A survivor of sexual assault, Amita Swadhin experienced years of abuse by her parents throughout her childhood, including eight years of rape by her father.
But last Thursday, loud applause filled the theater hall when Swadhin, now a sexual assault survivor, came on stage and introduced herself with a soft-spoken, sophisticated tone of voice.
There were almost no empty chairs left in the hall. The warm welcome quickly transformed into a thoughtful silence that reflected the sensitivity of the topic.
The Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies and the department of Asian and Asian American Studies helped to arrange a movie screening of “Secret Survivors,” where Swadhin was a guest speaker, in the Beach Auditorium at Cal State Long Beach.
Today, Swadhin is an educator, storyteller, activist and has been a consultant for nonprofit organizations for more than 15 years. She said she is dedicated to fighting interpersonal and institutional violence against young people.
Since her internship at the Office of Violence Against Women at the U.S. Department of Justice in 1997, she has been a frequent speaker at university conferences and community organizations where she has often discussed being a survivor of child sexual abuse.
She thinks that the high level of stigma and taboo associated with child sexual abuse is the reason why a lot of people do not dare to talk about their experiences.
“I think about the fact that 20 percent of the U.S. population experience child sexual abuse,” Swadhin said. “This means that everybody in this room either is a survivor or has a loved one who is a survivor. This is a public health issue that affects all of us.”
After a short introductory speech, “Secret Survivors” appeared on the screen. The movie was a 40-minute-long documentary that featured survivor activists throughout the country and included Swadhin as one of them.
Rosie Kar, a lecturer in the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Department, took the initiative to arrange the movie screening. She said she believes that talking about the topic is important in order to help more survivors who may be suffering in the dark.
“Survivors who are telling their stories can potentially be one way to catalyze healing,” Kar said.
According to Kar, studies conducted over the last few years show that young women who have been sexually abused in the U.S. have higher suicide rates than the general population, and young women of color — especially Asian-American women — are particularly susceptible to mental health issues.
“We cannot separate conversations between social justice and racial justice when liberation and oppression are intertwined,” Kar said.
After the movie screening, a discussion panel was held where the audience had the opportunity to ask Swadhin questions, but it took a moment of silence before anyone had the courage to ask anything.
One participant in the audience asked her if violence is a born or a taught behavior.
“Violence is a taught behavior.” Swadhin replied. “I learned the language of violence from my parents. But on a macro-level we are a very violent country. The U.S. is founded on genocide and slavery.”
Swadhin finished the discussion by reflecting on how trauma can permanently change individuals and their brain chemistry. She said she does not believe that a person like herself ever will wake up one day and be as healed as someone who has not experienced sexual abuse.
The screening and question and answer period with Swadhin was part of a series of events put on as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
The next event on the CSULB calendar is Take Back the Night, a rally advocating for the elimination of sexual assault and relationship violence, April 20 in the Maxson Plaza at 6 p.m.
The articles was updated on April 21 to reflect that the event was put on by the department of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies and the department of Asian and Asian American Studies.