Our latest guest is Robert Uttaro, the author of an extremely important book – To the Survivors: One Man’s Journey as a Rape Crisis Counselor with True Stories of Sexual Violence. He works as a rape crisis counselor, public speaker and community educator. The book is dedicated to all who have been affected by sexual violence, and a portion of the proceeds from the sales will be donated to rape crisis centers. Check his website and buy the book here.
Hi, Robert, tell us a bit about yourself, please.
I am an author, public speaker and substitute teacher. I love listening to music, teaching and playing sports, cooking for others, and praying to God. One of my favorite things to do is to relax with loved ones and enjoy some good food and wine. I also love to just sit and listen to music or watch live concerts.
In the introduction to the book you say this book is not about statistics. How did you manage to convince the rape and sexual violence victims to trust you with their stories and publish them?
I asked women, men, and one transgendered man if they wanted to share their stories with me for the book To the Survivors. I described the idea of the book to them and explained that I believed their words would connect with others in meaningful ways. I believed in each person before they spoke to me. I also assured them that they would have final approval on their own stories before I published. Everything that happened was on their timetable and by their choice. The survivors could tell me as much or as little as they wanted. Throughout the process I gave each survivor a comfortable space with whatever setting and format they wanted. This was especially helpful to some of the survivors who never spoke about their experiences in depth or even at all. Ultimately, I tried to make it as comfortable and safe as possible. Everyone felt comfortable enough and trusted me enough to share everything that is in To the Survivors, and I am thankful that they shared.
How does the society see and treat the rape victims in general? Sometimes people seem to think as if the victim deserved it?
More people need to actively believe and listen to rape victims/survivors. Some people are incredibly supportive of rape victims/survivors and will do anything in their power to help them. There are many people who would be great counselors if they ever chose to be because they have big hearts and care deeply about helping people who are raped and those indirectly affected. However, there are far too many people who don’t even believe rape victims/survivors, and too many who blame rape victims/survivors for what happened to them. This causes serious damage. Think about it for a moment. Think of a person who has been raped. Think of their pain and suffering. Now think of how hard it is to talk to someone about it. Now imagine that the individual they tell doesn’t even believe them. Think of a person who is not empathetic and actually blames the survivor through indirect suggestion or overt accusation for being raped, as if for some sick reason it is their fault. Think of how painful this must be. I recently met a teenage girl who was raped and her own mother blames her for being raped. Tragically, her mother won’t even speak to her anymore. Think of this young girl’s suffering. More people need to believe, listen, not judge and not blame victims/survivors. It will positively change their lives. This is one of the reasons why the “Victim Blaming” chapter in To the Survivors is so important. I hope and pray it helps victims/survivors deeply internalize that the trauma they experienced is not their fault. It is never their fault.
What do you think about people who commit rape, how should they be treated?
I get angry and disgusted when I think of people who commit rape. I believe that every person who commits rape should receive lengthy prison sentences, even though I know that will never happen on this earth. I believe some people on this earth need to be incarcerated for the rest of their lives. However, some people who commit rape do change. Ultimately, I believe true justice lies with God. Rape causes deep pain and destruction to the body, mind, heart, and soul. But for those who suffer, I think it’s important to think of Jesus’ sermon on the mount:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.”
Sometimes I ask the writers, what is their mission – is it to entertain readers, to teach them something, to help them make the world a better place, … What is your mission as a writer?
My mission as a writer is to speak of certain truths and make people think and feel. It’s important for me as a writer to help those who are suffering, educate those who are uneducated, and challenge some of the false and painful philosophy of how we react to incidences of sexual violence. I hope to provide hope and show a glimpse of God’s light through the pain and destruction of rape and evil.
What about The Healing Place from the book (the name is not real obviously) – what is the THP’s mission?
THP’s mission is to give survivors and their families and friends the resources they need to reclaim their lives and begin healing. The work involves raising awareness of the issues survivors face and attempting to end sexual violence through healing and social change. This is THP’s mission; I do not believe we will end sexual violence on this earth as long as human beings exist, but I believe we can do a lot more to help those in need if we choose to.
What does your typical work day look like?
I am a substitute teacher working with grades kindergarten through the 12th grade. Recently, I have been fortunate enough to sub as a long-term gym teacher in grades K – 8. A typical work day consists of going to school and making sure the kids have as much fun as possible while teaching skills and ensuring safety as best as I can. After school, I am either working a second job in a different gym, teaching a creative writing class, or continuing to spread To the Survivors and obtain new speaking/educational engagements.
Do you find Social Media relevant in raising awareness of sexual violence?
I do, but there needs to be more human interaction face to face. For me personally, social media is very helpful with raising awareness with people I will never meet. In terms of those I do meet, however, I have had more of an impact contributing to the healing process of rape survivors and their significant others through individual meetings, workshops and group discussions. I think of Jesus and his ministry and how much he loves everyone and would help anyone. I mediate on how he taught so many people, listened to people, healed people, and challenged the religious and political authority at the time. His words and his being healed so many and inspired them deeply. News of him spread rapidly and continues to do so to this day. I try to be similar and help anyone in need, teach others, and even inspire. I try my best to just listen to people and help in any way I can. God gives us the ability to help heal others and spread beautiful messages around the world if we choose to. Jesus speaks of this in the Gospels. So for me personally, human interaction has been more important than social media.
What is on your working desk at the moment?
I have a Bible, two prayer books, two candles, a bunch of pens and pencils, and two rocks given to me that have spiritual significance; one from Medjugorje in Bosnia Herzegovina and one from New Jersey in the United States.
Who are your literary heroes?
I don’t have literary heroes per say. Musicians have always had more of an impact on me than authors have. I spend more time listening to music than reading. However, many books have played various roles throughout my life. Some of my favorite authors are Immaculée Ilibagiza, Marilyn Manson, and Biola Olatunde.
What would you say to anyone who’s just starting to write?
Write, write, and write some more. Don’t worry about where or how to begin. It’s imperative to not be nervous, to not fear anything, and to not allow any blockage you might experience to stop you. Write from your heart. Believe in yourself and your abilities, and don’t stop writing if you have the desire to write.
Thank you, Robert!
Thank you for having me Renato. It’s a blessing to speak with you.