By Lindsay Gullingsrud
In Minnesota, we are talking about using our Voices of Experience to mobilize, organize, and advance prevention. Today, I’m sharing part of my Voice of Experience through a letter to my child that can be adapted for you to share with a child in your life. What is your Voice of Experience? How are you going to use that voice? What would you say to the next generation of leaders?
I am writing this to you knowing it may be years before you get a chance to read this. I am not writing this to the person you are today, but to the person you will become. After becoming a parent and learning of the vulnerability that comes with that responsibility, I grieved for months. I grieved because I came face-to-face with a sense of vulnerability that was completely overwhelming. While you were growing inside me, I could protect you from all sorts of negative elements. I chose what type of music you heard, the conversations you were part of, even the food I ate. As soon as you were born, I came face-to-face with the realization that there were so many elements in our environment I could no longer control. You see, despite my best efforts, I realized I could not protect you from all the ways vulnerability is being created in our environment. This vulnerability is being created either socially or by someone choosing to create it—which is a burden for all adults to own. I began to wonder what type of ripple effect the work I had been doing for almost ten years had on the environment—was it creating social change and justice?
You see, I became a sexual assault advocate because I believed in justice. I stopped counting the people I personally knew who experienced sexual violence once I ran out of fingers. I never counted the people who were impacted because of the ripple effect I know this form of violence has on friends, family, or even communities. I chose to get involved in helping and healing because everyone deserves to have their voice heard. Everyone deserves an opportunity to find justice. Many people have this idea that justice comes from the criminal justice system, but I believe it also comes from within. I listened to so many people say, “I just want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else–it just needs to stop”. This is where my passion for prevention comes from. I cannot sit here and know all of the ways that society creates vulnerability for people and not do anything about it. I cannot sit here and see all the ways we are growing people to sexually harm and exploit, and not do anything about it. I can no longer be silent.
The work I do is for you. The work I do is not only for the generations that are currently adults, but also the generations that will become adults. I do this work for all of you because with social change there is justice.
When you see me have conversations about gender, sex, and sexuality, as well as the many ways these things are used to harm and exploit, I want you to know I am doing it for you.
When you watch me talk with ease about pornography, privilege and oppression, or even popular culture, I want you to know that my goal is that adults will begin to examine the world with a critical lens and find their passion for prevention.
More importantly, when you see me talk about socially “taboo” topics with ease while others in the conversation appear rather uncomfortable, know that I do this not because I enjoy their discomfort, but because I want to help them give themselves permission to continue these conversations with the people they know.
I do all of this because I want you to know that it’s ok to speak about oppression and the many ways people with power use that power to create vulnerability in others by trying to take away their power.
When I speak, I speak from a voice of experience. My experience comes from being an advocate and seeing firsthand the ripple effect of child sexual abuse and exploitation. My experience comes from seeing the harm and also seeing the many ways such harm could have been prevented. I choose to use that experience to voice prevention-to seek solutions and find justice. I speak from that place so that hopefully it will inspire someone else to find their voice of experience. More importantly, I speak so that there will be a time that no one has a voice of experience to speak from.
I want you to know there are people mobilizing, using their voice of experience so that you may never have to. I want you to know that my work has mattered. The work I have been doing with so many other people has and will continue to make a difference. I see it. I feel it. I know it.
With all my heart, I hope you have experienced the freedom to be the person you were born to be.
A mother, sister, daughter, friend, and advocate