories of how my mother would knock on neighbors’ doors, begging for food to eat.

Growing up, I felt ashamed and abnormal. I blamed myself for the violence in our family, and for the resulting poverty our family lived in. The shame compounded after my father was incarcerated. I felt my identity was tied to the acts of my parents—whatever they did or experienced, that reflected on me. So I started to hide this part of my life to seem normal.

“Normal” meant keeping silent about the truth. I never told people the truth about my father. I would instead say that he left my mom or that they “separated.” In high school, I feared telling a classmate that my mother cleaned homes and instead told him she was a nurse. When my mother gave me our SNAP-benefits card to pay at the grocery store, I pulled out my debit card instead, afraid that I would be judged by the cashier and thought of as less than human.

It is only in the last few years that I have started to talk about this part of my life openly with my friends and family. Opening myself to vulnerabilities has not been easy, especially when I have felt this vulnerable all my life. When my husband and I started dating, I was so afraid to tell him the truth and expected him to reject me. I expected the same reaction from a close friend when I shared my past. But they did not treat me as subhuman. Instead, my husband and friend extended their love, and told me to lean into them.

Like many people, the election results weighed heavily on me. I am overwhelmed with sadness because this country voted for a man who brags about sexually assaulting women. But I cannot even imagine how the survivors that disclosed Trump’s sexual abuse feel. It was not easy for these women to come forward. They now have powerful enemies and have risked their safety to warn voters of who this man really is. But the voters elected him as president anyway—a reaction that does not say lean in, but says “who cares.”

Well, I care. And on Wednesday night, on streets in multiple cities, I saw communities gather together and stand in solidarity for one another. As survivors and daughters of survivors, we can lean into each other and be each other’s community of support and validation. The time is now to break the silence and harness our collective power. Working collectively, we will not only hold Trump accountable, but we can stop the culture that tolerates violence against women and members of the LGBTQ community once and for all.

And for those who are not survivors or daughters of survivors, be vocal allies in this fight, not silent bystanders. We are human beings and no one can take that away from us. We do not need Hillary—a daughter of a survivor—to be our president to help us break the silence. She told us so. We already have that power within us.

Karla Altmayer is an advocate for survivors of workplace sexual violence and human rights attorney. Her experience as a Mexican-American daughter living in a single-parent home, significantly shaped her work, inspiring her to address both the intersectionality of gender violence and poverty. Since 2012, she has co-led a collaboration among sexual assault advocates and labor organizers through the Coalition Against Workplace Sexual Violence in Chicago.

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