209 days ago, the New York Times published the first piece chronicling the abuse endured by women from Harvey Weinstein. It opened with Ashley Judd sharing her own story, and included a powerful quote from the actress: “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.” Within hours, Tarana Burke's #MeToo movement was being embraced by countless women sharing their own stories of sexual harassment and assault online. 121 days ago, women in Hollywood mobilised to start Time's Up, an organisation working to end sexual harassment in the workplace. Judd was not only one of the first women to speak out about Weinstein but one of the founders of Time's Up. Five days ago, Judd spoke at the Tribeca Talks: Time's Up event about the next public conversation we need to have — the importance of healing for these survivors.
Below is the open letter – in Judd's own, powerful words – read at the event.
We can heal. That has been my experience. We may not, admittedly, know how to, or even from what we need to heal. It may be the event itself, or vivid or dull memories of it, and it is entirely plausible that we don’t even remember the event. There is a police record of a time I was sexually assaulted in high school. I was wearing a green and gold cheerleader uniform, my mother tells me. It was in a local store, and I have no memory of that crime. We may not even think we need to heal, that maybe we’ve just had some crappy relationships. Whatever trauma looks like in our lives, feelings can be healed.
Healing is our birthright. It was not our birthright to be sexually harassed or assaulted or raped based on social constructs of gender, biology, sex, identity, orientation, ethnicity, race, ability, or any intersection thereof. It is our birthright to know in our bones that it wasn’t our fault. We humans hurt each other, and sometimes we hurt ourselves, but we can make decisions and take actions that free us.
Everyone’s freedom may look a little different. For some it is calling the police, or reporting to HR, or contacting the legal defence fund. Often choices include healthy, cathartic processing with a safe, wise friend or a trauma-informed specialist. The particular freedom I’m describing does have one universal quality: It’s an inside job. It is peace of mind. Yes, we can have peace of mind, even as survivors of violent sexual assault. It does take work, and it does take time. It requires transformation, and we are worth it.
This meta-transformation is a powerful journey from being a disempowered victim who was aggressed upon to the wound becoming an integrated part of the whole that we are. Trauma lives in the cells of our bodies and it affects the neuroanatomical pathways of our brain; it is completely natural for being a victim to be a part of our bodies. It is, I am here to tell you, impermanent.
There’s no universal timeframe for this trajectory of healing, and everyone’s work looks a little different. For some, talking about it drives the trauma deeper into the brainstem, and for others, divulging every nuance and detail is liberating. Professional modalities have helped hundreds of thousands of us get relief from impossible burdens. Inpatient treatment, workshops, and retreats have brought us together and set us free. Experiential work and movement are necessary. Breathing is free, and it intercepts PTSD. Meditation is clinically proven to ameliorate the trauma that lies triggered and wired in our brains, waiting for life to trip us up. Exercise is still the best pill around. Twelve-step programs and other resources are so helpful because many of us, in our efforts to self-soothe, to find peace where there has been turmoil, turn to alcohol or give it a cookie, take it shopping, seek out relationships. And those behaviours can become out of hand or even compulsive.
Eventually, though, what happened to us becomes externalised, and we may hold it in our hands and look at it objectively. The facts remain the facts, but by God, we change. Resilience kicks in.
This is not fair. Let’s be plain. It isn’t right or fair that 1 out of 4 girls or 1 out of 6 boys will be sexually assaulted, by conservative estimates, by the age of 18, amongst other catastrophic statistics. But—and this is everything, my friends—when we become aware of our pain, and have some education about it, we become responsible for addressing our pain in effective and healthy ways. What happened to us will always have been wrong, sexist, and criminal, yet we are fundamentally and ultimately responsible, respondable to our own lives. This may sound harsh, but it means we have autonomy, we are powerful, and we have agency.
The final stage is that what happened to us merely becomes a story we tell that may be of service to another human being. Perhaps placed in God’s hands, or some other benevolent, compassionate higher power’s hands, this story makes life so worthwhile and meaningful now. With it, we can help others avert death and misery.
You are not alone, I believe you, and it wasn’t your fault, by now are our internal paradigm. We learn how to trust people who are trustworthy and have discernment about those who are not. We can artfully set and maintain healthy boundaries. We use our voices, we weather retaliation and act up anyway. We cease taking people, places, and things so personally, and what was that rage Tarana [Burke] spoke about becomes our strength, our energy, and our motivation. What was depression becomes expression, and self-pity and helplessness are transformed into dignity, integrity, and courage. We celebrate and enjoy our sexuality. We prosecute and forgive at the same time.
There will still be the hard days. The facts do remain the facts, but we know our preciousness and our fierceness. Healing, damn it, is our birthright.
With love and hope,
Ashley Judd is an actress, author, and humanitarian. She serves as Global Goodwill Ambassador for UNFPA, as the Global Ambassador for Population Services International and Polaris Project, and is on the Advisory Boards of ICRW, Apne Aap Worldwide, and Demand Abolition. She is Chairperson of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project: Curbing Abuse, Expanding Freedom. Ashley is a sought after public speaker and widely published bestselling author who frequently serves as an expert panelist at international conferences. An accomplished actress both on film and stage, Ashley has been nominated for several Golden Globe and Emmy awards.