To The Survivors, by Robert Uttaro

This may sound strange, but I believe I was meant to read this book. I believe this book found me, rather than the other way around. 
When Robert Uttaro first emailed me (and a few other book reviewers) about his book To The Survivors, I knew immediately that I wanted to interview him. I was not too sure if I wanted to read the book, as I assumed it would be too hard for me to keep my rage in check if I read stories of sexual assault. No other crime saddens and angers me as much as rape does. But I decided to ask Robert for a copy of the book, because – no, there is no “because”, I really do not know why I went from, “Should I read this?” to “I am gonna ask for a copy”. Like I said, perhaps I was meant to read it. 

Before I published the interview on my blog, I posted a note about it on my Facebook page, requesting anyone who had any questions for Robert, a rape crisis counselor, to get in touch with me. In the post itself, I encouraged people to leave any questions they had. I even provided Robert’s contact information, in case they were more comfortable approaching him directly. I felt the work that Robert did was not only important, but could also help so many people in need. I promoted the post on every possible channel I could, more than any of my other posts, in fact. It was even a top post on Indiblogger, a network for Indian bloggers. But shockingly, there were no comments left on the blog, and no one got in touch with me about it either (cos one way of looking at it, why would they talk about something so sensitive in the comments section of someone’s blog). 
This silence bothered me more than anything else. I was not expecting a thunderous response, of course, but the silence only proved to me that people still wanted to suffer in it. I thought another way of raising awareness about these issues would be to have guest bloggers on my blog. In this book, Robert, and several survivors who’ve shared their stories in this book have repeated several times that “Most perpetrators are men, but most men are not perpetrators.” Keeping this in mind, I decided to invite a male blogger to write about this topic. A former classmate and fellow blogger has often spoken about sexual assault, and issues that are so prevalent today but not taken seriously enough. I texted him with my request, but received no response. This only strengthened my belief that people simply want to brush it under the carpet.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a short story titled A Rebirth. The story is set in the early 70s, but if you read this article about what happened two days (that’s right, two days) ago in Tamil Nadu, India, you’ll know the situation isn’t very different even now. 

I could go on, but this post isn’t about that. This post is about this wonderful book called To The Survivors that has left a very profound impact on me. To say I was affected deeply while and after reading it is an understatement. There were moments when my eyes watered, and there were moments when I was filled with a sense of hope. To The Survivors is not a story about a legal body nor does the author mention the real name of the institution he works with, lest it be perceived as a promotional document of some sort (he’s assigned it the fictional title of “The Healing Place”). It is not a book that in any way preaches or tells you what to do. Most importantly, it does not call anyone a “victim”. Anyone who has suffered sexual assault is referred to as a “survivor”. That in itself is an empowering thought. 

Several survivors have shared their stories in this book. They have shared how their lives were, until a certain point, moulded by what had happened, and how they overcame their struggles. There are stories by men and women, and some have related stories of being abused as children. Men often don’t disclose they were assaulted. In fact, women do not either, due to various reasons that I need not reiterate, but men tend to disclose it far lesser. Perhaps they should, whenever they feel the time is right. I am not saying they should approach a counseling centre necessarily (the book also emphasizes this point), but anyone they feel comfortable with. 

There are stories of victim blaming, which are the hardest to read, because in any case of sexual assault, the easiest thing for some people to do seems to be blaming the person who suffered the assault, rather than the one who did it. It logically makes no sense to blame a survivor, but it is done – everywhere, in nearly every case. Victim blaming is not acceptable. Period.

There is a poem, shared by one of the survivors, Shira, that will remain with me for a long time. It’s called The Changeling’s Lament, and it talks about how a woman is “expected” to behave and “be a lady” and “be proper” and how the poet does not want to conform to these rules. I could relate to this poem, as I am sure a lot of girls and women can as well. 

The book ends with a chapter on forgiveness. It ends with each survivor (whose stories are in this book) sharing their thoughts on what forgiveness means to them. I am rather humbled by the thought that such people walk amongst us who have the heart to forgive their perpetrators. They are really brave and are survivors in the truest sense of the word.

I recommend this book to every single person in this world (literally), and I don’t remember the last time I said this about a book (have you noticed how snarky my reviews have been lately?) It may break your heart at places and fill you with rage at others, but by the last page, you will be filled with a sereneness and hope. 

Again, I don’t remember when was the last time I did it, but I give this one a rating of 5/5!

Get the book here

If you wish to contact the author, Robert Uttaro, a rape crisis counselor, his contact information is below:


15 thoughts on “To The Survivors, by Robert Uttaro

  1. WOW! Must have taken a lot of courage to read that book too! Real stories from the victims… I'm sure it would have been very emotionally unsettling. I am always amazed at how people are able to share their painful stories, and more than that, how they're able to forgive and move on. It is one mystery I haven't yet figured out.


  2. So good that Robert wrote about rape victims and survivors. Even better than I got to know of the book from you. This is not an easy topic to read or write – it disturbs you but I also feel it needs to come out. People ares till shy to talk about. Your post was brimming with heart felt honest thoughts.


  3. Umm.. I'm right where you were at the beginning of the post. I hate crime against women with a vengeance and I'm not sure I'd like to read about them. But that rating of 5/5 makes me want to.


  4. There's nothing they can do to change what happened. But forgiving – that's a huuuge step and really, these people are so brave to do that. It saddens me to just think about them having gone through all that.
    Yes, it was quite unsettling, but also in some way, empowering, to know that despite everything, people do put on their brave faces and move forward.


  5. Yes, Robert has been working as a rape crisis counselor for 8 years now. I don't know if we have such centres here in India, but if we do, I'd surely like to volunteer!
    People are hesitant for obvious reasons. People blame everything from the victim's clothes to Chinese food, but not the perpetrator. In such conditions, who would wanna come out, knowing full well how ostracized they would be.


  6. Yeah, the survivors are not just women. There are several men who have shared their stories too. Thing is, these are not just stories of what happened to them, these stories are also about how they dealt with it and how they moved on in life – moved on is a broad phrase, and not entirely apt, as no one completely “moves on” from sexual assault. But more like, how they coped with it, and how their lives now are. Some stories, yes, were difficult to read, but I think this book is a must read for everyone.


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