Seldom do we find people genuinely passionate about making the world a better place. Back in college, I met a fellow psychology major who just transferred in. Just talking to her, you could see the fire in her eyes. Even in her first semester, she wasted no time getting involved with volunteering with on-campus organizations and local non-profits. On a personal level, she went out of her way to listen and just be there. Over the next few years, she narrowed her focus to a cause near and dear to her heart- sexual violence.
Luckily, we stayed in touch. She went from a motivated college student to successful businesswoman. She developed two non-profits to raise awareness about sexual violence and is now a best-selling author of the Breaking Through The Silence series. I had the chance to sit down with Marissa Cohen and dissect her brilliant mind a bit.
The Caring Counselor: What made you decide to focus your efforts on sexual violence in your career?
Marissa Cohen: When I was in college, I was in several abusive relationships. Each time was very different, and each time I felt extremely misunderstood and alone. It wasn’t until I began talking to other people about my experiences that I realized that the things I was experiencing, others were also experiencing. But nobody talked about it until I spoke first. So, I wanted to help other people feel comfortable speaking out, and speaking their truths, by knowing they aren’t alone.
CC: And how exactly have you been about to carry out that message?
MC: Well, my books, Breaking Through the Silence: the Journey to Surviving Sexual Assault and Breaking Through the Silence; #MenToo, are stories of abuse and survival from the voices of the survivors. That aims to create [a sense of community], so silenced survivors know they’re not alone. And other initiatives, like #ImAStatistic that I co-created with a business owner friend; and My Right to Say No. And my healing program: Path to Healing Through Writing.
All of these things aim to support survivors, or “warriors” as we call them, in different ways.
CC: That was something I noticed in your social media – how you use the term “warrior.” How did that come about rather than simply saying the word “survivor?”
MC: Honestly, I can’t stand the term “survivor.” I think it takes the power away from people. Like, “I BARELY survived…”. No! These people have been through HELL AND BACK! They’ve had to literally lose complete control of their lives, and rebuild a new person from broken pieces. That’s a godd**n warrior.
But I asked my social media followers which word they liked better, between Warrior, Thriver, and several others. And the most people identified with Warriors, so I ran with it.
CC: That’s awesome. I never knew that’s where you came up with that.
MC: (laughing) Yeah! I remember the day, too. I sat with my mom thinking of every word I can think of that might work. And i got over 100 Facebook comment responses, which, at the time was unheard of for me. It was before my first book.
CC: And your book series focuses on warriors’ stories. What direction did you most recent book take?
MC: My newest book, Breaking Through the Silence; #MenToo, focuses on male survivors of sexual assault. Men are the most under-reported warriors. And after the peak of the #MeToo movement, men felt very overshadowed and left out. I used to get a lot of men reaching out saying that they didn’t have any support. Especially after my first book. I remember a couple weeks after my first book, Breaking Through the Silence; the Journey to Surviving Sexual Assault, launched. I was out with my friend, and we ran into a coworker of ours. He bought a book from me at the bar, and two older men (50+ years old), pulled me aside to tell me their stories. How they were abused by family members when they were younger, or their child was abused by someone when they were young, and asked me what they should do, or for some advice.
I immediately tried to think of the best way to spread awareness, so I reached out to the men I know who have been abused, and asked if they wanted to be a part of my book. And from there, grew.
CC: What kind of impact do you think your book will have on the stigma attached to me who were abused?
MC: I’m hoping it will open peoples eyes. A lot of times, males who were abused are told they aren’t “real men,” because real men would protect themselves. Or they are doubted because “men love sex”. Or their sexuality is questioned because they were raped by a man. But that’s ignorant. Assault is about power and control. That’s why kids are such perfect victims. They are smaller, easy to manipulate, and are typically told to respect their elders. It’s a truly fucked up system. And the majority of male victims are children.
So ultimately, I want male survivors to know they are safe. That the community is inclusive of them, and they will be supported.
And for everyone else, I want to teach them that anyone can be victimized. And that doesn’t reflect or define anyone as a person. I want advocates and allies to support all survivors, regardless of gender. I can’t stress that enough.