Amita Swadhin, the founder of RALIANCE grantee Mirror Memoirs, is a natural storyteller, and they tell their own story with clarity and purpose: The genderqueer child of immigrants, Swadhin was assigned female at birth, survived years of child sex abuse by their father and grew up to be a powerful advocate for abuse survivors while navigating post-traumatic stress disorder.
Swadhin has made it their life’s work to help others tell their stories of survival and founded Mirror Memoirs as an oral history project that centers the narratives of LGBTQI people of color who have survived child sex abuse. “We have to tell the right story,” said Swadhin, “a story that illuminates the way that rape culture is sanctioned by the dominant society and our cultural norms, a story that provides healing for those who were raped or assaulted as children.”
We sat down with Swadhin this week to discuss the challenges facing survivors of child sex abuse, as well as the next phase of Mirror Memoirs, which includes a RALIANCE-supported partnership with Athlete Ally.
RALIANCE: Can you share what drives your mission at Mirror Memoirs?
Swadhin: Mirror Memoirs is devoted to ending the global pandemic of child sex abuse. The CDC estimates that roughly 20% of the population will survive child sex abuse – 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys. And the American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes gender non-conformity as a major risk factor, with assigned-male-at-birth children being most at risk – this includes not only transgender children, but any child who doesn’t otherwise fit cultural gender norms. If we had movements that were led by those who are most at risk of sexual abuse, we would see movements led by transgender women and nonbinary or intersex people assigned male at birth. But the infrastructure to support those types of leaders just isn’t there, and that’s why I founded Mirror Memoirs – to create a space for their stories.
RALIANCE: What are some of the unique challenges facing your community?
Swadhin: The violence facing LGBTQI survivors of child abuse is often state-sanctioned. Many survivors are abused within government institutions like juvenile or immigrant detention centers, military bases, or psychiatric hospitals. And the current rash of anti-transgender legislation is evidence that the government in many cases is actively opposed to the well-being of transgender children. For example, Florida’s legislature just passed a bill stating that if a child is suspected of being transgender, they can be subjected to medical genital checks before they are cleared to compete in sports. That amounts to the state-sanctioned abuse of transgender children and indeed of any child suspected of being transgender in Florida. Even with the admirable work of organizations like the ACLU, the Transgender Law Center, and the National Women’s Law Center, which are all fighting these bills in court, we’ll continue to see similar legislation unless the culture changes.
RALIANCE: Speaking of storytelling, what are the goals of your partnership with Athlete Ally?
Swadhin: We’re very excited to have funding from RALIANCE, which will support our partnership with Athlete Ally to tell the stories of 20 or more survivors, specifically transgender or nonbinary people who have survived child sexual abuse in a sports setting. We’re also aiming to prioritize story collection from people of color or those who live in states that have passed anti-LGBTQI legislation. What I love about this project is that we’re training two people whose stories I collected in the past to now become story collectors themselves – each of them will interview 10 of the identified individuals. From there, Athlete Ally will help us gather data from the stories and create an advocacy toolkit aimed at opposing anti-LGBTQI legislation.
RALIANCE: Why do you consider storytelling such powerful tool?
Swadhin: Storytelling is a pathway to building communities of support. Mutual aid has become a better-known term in the past year, but LGBTQI survivors of child sex abuse have always had to practice mutual aid just to keep each other alive. Survivors of child abuse are most likely to tell someone their own age what happened, and Mirror Memoirs is about continuing that process of disclosure as adults.
We’ve built healing circles where the focus is meeting other survivors, building community, and demonstrating through our presence together that we have visions that matter and wisdom that matters as we take on the intergenerational work of ending child sex abuse. Supporting each other isn’t always easy, of course. Trauma can make it challenging to be fully available to others, but we’re showing up for each other when we can to listen and to share, and that’s powerful.
RALIANCE provides consulting, assessment, and employee development services to help build more equitable workplace cultures and create environments free from sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse. We stand ready to support your organization’s goals – contact us today at [email protected] to get started.