Updated: Feb 3, 2022
This October, Incest AWARE is celebrating our one year anniversary! In such a short amount of time, we have established ourselves as a unique organization that ensures children are raised in safe family systems where their bodies are respected and their futures protected, and, provides solution-oriented supports to assist adult incest survivors through healing. We are so proud of the work that we do and the community we do it with. This is how we began and what we’ve been up to.
The Beginning of Incest AWARE
Incest AWARE began as a block within Suzanne Isaza’s belly. A bellowing voice that screamed, “What happened to me, must not happen to others!” Sexually abused by her father, she knew that she was not the only one. There were so few people and organizations centered around this specific type of sexual violence– the kind that happened in the home where the providers and the perpetrators were the same people.
Then, Suzanne met Anne M. Lauren, a survivor, author, and activist. Anne too felt this inner screamer, this deep desire to build a community for incest survivors and systems to protect the next generation of children from sexual violence. Together they began to dream of a safer world by considering solution-oriented strategies to end incest.
Problems for Incest AWARE to Tackle
When we refer to “incest” we are talking about the sexual abuse of a person by a family member or a primary caregiver such as a stepparent. It becomes particularly complicated to heal from this type of trauma when a child’s providers or relatives and perpetrators are the same people, often made of the same flesh, carrying the same genetic code and last name. The abuse done to us can cause conflict within ourselves, our families, and society. Incest survivors often suffer and heal alone.
As survivors, we know that our adult brains weren’t built to understand safety and that our bodies constantly react to what is perceived as unsafe stimuli or triggers. From the inside out, our systems began to attack themselves long ago to cope with the violence, now manifesting as auto-immune diseases, psychosomatic symptoms, and mental health challenges. Often, even safe places can feel unsafe due to lack of familiarity. The path to find a safe sense of self, family, and social, financial, and medical support can be a long and arduous process. Often, survivors find it challenging to even speak of their experiences.
Suzanne and Anne observed a lack of common language around incest– a word that makes people cringe just to listen to it. Often assumed to be consensual, when the word is used, it frequently describes romantic intercourse between relatives and the potential reproductive consequences, as opposed to the more common unwanted sexual coercion of children by adult family members. Even in our language, incest abuse survivors get lost in the conversation leaving children vulnerable to violence and adult survivors isolated in healing.
This lack of language contributes to an increase in ignorance and decrease in awareness. What can we do to change this horrifying scenario if we can’t even talk about it? Families are assumed to be safe, the best people to provide for their children. In the case of unsafe families, we have the system- foster care- where sexual violence is also known to be widely practiced. Often, survivors have nowhere to go. Without awareness, they are left seeking solutions solo.
The media often uses stories of incest as sellable and scandalious plot twists often leaving out the complexities of the consequences of such treatment on survivors– the physiological, psychological, and neurological impacts, the seemingly impossible healing processes, the financial, relational, and personal costs that can be a life or death sentence for some survivors.
The presence of these pervasive problems motivated Suzanne and Anne’s persistent dream to create a collective of awareness about incest– to define the word properly, to increase accountability, to find solutions, to build systemic supports, and to be represented in the media truthfully. TO LEARN ABOUT IT. TALK ABOUT. END IT.
Solutions for Incest AWARE to Create
As they began to reach out to others, Suzanne and Anne found that the voice within their belly did not sing a duet. Instead, others heard this same scream within and were just as ready to join the chorus by answering its call. Survivors and supporters alike sang, YES!, to Suzanne and Anne, WE’RE READY TOO! So many of us had to suffer the incest abuse alone and the healing that followed. So many of us dream of safer family systems for tomorrow’s children. Today, we choose to advocate in communion. We refuse to be solitary in our solutions. We know the pain of communal ignorance and commit to creating the clarity of community validation.
Just one year ago, Incest AWARE collaborated with experts from personal and professional experiences to build a website– a digital resource– a place where survivors and supporters could connect and create together a community where people could learn about what incest is, the impacts it has on survivors, and the supports necessary to break the patterns of violence and heal those who have been victimized by it. The website was launched and more people came to help Suzanne and Anne. Little did they know that this was just the beginning.
Then a blog was born. A platform where those competent in incest, recovery, and systematic supports could come together and share their knowledge. One publication a month by survivors, in just one year, it has become the most popular platform for incest survivors and supporters to share their expertise to increase awareness of sexual violence within the home and family system.
Social networks formed– Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube pages and profiles– to share these stories and solutions with a broader audience. The community came and wanted to be more engaged. Some of us were father/daughter incest survivors, some of us sibling/sibling, some of us were abused by cousins, stepparents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, some of us were simply supporters– a loved one of a survivor.
Expanding Incest AWARE
Then, Suzanne and Anne wanted to scale to a greater audience, so they built a board, created a fundraiser, and began preparing to become a non-profit. Jane Epstein, a survivor and the founder of Complicated Courage, an organziation that brings awareness specifically to SSA (Sibling Sexual Abuse), committed to the board. Rona Brodrick, the mother of a survivor and the creator of M*OASIS (Mothers of Adult Survivors of Incest and Sexual Abuse) did so too. Finally, Dr. Lori Pitts, the founder of Still Whole Wellness, a survivor, holistic and spiritual healer joined the team.
With a larger group with a conglomeration of skills and passions, more could be accomplished and Incest AWARE contined to evolve. The OutSPOKEN Series was launched as a way to interview those passionate about this issue. Feather Berkower, Founder of Parenting Safe Children, a licensed clinical social worker and one of the nation’s leading experts in child sexual assault prevention, interviewed with Suzanne to discuss increased awareness of abuse within the home. Brad Watts, LPC, an author who recently published Sibling Sexual Abuse: A Guide for Confronting America's Silent Epidemic, also joined the series to talk about his work with what motivates siblings to abuse and how to stop it. Lastly, Pennie Saum, a survivor of over 18 years of incest, the Founder of The Brave and Unbroken Project, and a TED Talk speaker. Pennie provided tips and strategies she has learned for gaining the confidence and skills to become an effective advocate. Each month, more brave survivors and speakers will be sharing their expertise. All interviews are published on the Incest AWARE YouTube Channel.
Community conversations continued as the board connected with others who wanted to promote awareness of this subject. Incest AWARE will partner with Dr. Ethan Levine, a researcher, advocate, and consultant who has been supporting survivors of sexual violence and partner abuse for more than 15 years. We will work with Dr. Levine and their violence education university course to gather data and information with the goal of improving our services and resources, including training and curriculum development. The organization will also be partnering with Dr. Levine to create a public poll which aims to increase our understanding of a incest survivor’s past/present experience. Incest AWARE believes these are important projects that will fill some of the gaps of knowledge about incest awareness in America.
Every quarter of the year, Incest AWARE has gathered in a community of over 30 people to discuss the prevalence of incest and ways to solve the problem. Every month, we have released a newsletter to keep our constituents clear about the programs we’re developing, the events we’re organizing, and the people we’re promoting. Every week, we reach out to an author, or a producer, or a publisher to let them know when their message about incest is Not Quite RIGHT and how they can improve their messaging to protect children and support survivors. Our newest program, run by Dr. Lori Pitts, called I’ve Got Your BACK, will meet monthly to support survivors in healing.
It has only been one year and look at what we've accomplished together! We are so proud of what we’ve built with this powerful community and thank you for your involvement, your support, your contribution, your care. We are looking forward now with hope for prevention and healing so children can be raised in safe family systems where their bodies are respected and their futures protected, and adult survivors have all the access they need to heal whole.
- The Incest AWARE Board