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    Triggers, Flashbacks And Healing: Survivors Of Childhood Sexual Abuse

    Below is a compilation of photos of childhood sexual assault survivors who were willing to be photographed with their ‘trigger’ objects. While many triggers can’t be photographed, these pieces provide a way of understanding what it means to be triggered (the first photo) and what it means to find a way to heal (the second photo).

    In the first photo, the survivor interacts with their 'trigger' object. Often times, familiar and everyday items like markers, water, or the smell of punch cause flashbacks. As the trauma is relived, the survivor may begin to convulse, breath heavily, and have an increased heart rate. Triggers cause survivors to experience what they felt when they were being abused in present time.

    "Red Punch"

    “A drink that I used to only associate with warm summer days quickly became a form of escape. When I could not bear another moment, I would ask to go get a drink of red punch. I took my time savoring my sweet, red drink before I would have no choice but to return.”

    -Female Survivor 1 (Triggering Photo)

    In the second photo, the survivor poses with an object that signifies their healing. Each survivor is on a journey of healing and has found that to move pass the violence, they had to find love and safety in their careers and relationships with loved ones.


    “It was not until I was married that I understood that affection and intimacy were not intended to be feared, but trusted and embraced. I tell my story to portray that everyone deserves love in its purest form, no matter what has happened.”

    -Female Survivor 1 (Healing Photo)


    "Water was supposed to be a safe place. A parental duty where a parent takes care of and nurtures a child. For him to take something that was supposed to be safe and nurturing and instead make it something that is wrong…. something that felt “icky” was the moment when I realized that this is not what love felt like. The water was the moment of knowing this was not what being taken care of was supposed to feel like.”

    -Female Survivor 2 (Triggering Photo)


    “For me healing is rooted in being connected to another being. In having someone to take care of; in being needed and needing someone. It is about knowing there is a shelter from the storm. A safe place when everything else is a tornado. I found my safe place in my brother, and then later was even found in my four legged companion. When you have a safe place, you will not only survive, you'll thrive.”

    -Female Survivor 2 (Healing Photo)


    "She gave me a choice: either stay and 'color' with them or go back to doing chores outside. Coloring was no longer something to enjoy, but something to fear. It is hard to understand how something so bright and full of life can be used to cause torment and pain.”

    -Female Survivor 3 (Triggering Photo)


    "I am now a confident, professional young woman capable of love, happiness, and success. That's why I tell my story. There are so many girls, boys, women, and men who do not have the words; who are burdened with the same shame, confusion, fear and disgust that I once had. I tell my story so that they too can find the words and experience the freedom of healing and support. "

    -Female Survivor 3 (Healing Photo)


    “As he looked at me, there was something in his eyes that told me everything was about to change. I became fixated on those white tights I had hated so desperately putting on. They were my safety net, keeping me from any harm. As I watched them disappear, I knew my world would never be the same.”

    -Female Survivor 4 (Triggering Photo)

    "Inspired by Survivors"

    “The moment I started Breaking Silence, was the moment when all of the pieces that I had lost started to fall back into place. The more I told my story, the more stories I heard, the more I knew that I was no longer a victim of his decisions. I am a survivor.”

    -Female Survivor 4 (Healing Photo)

    Breaking Silence is an organization committed to inspiring communities to take action and recognize their responsibility for the impact interpersonal violence (IPV) has on our culture and the lives of numerous individuals annually. Breaking Silence is creating a pro-active approach for responding to IPV through our interactive exhibit, which empowers participants to identify and prevent future incidences of IPV. The exhibit sparks important conversations, creating a new culture where breaking the silence is not only accepted but is strongly encouraged. True healing begins when survivors are given a voice, and that voice is heard. Through the exhibit these voices become the catalyst for change, creating communities where violence is no longer tolerated.

    For more information please go to

    Photos by Anya Semenoff

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