Repost–Personal Healing as a Public Project: Ignacio Rivera’s Story

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by Darkness to Light on
September 22, 2016

As child sexual abuse survivors begin to stand up and speak out about their own experiences, they are filling the world with their perspectives. One of those survivors, Ignacio Rivera, hopes to not only share a personal experience with abuse, but amplify the voices of others. Through The HEAL Project, Rivera is giving survivors a platform and encouraging healing. The HEAL Project aims to prevent and end CSA by making visible the hidden tools used to guilt, shame, coerce and inflict violence onto children. The project’s primary strategies are: building community, critical analysis, social media campaign, mobilization and education. We asked Rivera about The HEAL Project and about giving survivors a voice to share their story and heal themselves and others.

D2L: Tell us a little bit about The HEAL Project.
Rivera: The HEAL Project is a project I began 14 years ago. In 1999, after having done years of one-on-one therapy and group therapy, I began the process of reconstructing a poem I wrote to my perpetrator into a larger body of work. In 2002, I performed Lágrimas de Cocodrilo /Crocodile Tears— a personal account of my childhood sexual abuse and incest survivorship. I toured with the show in the U.S. and abroad for four years. I wanted the show to be more than a show. I wanted audience members to interact with me, give me feedback and participate in the newly developed HEAL Project—Hidden Encounters Altered Lives. The project’s goal was to connect people, specifically cisgender females who were sexually abused by other cisgender females. Although I currently identify as transgender, I endured my abuse as a young girl and teenager. When I was coming to terms with what had happened to me…

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Sex (Ed) is Episode 3

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[Content Warning- sexuality, sexual violence]

Sex (ED) Is Episode is ready! Thank you to our participants who openly shared with The HEAL Project,  their thoughts and fears about sex eduction with their children–

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So as a parent, I will continue to practice comprehensive sex education with my child. I have already been doing that, in a way that’s incremental and appropriate for my child’s age.

When my child has questions, I answer them in a way that’s educational as well as positive, and I take any questions that my child has.

My biggest fear is that my child might ask something that might feel it’s beyond the age that my child is and then struggling to make decisions about how to talk about things that might not be something that my child’s ready to hear.

The other fear I have is that my child will go to school in a place where they might not be as accepting of comprehensive sex education and then of course want to share the knowledge that they’ve learned and then that might make teachers and other people uncomfortable.

And so my fear is how will we address that. One thing I have done already is told his teachers about what I do for a living. And so just making them aware that, hey, this is a child that’s going to be talking about sex most likely, and in a way that might be different than how other people talk about it.


As a parent, I will just try to continue to be courageous and have conversations about sex ed with my son.

When he was five he asked me where babies come from and I was so polarized, I didn’t know what to say. And then he followed up and said, “does doctor put it in her?”, and I said “if she’s lucky”. Cuz I had to make it a joke and then I sent him out the room.

But now that he’s thirteen, I plan on continuing to be more courageous in that conversation, because he was courageous enough to ask me.


As a parent, I have talked to my twin daughters about their bodies, boundaries, and sexuality since they were very young.

And they are now 16 years old and we had discussions about sex, about consent, about what feels good about what doesn’t, about what they’re scare of.

And as a survivor of sexual assault as a child, I remember when I was seventeen and I held them for the first time that, the first thought I had when I held them was that I was terrified that they were gonna go through what I had gone through, and I was gonna do whatever was in my power to prevent that.

And I think the whole experience of being a mother to them has been to realize that I can’t, you know, protect completely, and that the only thing I can do is to have an open conversation with them, and also that if they do experience sexual assault or violation that it’s not the end of their life.

And I think when they were born and when they were small children it felt that way. It felt that if it happened to them, you know, I didn’t know how I was gonna go on or, hmm, yeah.

And I think that’s been the learning curve and the learning process. And what’s been amazing is just to see that, you know, we do have an open conversation about it and that they are joyous and comfortable in their bodies and love to talk to me about, you know, making out, and how happy they are and how good it feels.

So that’s been really great.

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Kai on Outing CSA

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Kai on Outing CSA

CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING: Child sexual abuse, survivor 

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Black trans man, brown skinned, with a dark Cesar haircut, wearing a black t-shirt, sitting in front of a white wall/backdrop, speaking to audience/camera.

CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING: Child sexual abuse, survivor

Hello, my name is Kai.

I’m a business intelligence software engineer.

I am 42 years old.

I am black.

I am a transgender man.

My pronouns are he, him, and his.

I identify as panexual.

…and I am a survivor of child sexual abuse.

#OutingCSA #HEAL2End #Survivor


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Danielle On Outing CSA

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CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING: Child sexual abuse, survivor

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Black woman with short dark hair, sitting on square-patterned sofa, wearing long ankh symbol earnings, silver necklace, pink sweatshirt and a red hanging lament around her neck, talking  into the camera/to audience

CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING: Child sexual abuse, survivor

My name is Danielle Gilmore

I am a program coordinator by profession but a student of life— forever

I am 32 year old

I’m Black

My gender pronouns are her, she and hers

I am bisexual

I currently live in the South but I am from the Midwest

I pray

I meditate

I ride a bike pretty regularly

I run a tad bit

and I am also a survivor of child sexual abuse

#OutingCSA #HEAL2End #Survivor

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Sex (Ed) is Episode 2

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Content/Trigger Warning: Sex, Sexuality 

Sex (ED) Is Episode is ready! Thank you to our participants who openly answer the question–

“What is COMPREHENSIVE sex education?’
Ruth: Caucasian with glasses, a black shirt and necklace on. 
Comprehensive sexuality education, for me, is learning about yes’s and learning about no’s. It’s learning about a full range of what’s out there and what’s possible for humans in a way that isn’t judgemental but let’s us decide who we want to be.

And that includes, of course, not engaging in any sexual activity or partners, if we don’t want to. Because that’s one of the options that’s out there as well. It’s about understanding our bodies
and recognizing that nothing about sex, or about STI’s, or about not having sex, or not having STI’s is a punishment or getting what you deserve or not getting what you deserve. But rather it’s a lifelong process. It’s a part of who we are. It’s part of the interactions we have with people.

And it removes a great deal of stigma and it kind of let’s us be, and decide who we are and let that change all the time.

Brooke: African American with natural hair, read lipstick and a nose ring. 
Comprehensive sex ed is compassionate. It’s facts. It’s open. It’s fluid. It is an ongoing conversation. It is inquisitive. I don’t think we should assume that kids don’t know and aren’t capable of having complex conversations around the issues of life. They’re much wiser and intuitive than we give them credit for.

Chiara: Caucasian, with pink hair, a black baseball hat and large hoop earrings.
Comprehensive sex ed is learning about sex, not just as a physical experience but as an emotional and spiritual experience. And learning about sex as a whole host of behaviors that happens within oneself and with other people; with a center on pleasure and on sex feeling good physically, mentally, spiritually.

Video Created by CARE Strategies

Watch.Share.Join. – join us in lifting up Comprehensive Sex Education as a strategy against child sexual abuse. Submit a video TODAY! 

Sex (Ed) is episode 1

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CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING: child sexual abuse, sex, sexuality

Sex (Ed) is social media campaign asks, “When did you learn about sex.”

Marla–Black woman, bald head, earings, nose ring and necklace.

When I learned about sex I was in the second grade. My mother was a catalyst for me learning about sex, because she was a teenage mother, she really wanted me to make sure that I didn’t get pregnant. So at second grade she started teaching me all about the body, what sex was, I think she gave me the book, hm, one of those books that had all sorts of pictures of, you know, what it’s like to go through puberty, what women’s bodies look like, what mean’s bodies look like And so that was really helpful for me. So basically I learned all about sex from my mother.

Louie–Latino man with beard, short hair, and neon flower printed shirt on.

When I learned about sex was when my sister told me to freak my cousin and I was about seven years old.

Robin–White woman, with visual impairment, chin lenght hair, and blue shirt on

When I learned about sex was, well, there really wasn’t one time that I learned about sex. There was that time in fifth grade science when the teacher was reading an article about AIDS and she had to stop to explain intercourse. There was also that time that my mom was reading me a book about what happens to boys and girls when they grow up. The problem is she never told me about what boys and girls do together after they grow up, let alone girls and girls, boys and boys, or anybody else for that matter. After that, I pretty much taught myself about sex by reading books in the library and some very timely articles that came in Braille teen magazine that I got when I was twelve or thirteen, that had a whole glossary of sex terms, boy, I was happy for that.

Video Created by CARE Strategies (

Shameeka on Outing CSA

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CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING: Child sexual abuse, rape, IPV, survivor


Black woman with long earnings, a white sleeveless blouse, and wearing her locs tied up,  sitting in front of a wood panel backdrop speaking into camera/to audience.

I am Black and a woman

Born in the Bronx

Spent my entire adult life in Baltimore

I live in California now

I’m normally much more articulate

but this is the truth and the realness of the moment

My name is Shameeka Dream Smalling

I’m 35


A Jamaican living in America


Performance and healing artist


I am

This is

…a healing process

…My work

and I am a survivor of child sexual abuse, rape and intimate partner violence

#Outing CSA #HEAL2End #Survivor

Greg on Outing CSA

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Native man sitting in front of a wood panel backdrop. He has dark hair with a middle-hair-part that is pulled back. He is wearing two hanging white earnings. Has a black t-shirt on with the word Warrior showing.

CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING: Child sexual abuse, survivor

My name is Greg Grey Cloud

I am the co-founder of Wica Agli Native men against domestic and sexual violence

I’m 28

I’m Lakota and Dakota aka Native American

I’m a cis male

I live in Dakota and Lakota nations in South Dakota

I’m a brother. I”m a son and I’m a relative

…and I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse

#OutingCSA #HEAL2End #Survivor

Chiara– on Outing CSA

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CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING: Child sexual abuse and incest, survivor

Fair-skinned Italian woman, with pink bangs, hoop earrings and a cap. Wearing a black hooded jacket and blue t-shirt, sitting on a blue couch with square print.

CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING: Child sexual abuse, incest, survivor

Hi my name is Chiara
I’m an artist, and a writer and an organizer
I’m also studying acupuncture

I’m 34
I’m Italian
I immigrated here as a teenager

my pronouns are she and her
and I identity as queer

I live in the Midwest right now
I’m also a mother to two teenage daughters that I had as a teenager
I’m also a survivor of child sexual abuse for my whole childhood by both my mother and my father

#Outing CSA #HEAL2End #Survivor

Colorlines interview about The HEAL Project Reposted

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HEAL Project Tackles Child Sexual Abuse Using Survivors’ Videos, Theater and Social Media

Survivor Ignacio Rivera’s HEAL Project aims to end child sexual abuse ‘by making visible the hidden tools used to guilt, shame, coerce and inflict violence onto children.’

A photo of Ignacio Rivera, wearing a black hoodie and a gray shirt, with hands clasped at chest, in front of a blue background
Ignacio Rivera 
Photo: Gabriel Garcia Roman

Ignacio Rivera—a child sexual abuse survivor as well as a “transgender, Two-Spirit, Black-Boricua Taíno and queer activist, writer, educator and artist”—has dedicated their life to breaking silences. With their new HEAL (Hidden Encounters Altered Lives) Project, Rivera is using theater, social media campaigns and sex education for parents and guardians to interrupt the cycle of this often buried form of abuse.

A Pervasive but Underreported Problem

Research about the incidence of child sexual abuse in the United States is often prefaced with a disclaimer about the likelihood of underreporting because of stigma. According to a 2010 report to Congress by the Department of Health and Human Services, of the 1.25 million children neglected or physically abused, 24 percent were sexually abused. This translates to approximately 1 in every 15 children.

The report also found that girls are much more likely to be sexually abused than boys, and Black and Hispanic children are abused at higher rates than their White counterparts. But the bottom line, Rivera says, is that “child sexual abuse is something that affects all of us. Someone you know is a survivor of child sexual abuse, or you are.”

Performance Art as Healing

Rivera has been sharing their own experience of child sexual abuse with audiences since 2001. What began as a poem became a one-person show called “Lágrimas del Cocodrilo” or “Crocodile Tears,” which Rivera toured with for four years. The show evolved over the years, incorporating more audience participation and interaction and opening the door for people to come out as survivors. “Once [after a show] I was in the bathroom washing my hands and this woman comes in. She stands there, looks at me and just loses it,” recalls Rivera. “She starts hysterically crying, falls to the floor and I hold her. [She says] ‘That’s my story, I’ve never told anyone.'” Rivera says they are often the first person that an audience member has talked to about their abuse and that those interactions led to the HEAL Project.

Making Visible the Hidden Tools

HEAL, which launched in January, has three components. The first is “Outing CSA,” a series of short videos of people identifying themselves by race, gender, sexuality, location, profession and their status as child sexual abuse survivors. The videos, says Rivera, are not about telling the story of the abuse itself but claiming the identity and experience. “There is no burying,” they say. “The shit sprouts. It comes up everytime.”

In addition to the video series, Rivera is working on a sex-education curriculum aimed at parents and guardians. “The culture of silence and shame around sex and sexuality creates a breeding ground for child sexual abuse,” Rivera has said. Rather than using what they call “fear-based approaches,” Rivera wants to use sex education as a tool for opening up honest dialogue between parents and guardians and their children. “When we think about sexuality in that context, we are teaching our children how to be better partners, better friends. [It’s] a cultural shift in the celebration of sexuality rather than shaming and hiding.”

Rivera has their own experiences building this kind of relationship with their daughter, who was born when they were 19. “The first four years of her life I was so losing it,” they recall. “In my teenage years I had already attempted suicide. When she was young, I thought about it every day. I wanted to die. But she was the thing that kept me going. As she approached the age I was when I was abused, it was really hard to parent. I didn’t want to see her naked, I didn’t want to change her diapers. But I started healing myself and got into therapy and I realized I needed to be open with her.”

Rivera says they enjoy an open relationship with their daughter, who is 26. They plan on traveling and talking with other parents and guardians to further shape the curriculum. “I want parents to tell me what they are afraid of, what they’ve talked to their kids about, [what] worked for [them], [what] didn’t, what [they’d] like to see.”

Rivera is also adamant about incorporating a race, class and queer analysis that makes sure their curriculum reaches marginalized communities. “With all of my work I center people of color, and queer and trans people,” they explain. “I feel like anyone who is at the margins [is] the most vulnerable for abuse.”

Pain and Progress

The last part of HEAL returns Rivera to their performance art roots with a theater project led by survivors. Rivera says that while the work is daunting, they do see significant progress since they began this public journey 15 years ago. “I think the shifts that have happened have been around talking about sex, kink, polyamory and sexual liberation, about what’s happening on campuses, rape culture and [the idea] that ‘consent is sexy.’ It’s being cracked wide open.”

HEAL is supported for two years by a new fellowship from the Just Beginnings Collaborative. Rivera is one of eight fellows, all people of color who have survived child sexual abuse. Despite this fellowship and their long history, Rivera insists they’re just an everyday person. “I’m no expert,” they say. “I’m just a survivor.”

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