by Robert Uttaro
Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013
Paperback, 26 pages
Reviewed by Amy Rivers
This is not the first book I’ve read about sexual violence. As a former director for a Sexual Assault Examiners (SANE) program, I’ve read many such accounts and have heard many stories in person. I didn’t expect this book to be so jarring, but as I read, I began to understand things about my own assumptions and prejudices that had not come to light before.
First, a note about triggers. When you pick up a book that contains true stories of rape and sexual abuse, you expect to be triggered. What surprised me was not the visceral reaction I had to reading the survivor statements in this book, but the internal battle to remain objective as I considered the author’s frank observations and internal dialogue. To The Survivors is written by a man, and though this should not have colored my reaction, it did. I was shocked at the intolerance and dismay I felt, especially given that the author is respectful and candid throughout.
I remember my first experience at a Take Back the Night rally and how few men were present. As I listened to the rage and the outpouring of grief from one female survivor after another, I started to understand how difficult it must be for men to step up. This was before the rhetoric of male allies was widespread, when sexual advocacy was still firmly female-dominated. I explain this so you’ll understand the lens through which I read Uttaro’s book, and also my fervent belief that books like this should be read, absorbed, and used to create much needed dialogue to combat rape culture.
To The Survivors is Robert “Bobby” Uttaro’s personal testimony about working as a male rape crisis counselor and community educator. His experiences are very relatable to those of us who have worked in the field. Bobby embarks on his journey as a rape crisis counselor full of enthusiasm and the desire to help. He quickly learns that the complicated nature of sexual violence often thwarts even the best intentions. After all, most perpetrators of sexual violence are men, regardless of their victims’ gender. Bobby espouses the passion and professionalism of his coworkers and trainers while trying to find his footing in a field that is not always welcoming to male allies—and certainly was not at that time.
As I read, I frequently had to check in with myself to unravel the emotions that each new experience brought up. I often found Uttaro slow to come to terms with what felt very natural to me—not to take things personally. He speaks to the discomfort and alienation of being the only man in the room in a way that sometimes made me feel frustrated with him, but upon reflection, I had to admit that these sentiments are not uncommon even for women in the field. And the care and compassion with which he interacts with survivors and faithfully tells their stories is admirable.
The universal themes of justice and forgiveness are tackled through the eyes of survivors, reminding us that every situation is unique and that all survivors respond to violence and healing in their own way and in their own time. Uttaro does not rush the survivors or cherry-pick the parts of their stories that he will share. Instead, he gives them control in the telling, allowing readers to feel and react to the parts that resonate most to them. Uttaro gives us his own insights without asking us to adopt them. He is honest, vulnerable, and irreparably human as he weaves together his experiences with survivor statements, as well as the impact both have had on his life.
Though Uttaro’s treatment of Christianity is gentle, he explores his own faith and the ways in which his beliefs have helped him persevere and serve, without being heavy-handed or pushy—a method that may very well come from years of practice in listening without judgment and guiding without usurping agency and autonomy from the survivors he works with.
When I finished the book, I put it down for a few days to gain some perspective, and the conclusion I reached is that To The Survivors provides insight into an angle of sexual violence services and prevention that is often overlooked. I am glad that Robert Uttaro wrote this book and that the survivors who shared their stories found an ally in letting their voices be heard.
© 2021 by Christian Feminism Today.
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