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Survivor discusses past abuse

Caitlin Housley | Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Victimologist and educator Tena Dellaca-Hedrick delivered her speech, “Turning Passion into Purpose” as part of a co-sponsored event held by Saint Mary’s Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO) and the Cross Currents Program’s Collegiate Speaker Series.

Through audience participation activities, Dellaca-Hedrick helped students, faculty and community members develop a sense of self. However, by helping the audience find themselves, Dellaca-Hedrick also helped them discover the power of life experiences and the empowering nature of community.

As a victimologist, Dellaca-Hedrick deals with patients of domestic and sexual abuse. While Dellaca-Hedrick works with victims as part of her job, she herself was also a victim of sexual abuse.

However, she said she decided not to dwell on her own victim stories. Rather, she discussed how stories of victimization can change into empowering ones of survival.

With one exercise showcasing how ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’ are defined by different terms, Dellaca-Hedrick demonstrated even with good intentions, we view victims in a negative way.

“Victims of sexual assault die the day they are victimized … then they are re-born,” Dellaca-Hedrick said.

Dellaca-Hedrick had the audience describe her based on first impressions. The audience described her in words detailing her race, sex, marital status, religion and age, among other things. After compiling a list, Dellaca-Hedrick went through proving why three of the five adjectives were false.

She said each and every aspect of a person’s character contributes to a person’s identity in a vital way.

“What you see on first glance can re-victimize a person by assuming something about a person,” Dellaca-Hedrick said. “Even from the best intentions, we make assumptions about people … by making assumptions about our friends and family, we can hurt them too.”

Dellaca-Hedrick told the audience that all were survivors, who had experienced some event in their lives that has impacted us directly and changed their identity.

“Anybody who feels they haven’t survived something, I would like to meet you,” she said.

Despite her own experience of abuse, Dellaca-Hedrick said she would not change anything about her life. She said her background led her to travel the world and meet and help people.

“Every experience, whether pleasurable or painful, is a gift … and has led us to where we are today,” Dellaca-Hedrick said. “It’s what we make of that gift that is up to us.”

At work, Dellaca-Hedrick said she helps her clients find their own internal power and strength.

Therefore, Dellaca-Hedrick urged the audience to find themselves, claiming “education is not the only stepping stone to where you want to go.”

Instead, she claimed, it is personal experience that makes people who they are.

“Academia is the icing on the cake, but the cake — your cake — is meaningful,” Dellaca-Hedrick said.

As part of enriching that cake, she asked the audience to create personal goals and put them into action.

As her last activity, she made audience members change positions in the room and actually go through another person’s purse. She then asked for volunteers to tell how they felt. ‘Nervous,’ ‘exposed,’ ‘exploited’ and ‘uncomfortable’ were all words used to describe the experience.

Those were all the emotions she said victims feel when telling their story. By recognizing that everyone has felt this way at some point in their lives, she said they can better relate to our peers.

Jacqualyn Zupancic, a junior, said she felt a sense of community she felt after the lecture.

“[The lecture] brings unity. I now know that I’m not alone,” Zupancic said. “People over and over again will face the same things I’m going through.”