Surviving Sexual Assault to Become a Social Worker and Publisher

As well as being a gender lens publisher and a social worker practicing for over 25 years, I too have been a survivor of sexual assault. Mine was of a particularly insidious kind, all wrapped up in academia. In the process of applying to graduate school for my Masters in Fine Arts for Creative Writing, I got sexually assaulted. Not kidding.

The Recommendation is a short animated film that discusses sexual assault in academia and ways to address the problem. (Image credit: The Recommendation)

Now, some 28 years later, with the perpetrator deceased, I am telling my story. But I still can’t tell it completely because my perpetrator was particularly unstable. He had been hospitalized multiple times for suicidality. He could go from complimenting you to abusing you in the blink of an eye. And he was particularly known for filing lawsuits, should anyone suggest he had problems with women. Given all of that, even with the perpetrator dead, it still isn’t safe to say his name. That’s the patriarchy for you. Even with the dominating male writer no longer among us, we still can’t talk about him safely.

The Recommendation explores the experience of being sexually assaulted by a former college professor when attempting to get a graduate school recommendation. (Image credit: The Recommendation)

But I do have a role to play in public education about sexual assault, and that’s why I’ve made a short film called The Recommendation. It chronicles my experience with aforementioned famous writer, and offers some suggestions for how we can shore up the safety of society from perpetrators like him. It’s about five minutes long. It’s good information for anyone in academia or any other environment where someone may try to use their power to recommend or not recommend you as a way to abuse you.

Abusers often attempt to intimidate survivors into silence. (Image credit: The Recommendation)

The film also discusses the need for more resources to listen and respond to survivors of sexual assault. As a therapist specializing in recovery from gender-based violence, I can tell you that there are many more stories out there like mine that need to be told.

On a positive note regarding the story of my experience, I recently had correspondence with a biographer for the author discussed in The Recommendation. I provided this biographer with the statement I wrote for an attorney I sought in 2018. He said he would research about my experience and may include information about it, anonymously, in an upcoming revised edition of the biography for paperback. This is particularly important because it may help other survivors come forward and report their experiences.

Before my final experience with this author, I had actually believed he was a good teacher. We read female authors in his class, including Nadine Gordimer and Simone de Beauvoir. One of the main lessons I came away from his class with was the mandate that writers must overcome the immense social pressure to remain silent and “tell it” — tell the hard truth of what life is like. So, I am telling it.

Welcome to the premiere of The Recommendation. Many thanks to my daughter, Katrina Marek, who created the animation, edited, and produced the video. We hope it helps make the world a safer place for everyone.


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Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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