Victoria Brewster, MSW

Victoria Brewster, MSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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The Little Girl is Me: Manuscript Review and Interview

This manuscript is many stories in one and describes the trauma that many have faced. If we think about the people in our lives; we can name at least one who has been a victim of abuse whether physical, verbal, emotional, financial or sexual.

This manuscript is written by Christine M. Ristaino who was molested as a child, date raped as a young adult and assaulted as an adult by a man who stole her purse and punched her in the head and face with her young children as witnesses. She is a professor at Emory University teaching Italian. The manuscript is a memoir which describes her family, her own upbringing and her husband’s along with the prevalent issues facing the U.S today-racism, prejudice, inequality, victimization and trauma.

She discusses her Italian-American upbringing and her current involvement with a Unitarian Universalist congregation. She further describe a course she took through the Unitarian Church on social justice, called, “Building the World we Dream About.” She discusses the assault and how it stays on her mind and in her memory thru dreams, interactions with others, how a Target store triggers her memory of the assault (It happened outside a Target store) and how when she tries to seek help there is no ‘right’ fit for her. She is not repeatedly abused thru physical, emotional or sexual means. She is not a subject of domestic violence, so who can best help her?

She is seeking assistance and resolution of some sort. She and her daughter attend an Aikido class and her son a karate class. She discusses friends of hers who are Jewish and Italian and the prejudices and misunderstandings that occur-an almost ‘lost in translation’ moment.

A line from the book that stood out for me, “When something is painful,” I said, “You just want to shut down, stop a conversation, prevent it from happening. It’s sort of a protection. But I was alienating people.” By not sharing the experience of what happened, she did not heal or move much in that direction and her friends and colleagues had no idea of how much this traumatic physical attack had on her.

How does one truly move on? Is trauma something that stays with a person who has suffered some form of it? Should an individual who has been traumatized open up and talk to family, friends, colleagues, and professionals to begin the healing process?

Another quote from the manuscript that stood out for me is: “…I know there are different levels to this, but what people don’t understand is that it’s all traumatic. It all counts. Abuse is abuse. You can have it happen one time or hundreds, but once it happens, we all feel the same way later on.”

This manuscript should become a published book. There is a lot of material here that covers many areas in the helping field(s).

It is never easy to write about your own hurts, misfortunes, and terrible moments in your life, but by doing so, one allows others who have gone through similar circumstances the opportunity to heal, to know they are not alone, and it provides others with an opportunity to learn.

Below is an interview with the author:

So, perhaps provide a bit of background about yourself-education and work experience.

I am a Senior Lecturer of Italian Language and Culture at Emory University where I specialize in cultural studies, identity, female agency, violence and oppression. I am also a Fellow in The OpEd Project Public Voices Fellowship at Emory University. In addition to two published books, one on cultural acquisition and the other on female agency during the inquisition in Italy, I have also written a memoir entitled The Little Girl Is Me, which investigates my exploration of identity after I was attacked in a parking lot. At Emory and in my community I advocate for violence prevention and equal rights. I received two undergraduate degrees–one at Skidmore College in Business and English and one at the University of Washington in Italian Language. I completed my Masters and Ph.D. in Italian Studies with a minor in Spanish at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I have been working at Emory since the fall of 2002.

What and when did you decide to write this manuscript?

I decided to write my memoir after I was attacked in front of my children in a parking lot on September 15th, 2007. Many people were asking me the race of my attacker. He happened to be black, but why did they want to know? At the same time, my three year old son was hiding behind my legs every time he saw a black man. I realized I had to address the topic of race with my children and my community in order to understand the complexities of race, many of which I had overlooked in the past. I began to ask questions I normally would have shied away from. For me, my and my children’s entire future rested on better understanding our world. As I began to record experiences around the topic of identity and race, I imagined my book would only be about these topics. However, looking into race was key to unlocking my own struggles with identity as a result of earlier violence in my life. Suddenly I could no longer keep these experiences contained. Uncovering my identity and letting go of the violence that had inhibited me from being my true self fill the pages of the second half of my book.

Has the manuscript assisted you in your healing journey?

Yes, writing the manuscript has helped me to heal on all accounts. Once I told my story, I understood my present in a way I hadn’t before. Acknowledging the violence of my past means I can also accept my present–the good and the bad. Sometime after I began writing, I stopped mediating other people’s conversations and began to voice my own opinions and thoughts. Now I can speak my truth from a place deep inside.

What do you hope readers will get/obtain from reading your future book?

I hope readers will take away the idea that we can only heal from violence, oppression, racism, loss, or any other traumatic event if we talk about and acknowledge what we’ve been through. Inviting our communities into the process whenever possible can be incredibly healing. I am hoping that bearing witness to our own and others’ stories (the idea that we must listen to a person without judgement and without turning away) will be something we all do well at in the future.

How did you come up with the title?

The title of my book, ‘The Little Girl Is Me’ is the result of a discussion I had with a fellow writer. Initially my book had a letter to my attacker at the beginning and end of it. I told the attacker that when my daughter reached out to me after the attack I turned away because I didn’t want her to see me bleeding. I wondered what my daughter had taken from this action and if she had felt shame as a result. My friend said Maddy’s reaction didn’t feel authentic. Maybe my five year old would be afraid, but definitely not ashamed. Suddenly it hit me, the little girl I was talking about wasn’t my daughter at all, she was me. I went back and re-read my book with this new insight and saw that this little girl was everywhere, trying to get out, trying to express her reality. I had been writing the book about her all along.

On another note, as somebody who is 4′ 9”, I have experienced life as a very short woman, so the title also refers to my stature.

What advice, if any’ can you offer to a person who has been attacked physically or suffered rape or sexual abuse?

I would have to say there is no magic cure but sharing your story with a trusted friend or community can provide healing if that community is willing to bear witness to your story. It’s a very tricky situation since many victims of abuse are made to feel as though the abuse was somehow their fault and thus, victims are afraid to come forward. Bearing witness to our own stories can provide us with a powerful reality, however. Because initially I did not tell my story, it became very easy to disassociate myself with many of my realities, to become a mediator instead of a powerful voice, and to minimize the important things in my life. Bearing witness to our stories, getting them out there and sharing them with people who can bear witness in a way that is powerful to us, is something that can help victims gain back their voices and become survivors. Often this process involves telling a listener what we need from him/her before we even begin to tell our story.

I wish to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to Victoria Brewster–who has modeled for me the concept of bearing witness–for her wisdom and compassion as well as for her insightful and important blog. Thank you so much.

SJS is very grateful to Christine for sharing her story. There can be much healing in doing so.

By Victoria Brewster, MSW
Staff Writer


ristainophoto by Christine Ristaino

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  1. Kerry January 20, 2014

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