We are thrilled to announce that Eudaimonia Press is collaborating with the wonderful Quail Bell Magazine to publish Her Plumage, a collection women's writings from the regular contributors at Quail Bell Magazine. All of the proceeds from the sales of Her Plumage will be donated to She Is Rising, an incredible organization in Austin, Texas that helps survivors of human trafficking. Her Plumage will be hitting the bookshelves early this summer. Stay tuned!
Reclaiming My Worth after Trafficking and Sexual Assault
By Brooke Axtell
Brooke Axtell’s performance at the Grammys left millions of viewers and media outlets—from the Washington Post to Rolling Stone—wondering: Who is she? Beautiful Justice: Reclaiming My Worth after Trafficking and Sexual Assault (Seal Press; April 2, 2019) answers that question. More importantly, her book offers a new theory of justice around sexual abuse: one that empowers survivors and focuses on what they deserve, rather than limiting justice to what happens in the courtroom. Though Axtell feels strongly that perpetrators should be held accountable and has helped women testify against their assailants, she is also realistic about the impact those efforts can have: 90% of perpetrators will never spend a day in jail. Axtell notes, “even when I've been a part of successful prosecutions, it doesn’t set survivors free from the impact of the trauma.”
Axtell was seven years old when her male nanny raped her repeatedly and brought her to parties where he sold her body—all while claiming that her sinful nature was forcing him to do so. Like many survivors of childhood sexual trauma, feelings of worthlessness and shame instilled by her abuser led Axtell into unhealthy relationships as an adult—including the one she spoke about at the Grammys. Years later, when she finally revealed the abuse to her parents, Axtell knew that true justice wouldn’t come through the courts. She would have to create it herself. She explains: “Even if my perpetrator spent the rest of his life in prison, it wouldn’t give me what I deserve: to heal, to thrive, and to reclaim my life.”
Beautiful Justice, Axtell writes, “is the integration of inner healing and cultural healing, recovery of the individual, and the movement for social change.” To show how it works in practice, Axtell shares her personal story alongside lessons learned from her work as a mentor and advocate for fellow survivors of sex trafficking. In the process, Axtell writes, “I am redefining justice to include and honor our well-being as survivors… We are no longer waiting for someone else to set us free.”
Brooke Axtell is the founder and director of She Is Rising, a healing community for women and girls overcoming rape, abuse, and sex trafficking. Based in Austin, Texas, she is a writer, speaker, performing artist, and activist.
Reclaiming My Worth after Trafficking and Sexual Assault
By Brooke Axtell
Published by Seal Press/Basic Books
Today my teacher told me something private. I knew she was lying, but I listened to her anyway. I love Ms. Kaur.
She tucked in a few strands of her black hair under her white turban and whispered it in my ear.
In our classroom, there was me and Ms. Kaur, we sat at the head table with Ms. Paula and some other kids. Table One. Then there were two other teachers, Ms. Juanita at Table Two and Ms. Henrietta at Table Three. All the kids at all the tables were bad kids. I don’t know who decided that this school was the best school for me. I cried when I first came, but the teachers shook their heads and turned their faces away. They thought I heard things that were not there, they thought I saw things that were not there. They thought I did not know that the world was not real.
“When I was your age,” Ms. Kaur whispered, “I couldn’t read.”
But how could that have been? Ms. Kaur knew all sorts of things and she always answered our questions, at least when Ms. Paula was not in the room.
I suppose all grown-ups lie. They lie about how much they give you, they lie about how much food you eat, they lie about how bad you are. They lie about how hard it is to love you.
I expected her to be different than the rest because Ms. Kaur finds us all easy to love. She always tells me that I am smart. As smart as any child she has ever known, smart as any adult. A sagacious young man, she says.
“How you pick up and delight in words, Josué, like a child collecting seashells.”
I suppose Ms. Kaur did not want me to think I was the only one who struggled, so that is why she told me her lie. But she didn’t have to do that. This made me the angriest I could be. I yelled, “That’s not true!” and before I knew it, Ms. Paula had the quiet room teacher come get me and put me away for the rest of the afternoon.
Tomorrow I will tell Ms. Kaur my own secret and she will believe me because I love her. She knows that I tell the truth.
My name is Josué. I am eight years old and I have never seen the moon. I have dreamed of it, and of the stars, but dreams are dreams. I have never been out at night.
At home, I stay locked in my closet while aunty and grann are out. It’s OK. I have my books and a little light that I use—gifts from my mother. They let me keep that much. Though we never mention her name. The shades cover the windows day in and day out, rain or shine because aunty and grann do things they shouldn’t. No one is to know or see.
No one hears me crying. My aunty reminds me of this whenever she thinks to. She can pick me up with one hand and throw me against the wall. When I say I am hungry, when I say I am mad, she says that I am bad, like a rotten fruit. She says she will smash me until the pulp comes through.
Tomorrow I will ask Ms. Kaur what I have always wanted to know.
“Ms. Kaur, what does the moon look like?”
She will answer me the way someone who loves you answers when all they want is for you to learn and keep learning.
“The moon is a beautiful thing. It shines brightly. The light of the moon cuts through the night. When you see its glow, you are transfixed.”
“What does transfixed mean?” I will ask her even though I know.
“Transfixed means you are captivated by something.”
I will sigh, but she will know that I understand all of these words.
There is another boy, James, who said that he liked buildings. Tomorrow, Ms. Kaur will come to school with a set of real blueprints under her arm. Ms. Paula will tell her that she cannot show them to us. But when Ms. Paula walks out to the bathroom, the prints will be unrolled, we will see the white lines and numbers against the dark blue paper. Ms. Paula will walk back in the room just as James is running his hand over the drawings, imagining he will make constellations like these one day.
Ms. Kaur is not scared of Ms. Paula, like we are. I know she does not like to argue in-front of us, but tomorrow Ms. Paula will yell in her shrillest voice. She will say that Ms. Kaur, the raghead bitch, has no right to show us anything. Then Ms. Kaur will say to Ms. Paula’s face, you have no right to be teaching these children.
It will be Ms. Kaur’s last day at school. When she says goodbye, she will whisper in my ear one more time.
“My beloved,” she will say, “you are proof of my faith. You are proof of something—something immutable, something constant.”
Tomorrow night, I will be the bravest I have ever been. When aunty and grann are asleep, I will unlatch our door. I will take each step down to the street like I am walking on sand. I will walk out into the open air and call out to Ms. Kaur. Will she hear?
Yesterday I will decide to believe Ms. Kaur. Believe every word she says and never get mad, never feel the earth roll under me like a tide. I will look up at the sky and see something for the first time. The stars. The moon, full and bright. I will know the moon will look changed the next day and the next. But I will know it to be constant, its waxing and waning. I will know there is proof of the world.
K Dulai lives in the California, where she works in nonprofit development. She has been published in The Eastern Iowa Review and The Waterbug Digest.