DONNA JENSON / FOUNDER OF A TIME TO TELL
Donna Jenson has been involved in lifting up those around her for as long as she can remember. Her background in advocacy dates back to the 1970s. As an integral part of the 2nd wave of feminism, she helped start and run three women’s centers in New York City. Today, as a grandmother, while running her own consulting practice, Jenson has found herself yet again at the frontline of change: advocating for child sex abuse survivors.
Jenson’s passion for advocacy did not flourish in a vacuum. The majority of it stems from her own experience, growing up in the Midwest, being sexually abused by her own father. Recently, through her book, Healing My Life From Incest to Joy, she's been able to share her message and give other victims the confidence to come forward.
There is rarely a model for change when it comes to issues we see today. The issues we face can often times be more complex than we'd even like to admit. As someone that has experienced some of the world's greatest movements for change, Jenson has drawn an interesting parallel. She cites being alive to live through the height of the AIDS epidemic, and points out the long-lasting impacts it had on society as a whole. Clearly, this was a devastating moment for the LGBTQ community, but it also brought more visibility and “coming out" than any other event in American history. Even today, the effects of this period are felt as gay people continue to gain ground and access in a world that was once completely against them.
The parallel here lies in the understanding that yes, abuse is traumatic, but being able to talk about it openly is the first step in eradicating it for good. At the end of the day, Jenson believes that allowing childhood sex abuse victims a space to “come out” and be believed is the most important part of the healing process for them. Those that are not victims, are essential in this process; as Jenson states we’re there to “validate, validate, validate". At this stage, we simply can't afford to question every survivor that steps forward.
Jenson’s role today is ensuring that she get her book into as many people’s hands as possible: a task she wavered on for a short period. Her message is so well timed, especially at the time of the #MeToo movement. Every week, there is something new and it can be difficult at times to catch and keep everyone's attention. The idea of marketing her own experiences didn't really fit her vision until she realized that marketing is really just organizing; a skill she could draw from after years of advocacy work.
When asked about how we [society] should be interacting and engaging those around us that have experienced abuse, Jenson said: micro-sensitivity, going with the pace, trying not to barrage them with questions, and conveying that you believe and support them is of the utmost importance. Something that really resonated with me was the idea that we need to “help each other get strong enough so we can tell our stories.” Interestingly, many argue that our connection to our phones and social media have made us extremely disconnected, but if anything society is more connected and invested in each other than ever before.
So how does Donna Jenson see herself blooming in the next year? She expects to grow professionally by potentially adding on an online writing workshop for survivors. She also launched a campaign alongside her book sponsored by Fractured Atlas to raise money to send books to survivors through advocacy groups. Personally, she sees herself growing and learning exponentially from readers that continue to share their own experiences with her after reading her book.
When I asked about what she wished to be remembered for, Jenson took a minute to think about it. After mulling the question over, she stated, “She’s got a really good laugh!” I can definitely attest to the fact that she does, and it's something that brought me to a conclusion of my own. I asked if she thought that laughing is what helps with her healing. Jenson said unequivocally, yes, and went on to talk about how while working on Native American reservations, people showed her that a great way to deal with oppression is to laugh.
Jenson is living proof of how even in times of darkness we can choose to shine and shed that light on others that struggle as well. Thanks to people like her, the truth about childhood sexual abuse is out now more than it’s ever been. It’s our job to back up her work by validating survivors that come forward for their resilience.