"Beware, there are monsters among us." The headlines warn, blaring out in big bold letters from every screen we encounter. The well-meaning 'likes' and 'shares' of those urging us for vigilance -- the rally cry of danger becomes our second nature.
When you were the victim -- the prey, the stalked, the violated -- you are acutely aware of every rustle of danger.
"Fool me once," you promise, staring at yourself in the mirror.
When you were once a victim, you suddenly begin to try and analyze all of your perceived flaws -- your soft underbelly -- that made you a target.
Was it your willingness to trust? You question your upbringing, the way your voice used to lilt when asked a question. You think about all the times your parents and teachers taught you to 'be kind,' but was that kindness simply a fulcrum point for that monster to sink its teeth in?
Was it the curvature of your body? You scan your skin and bone structure like an Anatomy and Physiology student, channeling your skills from TV shows to try and find the hidden clues on what made you the victim du jour. Was it the way your calves turned in with a convex curve, highlighting the hip bones you inherited from your mom? Was it the gentle eyes you wore on your face, illuminating the world around you?
"Remember, there are monsters among us!" Those voices are constantly shouting, even silently. Trust me, the survivors aren't deaf to that message. Between the suited-up and polished news anchors reading horrors off the local TelePrompTer, to the 10-pt. font warning on a news feed urging people to "#BeCautious," every survivor knows that the monsters lurk.
And with every well-meaning cry for 'caution,' we are shaming those survivors into the metaphorical Time Out Corner for getting caught up in their traps. Instead, those sentences are shaming them back into the darkness, saying "you should've known better -- there are monsters! No wonder you got bit!"
The monsters among us aren't lions prowling, baring teeth at their enemies. Nor are they even like opossums or raccoons, hiding in the night, foaming at the mouth.
No, these monsters -- these everyday threats -- are the closest things to shapeshifters that walk the earth. These monsters cloak themselves in the faces that we know and trust, the faces of those who are just like us.
So throw out the rally-cry of vigilance in place of a new platitude: "Remember, there are survivors among us!" Much like we embrace the brave military veterans who return home from war -- struggling to comprehend the horrors they bore witness to -- it is now time to lend the same kind of empathy to the violence survivors that occupy our same communities.
The victimized. The abused. The raped. The assaulted. The trafficked. The stalked. The children. The women. The men. The LGBT. The survivors.
When we walk through the aisles of our local grocery store, keep a silent score of the tally -- at least 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 7 men will bear the brunt of this. At least.
As you meander past the canned carrots and dehydrated milk, think to yourself how many people are cloaked in survivorship -- carrying the invisible bite marks from those monsters that prowl as openly as we all walk.
The sheer numbers should allow for the truth to speak for itself: Yes, the monsters are here. Look at all they have harmed. Until we allow for ourselves to change the narrative, those survivors will often spend their days wondering what made them disposable enough to endure the pain...when in reality, the monsters are indiscriminate and hungry.
Whether it be victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking, rape...the monsters are among us, this we know.
But more than monsters, there are survivors among us -- en masse. So instead of blaring sirens and 'tsk tsk'-ing in the dark, we must all turn on the proverbial porch lights of our hearts and our communities -- we need to illuminate the way for these survivors to get the help and healing they need...because those monsters? Those abusers? ...They don't like the light.