Healing comes in waves, with peaks and valleys, times of movement and stillness. We may be unable to stop the waves, but we can learn how to ride them. Too often, the conversation about sexual violence focuses on what was done to us but not how we choose to heal. I created the podcast Healing Comes in Waves as a love letter for survivors to explore healing after harm.
As a queer Muslim survivor, trauma counsellor and gender-justice advocate who’s been working in the field for over twenty years, I have too often seen the conversation about sexual violence focus on the trauma and not on ways we build community or heal. This podcast was something I had been dreaming about for years.
At the time of creating the podcast, I was working at Toronto Metropolitan University, leading the Consent Comes First (CCF) Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education. We used part of our Ontario Women’s Safety Grant to fund the creation of the podcast, and it was a massive collaborative effort between students in our CCF leadership group Consent Action Team, CCF staff, and our producers at Vocal Fry Studios Ren Bangert, Katie Jensen and Michal Stein.
For a year, we met to conceptualize what a podcast for survivors could look like, from the name to ideas for episodes to sound design. We talked a lot about questions we wanted to have answered, the feeling we wanted to leave listeners with, and who wanted to be in the audience. In the end, we talked to survivors, educators, and advocates about attending to feelings, making connections, and figuring out what justice means to us. In each episode, students recorded questions to ask the guests and also worked to create mini resource kits for each episode as a self-care follow-up.
We made Healing Comes in Waves a choose-your-own-adventure podcast, meaning you don’t have to listen in any specific order. Instead, we encouraged listeners to pick which subjects they want to explore. We also worked to ensure there were no descriptions of sexual violence in the series and had reminders throughout that these conversations can bring up big feelings and be hard to hear. We encouraged listeners to do what felt safer for them, reminding them they could choose.
I love all the episodes, but one in particular stands out and was the hardest to put together. We had completed the podcast with six episodes, but I kept thinking there was something missing. I read a chapter in Peggy Orenstein’s Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity, where she described a young man, Sameer, and a woman, Anwen, discussing a restorative justice process they had been a part of after a sexual assault. I knew after reading that I wanted to speak with them, and our team set out to find a way to connect.
I wrote them a long email about myself, the podcast and our hope for the conversation, specifically how healing from sexual violence is often wrapped up in punitive approaches and that we wanted to show another way is possible. After patiently waiting for a couple of months, they reached back and tentatively agreed to meet to discuss the potential of doing the episode. We talked at length with them about how to do it in a trauma-informed way, from taking breaks to co-creating questions, food, and approval of the episode. They did agree in the end, and we recorded a three-hour interview that, through the magic of the fantastic Vocal Fry editors, we got down to an hour.
The episode turned out so special. Anwen, the survivor, and the person who sexually assaulted her, Sameer, talked not only about the flawed restorative justice process they went through but what it meant to find a sense of accountability and even the friendship that was borne out of that process. Anwen also laid out the immense pressure on survivors to forgive without healing and protect everyone from their justified anger. Sameer discussed the impact of gender expectations and how they shaped their understanding of sexual scripts.
The episode was a reminder for me that there is no magic fix for sexual violence: the healing work is long, complicated, and needs consistent tending. The episode is now being used as a tool for survivors’ healing and in schools as part of their restorative justice processes. It provides a window into other ways sexual violence can be addressed. I hope you can take a listen.
Abolition And Reparations: Histories of Resistance, Transformative Justice, and Accountability (Cullors)
Community Accountability Within People of Color Progressive Movements (INCITE!)
Love with Accountability: A Mother’s Lament & A Daughter’s Postscript (Simmons, Simmons)
6 Ways to Confront Your Friend Who’s Abusing Their Partner (Thom)
There’s a Reliable Therapy for Sex Offenders — But Nobody Wants Them to Get It (Koerth-Baker)
Taking Accountability – How Do We Change Violence? (Section 4.F. of the Creative Interventions Toolkit) – We particularly recommend the personal narrative: “Surviving and Doing Sexual Harm: A Story of Accountability and Healing” on pages 41-50
What Does it Feel Like When Change Finally Comes? (Gaurav Jashnani, RJ Maccani, and Alan Greig)
Inside the Politics and Poetics of Transformative Justice and Community Accountability in Sexual Assault Situations (Kelly)
We Have Already Stopped Calling the Cops
Big Dreams and Bold Steps Toward a Police-Free Future (Herzing)
Abolition Cannot Wait: Visions for Transformation and Radical World-Building (Agbebiyi, Hamid, Kuo, Mohapatra
“Asking Sameer to be accountable was not angelic. If anything, it was retribution, because accountability is way harder than just getting a slap on the wrist. So people telling me that I was doing this like a wonderful, good thing, that I was so compassionate was and is still really hard for me to hear. Because I feel like it takes and puts me in this box of like, angelic survivor who like, ‘oh, with the grace of your heart, you could forgive this person.’ And that’s not it. Like, yes, I forgave. But I was also very, very angry and very hurt, and me asking for accountability was me making Sameer step up and put in more work than just having some judge tell them that they were wrong to have done what they did. It was Sameer understanding that they did something wrong, and coming to that understanding on their own. So that was the surprising piece to me, is that everyone who I encountered around this process was awed, um, and thought me angelic, when what I felt was this deep anger.” – Anwen