Where We Go From Here

“Keep hope alive” isn’t a cliché. It’s a call to action.

We can’t perpetuate hope simply by searching for feelings of optimism within ourselves. We have to work, each day, to actively uplift our most vulnerable neighbors, to be our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers, to create space for marginalized voices that were once rendered unintelligible to be heard, acknowledged, and validated.

As we process the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and its implications for our nation, we must remember one of the great lessons of her life: that compassion is not just a moral virtue, but a penultimate political ideal. Donald Trump will soon attempt to appoint someone to Ginsburg’s seat who will undoubtedly oppose reproductive choice, entrench executive power, overturn LGBTQ+ rights, and undermine racial equality.

We have a fight on our hands.

In reality, it’s the same fight in which we’ve been engaged for years, from before the time of Trump. It’s the fight against inequality and discrimination for which Ginsburg, herself, spent much of her life as a figurehead, never more so than during her final years. In the midst of a national emergency, we’re now dealing with a national tragedy. It is all unfolding against the backdrop of a countrywide reckoning with the roots of historical injustice that still structure the governing institutions of the United States. Justice Ginsburg strove, with every last breath, to prevent our nation from becoming a caste system.

We can’t let her down.

It’s okay to be fearful about our future. Trump has repeatedly sown discord about the upcoming presidential election. Given his repeated comments about staying in power–not to mention his authoritarian executive actions and professed affinity for dictators–we have to take seriously the possibility that he won’t leave office willingly if voters support Democratic nominee Joe Biden. If Trump does try to rush a Supreme Court pick through the vetting process before November, one of the primary questions his appointee will face will be: what should the Supreme Court do if Trump tries to overturn the electoral will of the people?

It’s also okay to be deeply concerned that Trump’s nominee will jeopardize human dignity. All of the justices named on the list of potential picks Trump recently released are beholden to what the late Harvard professor Svetlana Boym called “restorative nostalgia,” which “puts emphasis on nostos (returning home) and proposes to rebuild the lost home and patch up the memory gaps.” Trump’s potentials want to recreate the “lost home” of the xenophobic and monopolistic American past–a time in which abortion was criminalized, healthcare was unaffordable, wealthy businessmen reaped unchecked profits at the expense of working families, corporations commodified the environment with impunity, LGBTQ+ citizens couldn’t marry, and people of color were systematically disenfranchised, dispossessed, and disembodied.

In the spirit of Ginsburg’s famous dissents, though, we should maintain a fierce belief that together we can win the struggle for our nation’s future. Republicans need 50 votes to push Trump’s nominee through the U.S. Senate. They hold 53 seats in the chamber, but have already lost two votes–Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Maine’s Susan Collins, the latter of whom is facing a strong challenge from Democrat Sara Gideon. Several other Republicans are facing similar challenges or represent left-of-center states, like Cory Gardner of Colorado. Utah’s Mitt Romney has also repeatedly shown a willingness to buck Trump on issues that tear at our fragile national fabric. We have become the dissenters. It’s an odd label to give to a majority of the country, but it’s one that we, the people, must embrace by connecting the battle for Ginsburg’s seat to our ability to deliver hope to those who need it most in a time of crisis and confusion. Today, we mourn. Tomorrow, we organize.

As Ginsburg famously proclaimed, may our dissents determine the law. It will be hard, but RBG has shown us the way.

Leadership After COVID: Now, It’s the Women’s Turn

Women-led nations are doing better than male-led nations in handling COVID-19.

To all the men out there who recoil at that statement, get over it. It’s true. And new research backs it up. According to a study of 194 countries by two economists based in England, Supriya Garikipati and Uma Kambhampati, women-led nations like New Zealand, Germany, Denmark, Taiwan, and Finland have recorded fewer deaths than those led by men, like the United States, Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

Even at the local level, we can see the impact of structural patriarchy on pandemic-related policymaking. In Honolulu, for example, Mayor Kirk Caldwell recently issued an executive order opening beaches, hiking trails and parks for solo, by-yourself activities. If you’re a single mother struggling to manage a crumbling economy and your children’s virtual learning environment, forget about taking your kids to the beach for a 15-minute break.

Just drop 5-year-old Johnny off by the forest and tell him to take a hike. Baby’s first solo adventure. What could go wrong?

It’s easy to dismiss Caldwell’s decision as a lapse in judgement intended to make enforcement of social distancing requirements easier for law enforcement. Yet, one has to ask: if more women who understand the difficulties of motherhood were involved in municipal decision-making, would the executive order have looked different?

I submit that it would have and that it’s just one example of the problems that patriarchy causes in dealing with the crisis. Take two case studies in leadership, the United States and New Zealand. In the U.S., President Donald Trump is currently making headlines for reportedly downplaying the impact of the coronavirus for political effect. This comes as the U.S.’s COVID-19 death toll nears 200,000 and case count surpasses 6.5 million, while the economy sputters and teachers die in prematurely reopened classrooms. This is what Trump calls “winning.”

In contrast, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern–who gave birth while running her country–immediately responded to the COVID threat by implementing measures to contain community spread. New Zealand’s borders were locked down to travelers. Her government implemented science-based actions that pivoted from managing to eliminating the disease because of testing limitations at the onset of the virus, which led to the nation being COVID-free for 100 consecutive days. To uplift the economy, New Zealand is investing NZ$175 million into arts and cultural programming and calling for the creation of thousands of green jobs.

President Trump and U.S. leaders don’t have a viable economic recovery plan. The U.S. House of Representatives–led by a woman, Rep. Nancy Pelosi–has been pushing for a major relief bill to help state governments meet their social obligations, provide a second robust stimulus payment to all residents, and deliver significant financial assistance to essential employees. But the Senate–led by a man, Sen. Mitch McConnell–is only interested in targeted relief that boosts the bottom lines of private businesses.

We can all think of women who failed at the task of leadership, like U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who is using the COVID crisis to defund public schools and push for the institution of voucher programs. (Side question: can schools use vouchers to purchase guns to fight off potential grizzly bear attacks, as DeVos warned about during her confirmation hearing?) For further reference, see former British Prime Minister Theresa May, who adheres to the paternalistic ideology of “one-nation conservative” and is best known for her Brexit buffoonery.

Women-led nations have grappled with their legacies of patriarchy and gender discrimination thoroughly enough to entrust a female to be their national leader. That’s axiomatic, but it also suggests that those countries are open to embracing democratizing norms and policies, like economic recoveries meant to advance the common good. They’re less likely than male-dominant polities to be steeped in pandemic denialism and have their top political leaders propound COVID conspiracies, as Trump does on a daily basis.

Numerous studies have shown that women are more empathetic than men. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, when female leaders implement policies that put compassion before competition. While many nations engaged in fear-mongering over immigration throughout this decade, German Chancellor Angela Merkel ensured that nearly a million refugees entering Germany were guaranteed their basic human rights. As the U.S. allows unemployment insurance to expire for tens of millions of people who have lost their jobs, Prime Minister Ardern is guiding New Zealand in implementing comprehensive wage subsidies and deferring mortgages until March 31, 2021.

Jacindamania is a direct challenge to male domination. Though the media fawns over the “resolute ordinariness of her existence,” her impact on the international political community is anything but quotidian. Her exceptional skill in flattening New Zealand’s COVID curve has positioned her as a central figure in flattening patriarchal social hierarchies. Her female counterparts in the club of national leaders are doing the same. They’re not interested in token gestures of progress. Rather, they’re crafting new models of gendered leadership that are proving–not that they need to prove anything to anyone–to be more effective in addressing the most pressing issues to today, from the coronavirus to climate change to economic inequality.

There are many lessons to be drawn from the global response to the pandemic. Our economic, political, and public health systems will be changed forever. If we want those changes to be a sign and signal of our commitment to human dignity, then we need to empower women to sit at the heads of the tables they’ve been forced to set for centuries.

They should have been sitting there all along.

Finding the Light: My Trauma Journey

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Last December, I came forward about being gang raped in college. While I knew that disclosing my pain would be difficult, I never could have anticipated the darkness I’d face. From receiving threats from male supremacists to discovering people using my rape trauma as a form of sexual entertainment, I’ve been frequently forced to remap my path toward healing.

Yet, I’ve kept searching for the light amidst the storms, regularly documenting my process and progress on social media. I’ve made my process public in the hope that it might help other people who are overcoming sexual violence. More than that, though, it’s a way of holding myself accountable. I have to keep going. I have to get better. My life–the life I truly want to live and the man I want to be–depends on it. 

You can read my collected posts below (click the date to see the actual posts), starting with December 23, 2019, the day I decided to stop being silent and take my power back from the men who colonized my body with their lust for control.

December 23, 2019

Over the last few days, I’ve realized that there are some things about myself and my life that I want to change. There are patterns I’ve fallen into that are the products of the toxicity I’ve experienced and let go unchecked. I want to heal. And, for better or worse, I want my healing process to be public, in part because keeping things hidden and buried is a trait I want to erase.

One of the events that’s core to my healing process is this: when I was a student at the University of Hawai’i, I was sexually assaulted by a professor and three graduate students. It happened during a late night study session. I believe that I was drugged because I couldn’t move as it happened, though I could have frozen in fear, my body reeling in shock.

I don’t want to go into all of the details, but I will say that I attempted to report the assault to a UH administrator. I was informed, at the time, that the university wasn’t prepared to take action on my case. When I asked why, I was told, “You’re a political science major. You should understand that some people have more power than others.”

Since then, I’ve struggled with a persistent feeling of powerlessness that’s caused me to sometimes act in a manner that perpetuates, rather than prevents, toxicity. It’s also made me steadfastly committed to sexual violence prevention and obtaining justice for survivors.

I’m not posting this for attention. I’m not posting this for retribution. I forgive the university for what happened. I’m posting this because, after all these years, it’s simply time for me to heal.

January 18, 2020

I’m deeply troubled about something that happened at the Capitol this week, something that isn’t related to legislative affairs. On Thursday, I sent one of our office’s legislative aides to another representative’s office to ask for signatures on two bills.

When she handed the bills over, the rep set them down on his desk and launched into a prolonged tirade, in which he said I lied about being raped while I was a student at the University Hawai’i. Then, he asked if Rep. Amy Perruso requested that I take down the Facebook post in which I came forward about being assaulted.

He then suggested that she should force me to take it down and fire me if I don’t. That’s right: he said Amy should forcibly silence me about being forcibly raped. All of this with his office door open, so other session staff waiting outside could overhear his astonishing screed. Amy has never asked me to do that, by the way. She’s been completely supportive, both in the office and as a friend, for which I’m deeply grateful.

Coming forward about what happened was painful. It took courage I didn’t know I had. I didn’t make up one word of my story. I lived every violent second of my assault. Now that I’m being open about it, I’m reliving the trauma every single day. No one has the right to shame my status as a rape victim, much less during the Capitol work day, especially to my staff.

Moreover, the staff member in question is now deeply concerned about what might happen if she is harassed or assaulted at the workplace, since a legislator just ranted to her about why I should be silenced under threat of termination. So much for making staff feel safe at the State House.

It’s taken me two days to decide whether or not to write this post. But part of my healing process involves eliminating toxicity and calling out patriarchal, unmitigated power and ego trips that allow sexual violence to go unchecked.

Finally, since this rep is so interested in my Facebook page, I’ll take this opportunity to remind him that the State House has a harassment policy. Belittling someone’s rape trauma to their staff is a clear violation of it.

January 24, 2020

Yesterday, while getting Starbucks, another customer, whom I’d never met, approached me and said, “Hey, you’re the guy who made that post about being raped at UH, right?”

“Yeah,” I replied nervously, but also glad that people were noticing my story (that’s the point, after all).

“How much did they pay for you,” he asked, accusingly.

I froze in shock, just like I’d frozen when I was being assaulted. “Go to hell,” I responded after regaining control of my senses. Then I rushed past him out the door.

“I was just asking how much you cost,” I heard him shout at me as I dashed by.

This is what survivors deal with. I had a minor, tear-stained meltdown when I got home.

And now, I’m okay. To the jerk that spoke so hurtfully to me yesterday, thank you for helping me find strength that I didn’t know I have.

January 30, 2020

I’m hurting. I’m healing. I’m doing this. This week, I took another big, scary step.

Today, the Senate Higher Education Committee is hearing a bill on campus safety with regard to sexual violence, which I wrote and Rep. Amy Perruso sponsored, in conjunction with John Gabrieli of the Every Voice Coalition, to uplift survivors, expand victim protections, and, hopefully, prevent the spread of rape culture at Hawai’i’s higher education institutions.

I submitted testimony in support from Imua Alliance, as well as shorter supportive remarks from the Democratic Party of Hawai’i’s Education Caucus. After a lot of deep thinking, I was able to overcome my fear and publicly share my story at the end of Imua’s testimony. Here’s what I said:

Finally, on a personal note I, Kris Coffield, Executive Director of Imua Alliance, am heavily invested in this measure’s success. When I was a student at the University of Hawai’i, in early 2008, I was violently, penetratively raped by a professor and three graduate students. It happened during a late night study session to which I was invited by someone who, at the time, I believed to be an academic mentor. I may have been drugged, given that I couldn’t move as it happened, though I also could have frozen in fear, my body reeling from the shock of the assault. During the attack, I was beaten with a belt, held down forcefully by the men involved, called an assortment of vulgar names (the least offensive of which were “whore” and “slut”), and deliberately misgendered–I was referred to as female throughout the assault in an attempt to further degrade me–as they took turns orally and anally raping me.

I attempted to report the assault to a UH administrator. I was informed at the time, however, that the university wasn’t prepared to take action on my case. When I asked why, I was told, “You’re a political science major. You should understand that some people have more power than others.” Since then, I’ve struggled with a persistent feeling of powerlessness. I’ve fought for years to overcome lingering depression and anxiety, along with the fear that my assailants will, at some point, come back to harm me.

To be clear, I don’t blame the current UHM administration for what happened to me. In fact, I applaud the university’s leadership for taking steps to address sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus, following an audit by the U.S. Department of Education that revealed serious gaps in the school’s compliance with Title IX’s requirements for handling reports of sexual violence. Additionally, I’m not seeking anything, monetary or otherwise, from the university, or anyone involved in the incident.

I simply can no longer be silent. My justice must be obtained by sharing my story, so that other victims may feel less alone. I can be a lamppost in a dark and thorny forest, shining a light that makes trauma a little more bearable and hope a little easier to find for those who, like me, have suffered the pain of sexual violence. But I am no longer a rape victim. I am a survivor. I, and my organization, humbly ask you to validate the experiences of survivors by passing this measure and working to end the rape culture that continues to infect our state’s college campuses.

Some days, it’s hard to find the strength to keep going. But, like I said, I’m doing it. And I won’t give up. I promise.

February 2, 2020

I am being targeted by hate groups.

In response to my public testimony last week about being a survivor of a brutal gang rape, men’s rights activists–male supremacists–have taken it upon themselves to shame and intimidate me into silence.

In case you don’t already know, MRAs are part of the alt-right. They believe that the #MeToo movement is a sham. They believe that people accused of rape are the real victims. They believe that date rape is not only defensible, but a skill that should be taught. They believe that we need to restore patriarchy and male dominance in our nation.

I’ve received 31 emails from MRAs over the past two days. Each of them has been extremely vulgar, containing statements like these (warning: graphic hate-monger language below):

“You know you wanted to get raped you filthy slut, so get off your pedestal you little piece of s*** whore.”

“Go back to bending over like dirty little b**** and taking the a** raping you asked for.”

“You obviously didn’t get raped hard enough to learn your lesson.”

“No one believes anything that comes out of your dirty little whore mouth, especially after it’s sucked so much d*** and swallowed so much cum.”

Almost all of them have ended with, “Go kill yourself.” Or some version thereof.

All of this has been reported and is being handled. All of this is happening because I’m a “traitor” to them, the worst kind of person, i.e. someone publicly speaking out about my trauma in an attempt to end rape culture, obtain justice, and heal.

Yet, I’m also human. And heartbroken. I’ve shed a lot of tears this weekend over this. But I’m not giving these toxic people power over my emotions. That’s what they want. That’s how they win.

Sorry, terrible people. You can’t have it.

February 10, 2020

Some days, I just feel broken. I’m doing my best to be strong, but sometimes, the trauma is (almost) too much to bear.

Over the weekend, I learned that one of the men who raped me took hidden video of the assault and posted it on various porn sites years ago. Apparently, someone who saw my posts about the incident began emailing links to the videos to people, including someone who knew and told me.

I’ve already had them taken down. At this point, though, the level of pain is unbelievable. It’s as much about the future as the past. After all that’s happened since disclosing the attack, from incredibly hurtful comments to emails from male supremacists, what’s next?

Then I realize, hope is what’s next. I can’t put into words how it felt to learn that the videos were out there, which had almost a million views in total. To see that one of them had a 93 percent approval rating from viewers. To wonder how many times they’d been downloaded. To read the comments suggesting that I be “taught a lesson” by being “raped even harder.” To relive the violence all over again.

People are strong, but our society is a little sick. Yet, we win by not giving in. We win by continuing to be there for one another and becoming more trauma-skilled. We win by overcoming the urge to question why such bad things are happening and, in turn, fighting for a society in which sexual violence isn’t a form of entertainment.

Today, I feel ashamed. I feel crushed. I feel insecure. Once again, though, I believe that I will get through this, hard as it may be, and that the suffering will make me a stronger person, a more compassionate human, and a better man.

February 12, 2020

Note the heart in this picture.

For the rest of this month, I’m working on mindfulness. I don’t mean this in the quasi-spiritual sense that’s become so popular and commercialized.

I’m talking about allowing myself to recognize and fully experience, without judgement, all of the emotions that I’m going through as they happen–especially the painful ones–in all of their sensations and manifestations.

Then, I’m trying to identify ways to skillfully cope with negative thoughts, so they don’t spiral. So that triggers don’t become profound sources of fear and anxiety.

It’s living in the moment, but with the unmitigated acceptance of my trauma. It’s a step in the healing process. It’s part of learning that it’s okay to fall to pieces, but not to run away from what makes me feel vulnerable.

It’s part of becoming a rape survivor, rather than remaining a victim.

February 16, 2020

Being okay with not being okay is a learned skill.

I had a productive week. I worked through public policy problems at the office. I finalized all of the documents needed to implement Imua Alliance’s financial plan. I submitted dozens of pieces of testimony from Imua and the Democratic Party of Hawai’i’s Education Caucus.

I also took a day away from the Capitol to uplift my mental health. For the first time, I began a trauma care program as a survivor, rather than a victim advocate or service provider. I made an appointment with a lawyer to discuss the possibility of taking legal action against the companies that allowed videos of my rape to be posted online.

The videos of me being gang raped, which were hosted on porn sites and used as erotic entertainment by literally hundreds of thousands of people.

Seeing those videos made me feel like I’d been raped all over again. Then I remembered that I wrote Hawai’i’s revenge porn ban because, as anti-abuse advocates have always argued, revenge porn is a form of sexual assault.

I was raped. All over again.

It’s hard to deal with. Some days, the pain is overwhelming. What I’m trying to remember, though, is that my “brokenness” is normal. It’s a perfectly okay response to the trauma I’ve suffered, even when it feels like I’m spinning out of control or spiraling.

My feelings aren’t abnormal. The suffering I was forced to endure, the violation of my body and my humanity, the betrayal and shame that I’ve been put through by those who assaulted me and took video of it, who harassed me after I came forward, who sent me toxic emails telling me to be silent or kill myself–that’s abnormal.

That’s messed up.

But not me. I am not abnormal. I am not messed up. Recognizing that is an important step in turning my pain into purpose and a pathway toward uplifting both myself and our brutal, beautiful world.

February 22, 2020

I deserved to be raped.

That’s the thought that’s been in my head all week. I deserve the pain. I deserve the trauma. Somehow, this is all my fault.

Of course, that’s not true. I know that. But it’s a harder belief to internalize than you might think. I know it in my head. I don’t feel it in my heart. Not today.

Survivors don’t stop being survivors when our attacks are over. We keep surviving, each day, despite the monsters in our heads that are constantly clawing at us.

In some sense, the trauma never ends.

Yesterday, I got some really bad news. I was reminded that, sometimes, when you take a strong stand and seek justice, you lose, even when ethics, evidence, common sense, and, presumably, the law are on your side.

As the UH administrator who callously dismissed my rape allegations said so many years ago, some people have more power than others.

It hurts. I’m reeling. I’m spiraling.

Every Friday, after work, I go to a coffee shop at Ala Moana to read, write, and think. The first words I composed last night were this: “Okay, trauma. You win. I quit.”

I’m not quitting. I’m not giving in. I can’t do that. I’ve come too far to do that. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.

Please understand, though, that drowning isn’t a sign of weakness. Pain, even to the point of irrational thoughts like “I deserved to be raped,” isn’t something about which to be ashamed.

I’ve spent my life trying to be a harvester of light for other people. Now, I’m searching for some of my own. A safe space. A hand to hold. Someone to validate my tears.

I’m so tired. But I’m still swimming. I promise.

March 7, 2020

I’m suffering from post-traumatic stress. But that’s okay. It means I get to experience post-traumatic growth.

On Wednesday, just before the Democratic Party’s biennial precinct meetings, I was sitting in Starbucks, sipping a hot chai and trying to read “Tribe” by Sebastian Junger. It’s a good book. It’s helpful.

Suddenly, I was overcome with despair. I couldn’t read another word. The taste of my drink turned sour. I began to panic. Then, I fell into an intense and immediate depression. In that moment, I honestly felt like things could never get better.

In an attempt to stop one of the worst downward spirals I’ve experienced recently, I called the suicide hotline.

I bounced. My emotions stabilized after a few hours, though not because of the call. The incident reminded me of how fine the line is between “okay” and “not okay.” As I’ve said before, I’m learning to be okay with not being okay since, right now, I’m never truly “okay.”

The philosopher Jacques Derrida said that trauma is of the future, of the “to come.” In his view, it’s as much about the fear of violence and suffering happening again as it is about the original event.

When you couple a devastating violation of personhood with the fear that it could happen again at any time, you’re left with a shattered sense of security. After all, rape isn’t a desire for sex. It’s a desire for violence.

That’s me right now. Shattered. Pixelated. Trying to fit a million fuzzy pieces back together into a coherent whole.

It’s so tiring. As I slowly work through the phases of my healing process, however, I realize how powerful all of this will be. I’m encountering parts of myself that I’ve been at war with for years, trying to gently understand and undo the scars of those battles.

I’m transitioning through each stage, so that I can transform the world around me.

My struggle isn’t my identity. My trauma isn’t a prison. It gave me lessons, not a life sentence. Who I had to become as a survivor is not the same as the person I can be.

This emotional space is a difficult situation. But it will lead to a beautiful destination. Eventually.

March 27, 2020

I spent three months overcoming my trauma. I spent three months trying to heal. I spent three months trying to be honest with myself about the pain I’ve suffered in order to change who I am today. Tonight, all of that work came crashing down. It wasn’t worth it. It was never worth it. None of this is worth it. I quit. If the coronavirus claims someone in Hawai’i, dear God, please let it be me.

March 29, 2020

I never wanted to talk about being raped.

Coming forward was the right thing to do, but not something I’d ever planned on doing. It was as much a need as a choice. I needed to heal, so I could become what I always should have been.

We’re all struggling to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, which is wreaking havoc on our planet. For me and survivors like me, though, it’s doubly difficult.

Overcoming the trauma of being violently gang raped is emotionally isolating. I feel torn asunder. I feel confused. I feel alone. Social distancing magnifies those feelings a millionfold.

I didn’t speak out because at the end of a long personal search, I decided “it was time.” The timing was right because someone for whom I deeply care held me accountable to my better self, even if that wasn’t their main intent.

Last year, I did something thoughtless. I won’t go into the details. I can’t. Privacy is too important. Far, far too important to the person involved.

But here’s the short version. Someone dangerous made a threat. Instead of talking about the threat and coming up with a rational, mutually agreed upon plan of action (again, consent is everything), I sprang into action and confronted the person who made the threat.

At his hotel room. With no regard for my safety. And then I didn’t say anything about it for months afterward. Like an idiot.

I wasn’t intending to start a physical altercation, obviously. I’ve just been in dangerous situations on countless occasions. I rescue slaves. It’s dangerous.

Until the end of last year, I justified the danger based on the end result. No one deserves to be sexually exploited. No one deserves to be trafficked. No one deserves that horror and violence. Yet, few people engage in direct intervention to help.

If my team and I don’t, who will? How many victims are we willing to sacrifice? How many children?

We’ve done phenomenal work. I realize now, though, that my risk aversion was also a way of sublimating my pain. A way of suppressing my trauma. Superheroes are strong. Trauma doesn’t slow them down.

When I was being brave, I didn’t feel broken.

Yet, the courage wasn’t singular. It was tied to my fear. I was scared of being vulnerable.

What’s truly heartbreaking is that the person involved, the person I hurt by withholding what had happened and by not reaching out in the first place to talk about how to respond, had just inspired me to share my pain.

My story. My fragility. I felt safe and ready to tell them, knowing that they wouldn’t judge me. That they’d be there to help me heal. That they wouldn’t stop holding my hand, no matter how many tears I shed.

This person also saved my life once. But that’s another story. Not even they know that. Not yet. From the bottom of my heart, I hope I get to tell them. That truth. My truth. And how eternally grateful I am.

Obviously, they found out that I’d done this aggressively “dumb male” thing and what had prompted me to do it. It’s created distance between us. The distance hurts. Lots.

The man who made the threats was handled, legally. He won’t be doing anything like that for a long, long time. Part one is done. Part one was the easy part.

The hard part is the healing. I hope more than anything that the wounds I caused can be mended. I know that in order for that to happen, though, I have to–I have to–begin to fix the parts of myself, my self, that are shattered.

I have to acknowledge my pain. I have to recognize my trauma. I have to let myself be vulnerable. It’s the only way to become someone who won’t make those mistakes ever again.

Publicly sharing parts of my process is a way of holding myself accountable. If I’m public about what I’ve been through in the last three months–from coming forward about being gang raped to having a state representative throw it back in my face to male supremacists telling me to kill myself for coming forward to learning that my rape had been posted on porn sites and received a million views–then I’m not falling back on the bad habit of suppressing the trauma that’s written on my body and stored in my soul.

I’m getting better. I won’t let my pain consume me. I won’t let it break my spirit. I can’t. The world only spins forward.

And as I write this, I realize: in truth, given what I was becoming, that person has now saved my life twice.

April 4, 2020

Writing helps. Including poetry.

The first poem I ever published was about being raped. It was in Ishaan Literary Review, a lit mag that was affiliated with Texas A&M. Read it below, if you’d like.

Self-project: write a poem a week about my trauma. Describe the parts that are hard to articulate in everyday language. See if I can create a collection that contains multitudes about the urgency of radical vulnerability.

WONDERING AFTER ALL

blackbird
minutes too late
to say no

grinning pumpkin
many monsters
no costumes

whistling snow
their lust-filled eyes
my northern lights

budding lotus
trading wall shadows
for daydreams

starry night—
who will paint
life on Mars?

April 11, 2020

I found a new horizon in my healing adventure.

One thing that has been reaffirmed for me as I’ve undergone shadow work to deal with my trauma is this: it’s an odyssey best shared.

Shadow work is a psychological term. Look it up.

In this period of global isolation, we’re all rediscovering the importance of interconnection. Are you craving a hug? Holding hands? Feeling someone’s fingers slipping between your own?

Yeah, me too.

I can’t get better alone. It doesn’t work that way. Part of the reason I’m making my healing process so public is that it holds me accountable to myself. Another part is that, I’m hoping, we can get better together.

At Imua Alliance, we tell advocates, “Sometimes, the whole world is one dying child.” The pain in front of you is your opportunity to mend. Every wound bandaged helps heal the human spirit.

We’re not statistics. Numbers are violent. They dehumanize, digitizing the people they represent, stripping them of their feelings. Of their stories.

I’ve reached a new phase of my process, one in which I’m no longer digital. I don’t yet fully understand it. What I know is that I now recognize my emotions and accept them without judgement, reservation, or pretense.

Being brutally raped hurts. A lot. I can deal with that by being brutally honest, mostly with myself. It helps. A lot.

I no longer desire an escape from the pain. I haven’t had a moment in which I longed for nonexistence in weeks.

Actually, I crave the pain, in the sense that I want to confront my trauma in totality, leaving nothing hidden, and fight the abuse, fight for myself, fight back against everyone who has used it against me, who is still trying to pin me down and take away my power. My consent. My choice. My voice.

I’m ready for that, Three and a half months after coming forward about something I’d been suppressing for years, the trauma no longer controls me. And if the trauma no longer controls me, then the men who raped me no longer have power over me. Finally.

At long last, I’ve truly gone from being a victim to a survivor.

There are still a lot of paths left in this forest that I need to explore. When I cry now, it’s not because I’m pushing anything down or anyone away. It’s not shock and anxiety. It’s because I’m sad. Or angry. Or simply sore from the cuts and gashes that the violence I’ve suffered have left me with.

It hurts. But it’s okay that it hurts.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, as Robert Frost said, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep. Keep walking. Keep walking. Keep walking.

One more step toward my final restoration. It’s still so far away. But I’m getting there.

April 18, 2020

Yesterday, we helped our 200th COVID-19 survivor.

None of the survivors Imua Alliance has assisted have been infected with the coronavirus, mind you. Instead, they’ve been harmed by the silent violence of the virus: they’ve been forced to shelter in place with their abusers.

And in some cases, their traffickers.

A young woman who asked how she can “be better” to her fiancé when he’s stressed about losing his job, so he doesn’t beat her as often.

A UH student whose boyfriend sold her to several of his friends for sex, so that he could pay his car insurance, phone, and credit card bills.

A woman who was finally ready to enact her plan to break free from a man who’d been abusing her for over two years, only to find herself shut in by the pandemic.

So many women at local brothels, who lack basic sanitation supplies, but are still required to service ten or more sex buyers each day, with their own traffickers becoming even more violent because of the economic downturn.

Rape is still open for business.

Each of these individuals is as much a victim of the coronavirus as those who’ve become ill. We’ve been able to relocate about a third of them to safety, thanks to our own network of care.

Imua’s team is committed. We’re not just first responders. Sometimes, we’re the only responders.

If the pandemic is teaching us anything, though, it’s that flattening the curve requires flattening hierarchies. The power relations of the past cannot be allowed to continue in the future.

Exploitation, greed, and abuse are the real pandemics. And they’ve been with us for generations. That’s how we got here in the first place.

We’re all trauma survivors now. We all need to give and receive compassion. We can replace the exploitation that’s become the status quo with a care-based society in which all people are truly equal.

That’s the goal. That’s the urgent hope. For the 200 survivors we’ve served since the pandemic began and, really, for us all, it’s a matter of life and death.

April 20, 2020

I cry.

Especially when male supremacists send me hateful things. Before, they sent me hurtful emails, over 75 of them. Now, they’ve found my phone number.

Here’s a sample message I received yesterday: ““Hey, f*** whore. Did coronavirus kill you yet? You know whores that cry rape are just asking for community spread.”

Here’s another: “Did you get coronavirus from getting raped yet? You know you want that virus inside you. Maybe it’ll finish the job this time.”

And another: “COVID is what dirty little rape sluts get for speaking up. Go back to sucking coronavirus infected dick. Your filthy mouth is going to be silenced once and for all one way or another.”

I’ve been getting 20-25 of those texts each day for a over a week now. The senders are using burn numbers and programs that allow them to anonymize themselves, I’m sure.

It’s hard to heal when this is what you hear. I can’t wait for this pandemic to be over, so I can have a hand to hold.

April 27, 2020

Yesterday, I couldn’t deal with the hate.

As I went for my daily constitutional (that’s a walk, not a political thing), I got this message: “If coronavirus doesn’t kill you, someone will. You filthy f***ing rape whore.”

These messages–over 400 of them in total–have taken a huge emotional toll on me. Getting out of bed isn’t easy, when you know what evil awaits on your phone.

When I received that message, it was the first time I felt genuine anxiety about leaving my house. I did. I took my walk. I got my chai tea. I know the person who sent me that message almost certainly doesn’t live in Hawai’i.

Yet, they live somewhere. And the people who congregate on hate-spreading websites, who engage in psychological terrorism, are unhinged. Some of them, as we’ve seen so many times before, turn violent.

But I’m still serving other victims of sexual violence that need help during this crisis. I’m still chairing three political campaigns. I’m still managing a nonprofit.

I’m still healing. Like these mountains, I’m still standing. Like the ocean’s waters, life and love still flow through me.

No one’s hatred can take that away from me. I won’t let fear spread faster than the virus.

May 19, 2020

I’m beginning to realize that I’m probably never going to get any kind of justice for being raped. And that is a very, very difficult realization to accept, leading me to an extremely dark emotional place.

May 28, 2020

ʻĀina-based healing is more powerful than manmade trauma. And rape is, in the most literal sense, “man” made. As I continue to heal from being raped and the pain that’s followed coming forward, I try to remember: trauma is a fact of life, not a life sentence.

July 19, 2020

This has been a difficult time for me. I’ve been fortunate not to lose any loved ones to COVID-19. I didn’t expect, during this time, to lose someone to other means.

You never know with whom you might cross paths in life. Sometimes, we’re fortunate enough to have our paths entangled with people who strive to fill the world with love and light.

It’s devastating when the voice of someone like that is silenced far too soon, leaving us with bittersweet memories that, while precious, fail to comfort the mourning.

Nothing in this world is given. If we’ve been reminded of anything this year, it should be that tomorrow is never promised. That’s a reminder that we often need, but too seldom heed.

Coronavirus has created a crisis for our society, but it isn’t the only fatal force with which we have to face. And amidst any crisis is an opportunity to revive the heartbeat of hope.

We can forgive more completely. We can love more deeply. We can empathize more fully. We can work harder to account for the broken parts of ourselves and heal the wounds of others.

There are worlds within each of our worlds that the people around us don’t always get to see. Even when we can’t perceive all the contours of someone else’s reality, though, we can shelter one another with kindness and sensitivity, and in so doing, be a hand to hold that parts the storms for the incoming starlight.

I will miss my friend. And I will be forever grateful for the shattered dreams that were restored by her presence on this planet.

July 25, 2020

Mahalo, everyone, for the birthday wishes.

It’s been a hell of a year. From coming forward as a gang rape survivor to rescuing victims of sexual violence during the era of our lord ‘Rona, there has been a lot to take in.

A few days ago, I was helping a 15-year-old sex trafficking victim who’d been exploited near Ala Moana. She was raped with lit cigars. She’ll be okay. We’ve got this. She’s got this.

People talk a lot about freedom these days, but real liberty is created by holding the hands of people who’ve had their identity taken away and suffered violence only seen in movies.

If every year, we can say that we contributed a little more to increasing that kind of freedom in our society, than we’re on the right path. We can be proud.

My heart was a bit heavy yesterday. There are people I truly miss, people who I would give anything to share time with. Yesterday, for different reasons, that wasn’t possible.

Yet, I’m entering my next year of life with hope. I believe that things can get better. That healing can continue to bloom, both for me and our society.

Vulnerability is a strength. It leads to compassion, forgiveness, and care. It revives the wellspring of love. And love remains a central pillar of our quest for a brighter future.

More love. For all of us. That’s my birthday wish.

July 29, 2020

Spent yesterday battling monsters. Helped three more trafficking victims, including a young woman who’d never been taught that she had a sexual will of her own. Consent is everything. We can’t be afraid to talk about it.

August 15, 2020

starless night—
the black hole in space
is my syndrome

August 23, 2020

Years ago, I was gang raped. This is me today.

I struggle with vulnerability. Exposing my trauma sparks anxiety, especially given the degradation that I’ve faced after coming forward.

Yet, revealing myself brings me hope. It allows me to reclaim power over my body and stop seeing my “self” as a source of pain. So I made an Instagram about my trauma journey. You can follow it here: @kriscoffieldheals.

In trauma circles, we call reconnecting with one’s body “corporeal reclamation.” It’s an act of decolonizing one’s body from those who used it to satisfy a lust for control.

It’s an attempt to recapture the ability to trust and experience genuine intimacy. It’s a monumental act of self-care. And in my case, it’s a promise that I won’t allow my fear of being vulnerable to swallow me whole.

So this is me. Working through trauma, but unashamed of what I’ve been through. I was brutally gang raped. I could’ve been killed. But I survived. I’m not hiding anymore.

I’m speaking out. I’m taking my power back. I’m healing. I’m restoring myself. I’m resurrecting. I’m filled with hope.

I am love. And I am the fabric of life.