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Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Interview: Robert Uttaro

Today, I have an interview with the author Robert Uttaro, about his writing and how his work as a rape crisis counsellor has influenced his work.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.

I am an author, public speaker and substitute teacher. I love listening to music, watching live concerts, teaching and playing sports, cooking for others, and praying to God. One of my favourite things to do is to relax with loved ones and enjoy some good food and wine. 

It can’t be an easy job, but can you explain what it’s like to be a rape crisis counsellor?

For me, being a rape crisis counsellor is a blessing that is extremely beautiful, difficult, and painful. This work affects my mind, heart, body and soul. There are times of deep sadness, agony, inspiration and hope. Being a rape crisis counsellor has brought me deeper into prayer and a connection with God. There are sufferings that come with this work, but I love what I do and I will do it all of my life. 

Tell me about To the Survivors. 

To the Survivors is about my journey as a rape crisis counsellor with true stories of sexual violence shared by survivors. The survivors are diverse in age, gender, and ethnicity, yet each gives a similarly raw and heartfelt account of his or her victimisation and recovery. The authenticity and vulnerability with which survivors speak resonates profoundly. But the book is not only about sexual violence. Other topics touched upon are issues of justice, prison, depression, family, spirituality, and God. It is about how incredible and horrible we can treat each other. Messages within To the Survivors are very hopeful -- to the pleasant surprise of many readers -- and I am humbled to find it continues to positively affect people’s hearts and minds.

What inspired you to write the book? 

I did not consider myself a writer and never once tried to write a book until the experience of an intensely vivid dream one morning changed my life. I woke up from this dream and said, “I have to write a book.” I interpreted this dream as a vision from God. I prayed to God, moved from the bed to the computer, opened up Microsoft Word, and continued to pray. That is how To the Survivors began. In other words, God inspired me to write To the Survivors. 

Image: Robert Uttaro
How do you hope the book will be able to help others who have been affected by sexual assault and violence? 

I have many hopes for what the book might achieve in the lives of others, probably too many to list here. I will try to answer as best as I can:
  • I hope people keep breathing and do not choose to kill themselves.
  • I hope people understand that they are not alone. 
  • I hope people will not feel shame for being raped or sexually assaulted. 
  • I hope people will not blame themselves for being raped or sexually assaulted.
  • I hope people connect on some level with at least one person or concept in To the Survivors. 
  • I hope people understand that they can grow and heal from any pain they experience. 
  • I hope people who have not been raped or sexually assaulted become more educated on how to respond to incidences of sexual violence and the suffering of survivors. 
  • I hope people stop raping and assaulting. 
  • I hope people understand that God loves them more than they can even fathom, even if they do not believe in God. 
  • I hope people talk to God and listen to God. 
These are some of my many hopes. 

Image: Robert Uttaro
In your opinion, what do we as a society need to do to help victims of sexual violence? 

We need to believe and listen to them. We cannot truly be helpful until we first believe and listen. We need to be present with them and spread compassion. From there, we can be the bridge to where they want/need to go and support them in any way that we can. If someone wants to go to the hospital or see a law enforcement official, then we must go with them if we can. If someone doesn’t want that, we support that choice too. If someone wants to seek out counselling, we should help them get there. If someone isn’t ready, we try our best to understand why it may be too hard at that particular moment and support them in their decision. As part of my outreach, I train people on how to respond appropriately to disclosures of sexual violence. I use a tool that is easy to remember and implement when necessary. I ask that we “BLESS” people. Here is how: 
  • Believe: Believe that person if they disclose.
  • Listen: Listen to that person when they need to talk, cry, or scream. 
  • Empathy: Empathise with that person as best you can. 
  • Safety: Ensure that person’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual safety. 
  • Support: Support that person in whatever they need at the time. 
There are other things we can do throughout the world to help victims/survivors. Here is a list of some of my beliefs.
  • We need to educate the uneducated and raise awareness by talking about these issues in our homes, schools, places of worship, law enforcement agencies, hospitals, and other areas. I believe we need to especially talk with our youth and listen to them. Also, we can provide law enforcement officials, medical staff, parents, teachers, administrators, religious and spiritual guides, and parents with educational information and tools to help assist them in doing their jobs. 
  • We need more rape crisis centres throughout the world to provide helpful services to those who are suffering. 
  • We need to intervene in some way if we know someone is being abused, especially if the person is a child. 
  • We need more housing and beds for victims/survivors of human trafficking and for people who need to escape abusive and dangerous circumstances. 
  • We need to analyse laws, criminal justice systems, and sentencing guidelines throughout the world and question if they are fair and just. If they are not, and those in power should make the necessary changes to provide higher incidences of justice from a legal standpoint. 
  • We need more people to become true leaders, including our world leaders. 
  • We need to love each other. 
I believe all of us, believers and unbelievers, need to think about the world and offer a prayer or comment for each other, even if for just a brief moment. This is something all of us can do at any time, and at no cost. 

Which authors inspire you?

Musicians have inspired me more than authors throughout my life, but I have been inspired by Immaculee Ilibagiza, Greg Boyle, Biola Olatunde, Nancy Venable Raine, TJ Parsell, Mark Saltzman, Wally Lamb and Brian Welch. 

What’s your all-time favourite book? 

I can’t pick just one. Is it okay to give you six? 
  • Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Greg Boyle 
  • Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man’s Prison by TJ Parsell 
  • The Long Road Out Of Hell by Marilyn Manson
  • The Boy Who Met Jesus by Immaculee Ilibagiza
  • True Notebooks: A Writer’s Year at Juvenile Hall by Mark Saltzman 
  • The Gospel of John
What are you reading at the moment? 

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah.

Lastly, if any of my readers have been affected by the issues raised here, can you recommend any resources that may help them? 

I do recommend people search for crisis centers, therapists, religious and spiritual guides, and online websites. Here are some resources for your readers in the UK:

http://rapecrisis.org.uk/
http://www.rapecrisisscotland.org.uk/
http://www.rasasc.org.uk/
http://www.rapecrisislondon.org/
http://cambridgerapecrisis.org.uk/

For any of your readers in the US, they can go to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network’s (RAINN) website for more resources in their state: https://rainn.org/. And for anyone interested in resources specifically for male survivors, you can go to http://www.malesurvivor.org/ and https://1in6.org/.

Lastly, readers can always go to the book To the Survivors at any time if they find comfort in it or connect with any piece of it. I also think it is important to state that I hope people look deep into their own heart and follow it. I hope what I wrote in To the Survivors is helpful:

Sexual violence is a difficult topic to think about and even harder to deal with. I understand that a wide range of emotions may have been ignited while reading this book, so I ask you to take care of yourself. Always remember to take care of yourself no matter what, and never stop doing the things you love that bring peace and joy to your life. Whether it is music, art, exercise, cooking, reading, sports, prayer, nature, or any of the other amazing gifts life has to offer: Embrace them. Do what you love to do, embrace all the beauty that exists within yourself and the world around you, and take care of yourself. And of course, reach out to someone if you need help. Talk to a family member or friend, find the right therapist, or seek out a religious or spiritual guide if needed. Life is very difficult to go through it alone, so please talk to someone you love and trust, and one who always has your best interest at heart. 


To the Survivors is available to buy now.

Do you think it's important to write about difficult topics such as this? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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