Welcome to The Pixel Project’s Survivor Stories Blog Interview series. This campaign features interviews with survivors of any form of VAW perpetuated by men and/or patriarchal culture/system including domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, stalking, online violence against women, female genital mutilation, forced/child marriage, sex trafficking, breast ironing etc.
This campaign was created to provide:
- VAW survivors a platform to share their stories and solutions/ideas on how they rebuilt their lives and healed/are healing.
- Girls and women currently experiencing or who have survived VAW ideas, hope, and inspiration to escape the violence and know that there is light at the end of the tunnel and there is help out there.
We encourage you to check out our previous Survivor Stories, which include updated interviews from Survivor Stories alumnae. The addition of updated survivor stories is to acknowledge and show that healing and rebuilding after VAW is an ongoing effort, and that it is possible to survive and thrive post-violence.
Our first Survivor Stories interview of 2024 is with Dr. Tamara MC from the United States of America.
The Survivor Bio:
Dr. Tamara MC is a cult, child marriage, and human trafficking Lived Experience Expert who advocates for girls and women to live free from gender-based violence and coercive control. Her Ph.D. is in Applied Linguistics, and she researches how language manipulates vulnerable populations. Tamara attended Columbia University and has published more than 60 essays in publications such as the New York Times. You can reach her on her website: www.tamaramc.com
1. What is your personal experience with gender-based violence (this may include domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, female genital mutilation etc)?
I grew up in a cult in Texas during the 80s and 90s and was married at 12 as a child bride. I stayed with my husband for eight years, until I was 20 and finally escaped. By then, he married another woman, so I was in a polygamist marriage. I also began working for the cult leader as his child domestic servant when I was 12, caring for his six children under six, helping his three wives. We were a polygamist cult, so I was exposed to violence against women through polygamy, since only men could have multiple wives.
Most of my commune sisters were married by 14, and none were allowed education other than religious doctrine. The tween girls, like myself, were in charge of childcare, cooking, and cleaning. We had to stay up for all night chanting sessions and weren’t able to sleep most nights more than a couple of hours. The tween girls were also fed last, which meant there was often only a few bites of brown rice left. The children experienced extreme corporal punishment and sexual assault.
2. How did you escape the violent situation/relationship/ritual?
Our cult fled the United States because of issues with the government. I was living in Europe with the leader and his three wives when I finally escaped. I managed to convince my captors to allow me to return to America because my step-grandfather had died (which was true) because I had to be with my grandma (which was also true). They allowed me to fly back, and I had every intention to return, but after staying in America for several months, I began building a new life for myself.
I found the university in my state had a class I was interested in, and so I enrolled. The following semester I took several more classes, and before I knew it, I had completed a bachelor’s degree in just over three years. I then went on for a master’s and eventually a Ph.D. I never looked back after leaving.
It is so key if someone has the opportunity that they leave the situation to create distance. When we’re in the middle of it, it’s so difficult to see, but after we leave, we often see things with fresh eyes. But we need time to be away because initially we might miss the abuser. So, we need to get past that phase to a place where we begin to imagine a different life for ourselves.
3. How did you heal and rebuild your life after the violent situation/relationship/ritual? What actions did you take?
Education was really how I was able to rebuild my life. Through university, I was able to learn to think critically for the first time. Growing up in a coercive community, I thought there was only one truth and one way to think, but as I progressed in my education, eventually being honoured with a doctorate degree, I began to learn there are multiple truths and multiple ways of thinking.
Healing is not one and done. I’m still healing today. There are so many different stages of healing – the acute, which takes place immediately after leaving and the chronic, which continues probably throughout the entirety of our lives. Gender-based violence is often extreme, and when it happens to us as children, what I have found, is that I’m always in a constant state of healing. This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t get easier because it does, but there will be challenges along the way.
I’ve been in therapy for probably 25 years. I go weekly and never intend to stop. Therapy helps me deal with things as they come up. I don’t hold onto problems and let them fester. Rather, I address them in a timely manner so I can move on most efficiently.
4. What would you suggest to or share with another woman or girl facing the same situation as you did?
Our timelines are all different. Some people are able to leave their situations quickly and move on quickly, but for others of us, it takes years and years. It’s so important not to compare our healing timeline with anyone else’s. I think it’s really important to understand that even though we may not physically leave a situation, we are still doing the work. From the earliest age, I remember making plans of leaving and what I’d do when I did leave. I had years of working through my eventual fleeing. Those were such important years for me, even though I was physically still in my situation.
Never discount the work you are doing today, even though it doesn’t seem like your situation isn’t changing on the exterior. You are doing such important work on the interior. Although someone may have control of your life on the outside, they can never control your insides. Those are yours and yours alone. Create your own secret world for yourself – make it as beautiful as you like. Stay in your world when you need to get through the hard stuff. Plot and plan, and keep those thoughts to yourself unless you know for certain you have someone you can confide in.
5. How do you think we can end violence against women?
We can end violence against women through:
a) Not making violence against women a taboo topic. The more of us that share our stories, the more they come to the light, not allowing them to be hidden and kept as secrets. Perpetrators want us to keep their secrets hidden. That’s partially how they gain control over us. We disempower them when we shout from rooftops what THEY did, not us. We are not to blame. As survivors, we have nothing to be ashamed of. Those who hurt and abused us are shameful cowards. All the disgust lies with them.
b) Involving men as allies and including them in the conversation. We can work with girls and women all day long, but often men and boys are the perpetrators, so we must include them in the conversations, educating and supporting them along the way. I often think organisations forget about men when really they are key in dismantling violence against women. As mothers and women, it’s so important we teach our sons and boys how to be men who love and respect women and who do not inflict violence against women.
c) Teaching our daughters and girls their worth so that they never accept anything less.
6. Why do you support The Pixel Project?
I support the Pixel Project because they work to end violence against women, which is my same cause. Imagine the world we’d live in if violence against women was eradicated – a glorious world indeed. Thank you for all the work you do. I hope to support you more in the future. I’m also here to collaborate and support any other organisations whose missions align with creating a world free of violence, so please feel free to reach out.