Updated: Apr 6
Recently at Webster University Leiden, I had the honor to participate in an event called One Billion Rising. OBR is hosted every year on Valentine's Day all around the world. Webster students get together and do a flash mob to help raise awareness on sex trafficking and abuse.
Photo credit above to Artyom Napolskiy.
With this event I got to meet two amazing people, Stijn and Legien Warsosemito-Schenk. Have you ever met people and felt an automatic warmth they had around them? A warmth so thick it's bursting at the seams? I was beyond intrigued by their story and knew this was something I needed to talk about.
Legien was sexually assaulted at a very young age and kept that hidden within herself for 20 years. Her and Stijn have been together for a very long time and when she opened herself up to him, they decided to make a positive change.
We hear victims telling their stories on how it impacted them but it's important to see what the victim's partner goes through as well, including their relationship. This kind of healing is a collective work and to persevere through it takes tears, talking, trust, anger, and love. I got to interview them and saw a side into something I wasn't familiar with; how to deal and get through this kind of assault and abuse together.
Legien is a warrior, no doubt about it. She decided to share her story for women who can't. She doesn't want others to suffer keeping the secret of their sexual assaults or abuse and needs to show people that opening up to trusted loved ones helps. Through the process of her finding herself again, learning how to love herself and find pride in her sexuality again, her husband found a way to express his feelings.
What their comics are about
Stijn started to write and pour his emotions into these stories which turned into Real Comics. Real Comics are short comics about real and hard things that happen in life, like sexual abuse, domestic abuse, finding your sexuality. There are stories in English and Dutch. What's better than a book with pictures?
I started with "My Lover has Fallen Victim," which is the story of how Legien told her husband what happened to her. It starts with how old she was, how the abuser took advantage and how it affected their relationship. They had problems in intimacy and truly connecting with one another. When Legien told her husband, that was only the beginning of the journey. He gave her space for her to find herself and her sexuality, but none of this came easy.
Sex and sexuality was something she didn't get to embrace because of the rape and she was learning she could say no. Throughout this, Stijn was learning to let her go, give her space, and let her figure herself out.
The story of their love is aspiring. We all want that love that survives through the hard times but this kind of hardship isn't widely talked about. We talk about victims getting through abuse but rarely see how couples get through the aftermath of abuse and assault. How do you cope with knowing something like this happened to a loved one? How do you try and help them? How can you relate to them if you have never had something like this happen?
Healing with abuse and assault
It's beyond important to have this be talked about. The way to healing abuse and assault is talking, collectively with both men and women. It can't just be women fighting for women, we need the help of men to fight something as horrible as sexual abuse and assault. Sexual abuse and assault is hard to talk about from all sides but it isn't something we can lock away and pray it will disappear.
Rape is something that is never asked for nor is it ever something to be ashamed of. Victims become ashamed because something is taken from them against their will and they feel it is their fault. It is never your fault. Stijn and Legien show that being a victim isn't something damaged, sad, shriveled, but instead turning it into a beautiful and sensual thing; being a victim is actually being a warrior. If you have been a victim of sexual abuse or assault, please know you are a warrior and please talk to someone about it. When people keep emotions locked away, it leads to tearing yourself apart from the inside out. You deserve to heal, have your story heard, and to have your justice.
The art and illustrations in all the comics are beyond beautiful and express the story in ways words never could (a good chunk of the art from what I've seen is by Amanda Majoor but some comics have multiple artists). I'll add some of my favorites from different stories.
Here are links also to the stories that opened my eyes and I hope if you don't know much about abuse or assault, you'll read them.
Thanks for reading everyone! I'll link my Insta page which has short reviews and cute quotes.