Her father would make her take showers with him when she was 6 years old. There, he would masturbate. She would go to bed at night, pull the covers over her head and play dead. Someone would climb into her bed and in the morning she would go to her fourth grade classroom with a burningsensation in her vaginal area. Katya Birken says that she was the victim of repeated sexual abuses by her father. She can only guess at when the abuse began, but she thinks it may have happened as a child and continued all the way until she was 21, which was the last time she says her father groped her breasts. (According to Birken, the actual sexual abuse ended when she was 9.)
In her junior high and high school years, Birken began to have nightmares of a man chasing her and raping her. At one point in the dreams, she saw her father’s face as the attacker, and after that dream, she felt pain in her vagina for three days following.
“I was in high school living in a foster home when someone gave me the book, ‘Courage to Heal,’” Birken says. “I found my home in the book, and I needed to be with those people. I moved to California and I looked up the book’s author, Ellen Bass, who was in Santa Cruz. I left a message for Ellen … and [I was given] a scholarship [to attend workshops at the Survivors Healing Center].
Since then, Birken has been involved with Survivors Healing Center in various capacities. At age 18 (she’s now 33) she started participating in the organization’s Art of Healing event, where sexual abuse survivors bring various forms of artwork together for a night, recognizing what they’ve been through and to honor their healing process.
This year, there will be a series of three nights, each featuring something special to honor Survivor’s Healing Center. From 7-9:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 6, there will be a number of readings by various writers. Bass (co-founder of Survivors Healing Center) will be sharing her poetry, as will Danusha Lameris and Gary Young. The band, Legal Jazz, will provide music. The following night from 6:30-8:30 p.m., there will be an art show of survivors’ works at The Mill gallery, and from 6:30-9:30 on Saturday, Nov. 8, there will be an evening of artistic offerings from various survivors. All events will take place at The Mill.
For Birken, and others like her, Survivors Healing Center has been the balm for soothing the hurts from being sexually abused. “I’m not afraid to stand up [now],” Birken says. “They supported me through all the stuff with my family, and I’m not afraid to be honest about what’s going on with me. They’ve given me my life back.”
As for attending the Expressive Arts Evening on Saturday, Nov. 8, Birken says, “People need to understand that we need to be seen. If people want child abuse to be stopped, we have to be able to talk about it. The more people who come and support those who talk about it sends a message to those who aren’t talking about it, that it’s ok to talk about it. The more we talk, the more people will learn from each other.”
For more information, visit survivorshealingcenter.org .
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