A Conversation With Robert Uttaro, Rape Crisis Counselor and Author of "To The Survivors"

It’s a bad time to be a woman. There’s a cliched understatement! Was there ever a good time to be a woman? Chances are, if you are a woman, especially in India, you were killed while you were in your mother’s womb. If you made it out alive, you were probably drowned by your father or uncle. By some stroke of luck, if they let you live, you’re being severely ostracized by people because, if the golden words of some of our educated lawyers are to be believed, your worth is less than an insect. Those weren’t his exact words, you say? Well, read them again and see how they echo back to you.

Sexual assault is a terrible crime and the worst part of it is, if you are a victim, it eats you up from inside like a cancer – a cancer of the mind. You cannot speak to anyone about it, because everyone is now looking at you with judgmental eyes, or worse – with pity. You don’t need any of that. You were going about your day, doing your daily chores and some pervert decides to take his sickness out on you. But who do you talk to? Who do you trust?
People get uncomfortable when you discuss such subjects with them. Whenever I have spoken about rape, most people look down at their newly polished shoes, and start stammering and blurt out the following question, “Are you, like… um… have you been… you know, like, are you a victim?” Why? Cos being a victim is the only reason I would show support for a cause? Strange. 
Then, there are people like Robert Uttaro. Robert Uttaro is a Rape Crisis Counselor. He helps those who are victims of rape or sexual assault. He has recently authored a book, titled To The Survivors. It contains stories shared by survivors and also his own experiences as a counselor. I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to speak to him about the stories he has to share, his profession and the troubles he has faced, and his book. Below is the transcript of our QA session, where I have highlighted some key points as well:

Robert Uttaro, Rape Crisis Counselor and Author of “To The Survivors”

SD: Let’s talk a bit about your childhood and schooling…  

RU: My parents worked very hard to always provide my four older siblings and I with food, shelter, and education. As a child and throughout my life, I have had a deep love of God, music, and basketball, among other interests. I have always been able to listen to music for hours and hours. When I was a kid, I also used to play basketball all day and night during the summer, and would shovel out the basketball court to play in the snow with gloves during the winter. In terms of schooling, I went to a Catholic school for seven years, a public high school, and graduated from college with a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice.

SD: When did you decide you want to be a rape crisis counselor?

RU: I made the choice to become a rape crisis counselor when I was a senior in college. I was 22 years old.

SD: Do you feel the victims are open to receiving counseling or do you think the vast majority of victims suffer in silence? When they do approach you, do you feel they’re hesitant to open up?

RU: The vast majority of people who have been raped and sexually assaulted suffer in silence. Some are open to counseling, but many do not tell anyone for years. Some people never tell anyone at all. There are many justified reasons as to why so many people stay silent, but the silence tends to hurt those who have been victimized.
People disclose to me in many different places. Some people are hesitant and even terrified to open up, but they ultimately want to or feel an urge to. Some people never expect to open but end up sharing a part or their entire story while others completely break down. Of course, there are others who will never open up to me. I tried my best to explain in To the Survivors how many women did not want to work with or share a disclosure with me, for examples. At the time, most women did not want to open up to me.
Sometimes people disclose to me in very casual settings where the last thing you would ever expect is a rape disclosure. Examples of this are when people disclose to me at parties or while eating dinner during a relaxing night. These people have clearly felt the urge to speak, and they trusted me enough to share. Many times people will disclose to me once they learn I am a rape crisis counselor. Other times, people just break down. I knew a woman for a couple of years and never once thought that she had been raped, but one day she just broke down to me. Tears poured down her face as she broke the silence and disclosed that she was sexually abused for years when she was a child. Many are hesitant to open up, but many also open up. If people ever choose to open up, I think it’s important for them to open up when they are ready and to someone they trust.

SD: Do you think rape and/or sexual assault is a problem faced by women alone? If not, do men opt for counseling? Do they go through similar trauma as a female victim or do they react differently?

RU: Women, men, and children are raped and sexually assaulted. It is wrong to think only women are raped and sexually assaulted. Some men do receive counseling, but many do not. In fact, there are many men who do not fully understand or even know that they have been sexually abused given the trauma they experience at such young ages. Both men and women can repress memories. If you read To the Survivors, you will read three stories of men who were sexually abused as children. Their stories will show you how the crimes affected them and how counseling and other things have helped them in their healing process. The stories show the damage and growth, and I hope they allow for other men and women to seek help if they need it.
I do not wish to speak for every human being, but in my experiences and my beliefs, there are more similarities between men and women than differences when discussing trauma and their reactions. First and foremost, rape and sexual assault are sexual violations that are traumatic and evil. Regardless of gender, people are sexually violated and suffer as a result of that violation. Silence is silence. Shame is shame. Fear is fear. Depression is depression. Anxiety is anxiety. Rage is rage. Tears are tears. Suicide is suicide. Many women and men experience these.
There are many similarities between men and women, but there are also many false societal teachings that do impact men and boys who are raped and sexually assaulted. For example, many men believe that as a man, they must be able to protect themselves. This is not true because any man can be raped or sexually assaulted, but many believe this. Also, many men are sexually abused as children. No child should ever be sexually abused, nor should any child be expected to always take care of themselves in every single situation. But some, arguably many boys do believe they should protect themselves. This false idea continues within them well into adulthood. This happens to some women as well, but it may be more so in terms of men.
Another false societal teaching is the idea that men should not have certain feelings, or shouldn’t express their feelings. Some believe that only women should be or can be emotional, and men shouldn’t. They believe that they can’t cry or talk about their feelings. They believe they should just get over it. But this is not true, and many men suffer as a result of these false teachings and beliefs.

SD: Do female victims find it uncomfortable to discuss their story with a man? Have you ever felt it?

RU: Some do, and I have felt it. It’s important to note that some men are uncomfortable sharing their story with a man.

SD: Are there many male rape crisis counselors?

RU: No. I hope that changes if men desire it. There are many men who would be great rape crisis counselors if they ever chose to be, but it is their choice. Sadly, many men do not understand how helpful they would be, and some are fearful and nervous. I hope that changes and I believe it can. 

SD: Putting survivor stories in a book is extremely brave. Were the survivors open to this idea?

RU: Yes. I told every survivor who is in the book that I wanted their story in the book if they wanted to contribute. There were no surprises. I also gave every survivor a copy of the manuscript before I published. Every survivor in the book gave final approval of their own words prior to publication. I would never publish unless they approved, and ultimately all of the survivors who contributed their stories in To the Survivors did approve.

SD: Have you ever felt extremely emotional (be it anger, disgust, sorrow) during any of your sessions? How do you cope up with such issues? As a counselor, you have to keep emotions at bay; how do you manage to do this?

RU: I have felt extremely emotional during and after every rape disclosure I have ever received. When helping someone in need, I have learned to forget about myself and listen to what that person is saying, or not saying. I would say to others that a listener should try their best to just listen to the one in need. Keeping emotions at bay can be difficult, but it is possible. Forgetting about myself completely allows me to do that. However, there may be times when you do not keep your emotions at bay. This can also be a good thing, because it may help the survivor who is opening up understand that they are not alone and that they aren’t the only ones who get emotional.
In terms of coping with such issues, I have found that prayer, mediation, music, and connecting with people are essential for me. I could not do what I do without God. I could not do what I do without prayer, mediation and music. When discussing how to manage such issues and self-care, one must think about what they love to do and what their heart desires. There are many beautiful gifts in life, so embrace what you love and try things you are interested in. Music, art, dance, prayer, mediation, nature, cooking, reading, writing, exercise, and many others are great forms of self-care and ways to deal with the painful realities of life.

SD: A word of advice to those reading this..?

RU: To the Survivors continues to help women and men who have been raped and sexually assaulted (many as children), significant others, and also individuals who do not know of anyone personally affected. There is a huge focus on rape and sexual assault, but the book deals with many different issues and ideas. I believe it is a valuable read that anyone can benefit from regardless of whether or not you are a survivor. However, it is hard and may be triggering if you are a survivor or know a survivor. Please read To the Survivors at your own pace. You do not have to read this book if it is too hard right now, but I want you to know that there is far more good than bad in it. There is more hope than harm. Certain parts of the book may be very difficult to read, but you can get through it. If you are nervous, anxious or scared, I ask that you go to Amazon.com and read what readers and companies have said about the book. I would never write and publish a book that deals with such serious content if it didn’t help people.

I was cynical enough to believe there’s no hope left. I was harsh enough to believe nearly everyone was a monster and that compassion was dead. It was at such a time that Robert Uttaro’s book was published. Robert Uttaro is a truly compassionate man who has helped so many people and I respect and admire him with all my heart. Frankly, I have not yet read his book, though I have a copy. Like he’s mentioned, there are parts of it that may be too hard to read, and sexual violence is a topic I am extremely sensitive about. I would strongly urge you to get yourself a copy though. If you wish to get in touch with Robert, you can find his details below:

In addition to this, if you have any questions for Robert, please mention them in the comments box below, or as I mentioned earlier on Facebook, you may inbox me. 

If you wish to buy To The Survivors, here’s the Amazon link.


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