Breaking Through the Silence

The Journey to Surviving Sexual Assault

Non-Fiction - Social Issues
246 Pages
Reviewed on 03/08/2018
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite

Marissa F. Cohen has chosen an unusual way to share her own story, and that of twenty other victims/survivors of sexual abuse, or as she prefers to see them, “warriors,” in Breaking Through the Silence:The Journey to Surviving Sexual Assault. The author weaves the stories of these 20 contributing warriors in and out of her own memoir, simply titled “Author’s Story” to alert readers each time one or more warrior stories ends, and her own resumes. It’s an interesting approach. Furthermore, as each shorter warrior story ends, she includes first person accounts by professionals who work with abuse victims to give readers further insights into aspects and issues raised by the writer of that preceding story. These professionals include police, nurses, social workers, support people, advocates and more, and by the time one finishes reading, it is glaringly apparent how much work must yet go into raising awareness of how and why sexual abuse occurs, and the need to educate children as they grow into puberty. Our young people need to learn how to stand up for, and protect themselves in a society where “boys will be boys” and where parents too often dismiss or refuse to believe what an abused teen tells them.

But it is each warrior’s own approach to coping with their past that will be of greatest support to those who choose to read Breaking Through the Silence. These readers are most likely other victims of abuse, those whose fear, shame, the belief that they are to blame, or who have that hopeless sense that even if a case does go to court, they’ll never win. This is where each warrior’s words have the greatest impact: “Victim mentality…I think that’s the most crippling part of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and rape. Once you take control of it, you are no longer weak and powerless. Take control of your own life, and then every success is a bigger success because you took it into your own hands.”

Or consider the words of this warrior, who chooses to look at blame in a positive way: “The day that I realized that this was my fault was when I realized that I allowed myself to disrespect myself; the men were doing what I was allowing them to do. Once you realize that you have a weakness, you have the power to gain the strength.”

And in light of the current #MeToo campaign, here’s a very powerful statement that force readers to look at the abuse from a completely different angle: “Women can’t do this on our own, because women want to be loved and desired and wanted. In addition to wanting to be respected, they want to be desired.”

How true! And how important that not just women, but men help to turn things around: “You have to have men join you as part of the effort to stop abuse. All it takes is for good people to do something.”

There are good people of all genders out there, just as there are victims of all genders. The twenty warriors who have had the courage to share their stories, along with the author, are part of a rising movement as more and more victims come forward in books, blogs, within private groups and in the media. There cannot be too much of this kind of activity…just too little. Somehow, those who know the truth must break through the silence and tell their stories. Bravo, Marissa F. Cohen, and your warriors for doing so.

Deborah Lloyd

As our society is finally waking up to the horrors of sexual assault and harassment, and some perpetrators are now being held accountable, this book could not be more timely. There are no coincidences. This nonfiction work is a compilation of one abusive situation after another. Author Marissa F. Cohen has assembled an assortment of true stories in her work, Breaking Through the Silence: The Journey to Surviving Sexual Assault. While the types of assaults vary, and the details are different, there are underlying themes throughout each one. The feelings of shame, embarrassment, and being alone are prevalent. The reasons for not speaking up, or reporting the harasser to Human Resources, or the police, are clearly explained. The reader will certainly have a deeper understanding of and compassion towards survivors. The most important aspect of the book, however, is that the survivors are given hope for healing, and to become warriors themselves.

This is both an easy book to read – and a challenging book to read. The “easy” part is that the author writes well, as she gives an unique voice to each person depicted in the book (including herself). There is a smooth flow from chapter to chapter. The “challenging” part is feeling the emotions and ongoing issues for each warrior, which the author again portrays with bold honesty. When finished, the reader will be thankful for this unparalleled study of a barely-understood phenomenon. Breaking Through the Silence: The Journey to Surviving Sexual Assault by Marissa F. Cohen is highly recommended – whether you are a survivor, a person close to a survivor, a person working in law enforcement or the legal system, or a professional counselor.

Ankita Shukla

Breaking Through the Silence: The Journey to Surviving Sexual Assault by Marissa F. Cohen is a compilation of a series of thought-provoking real-life episodes of real people (including that of the author) who went through traumatic incidents of sexual assault(s). Having said that, this book is so much more than just that. This book is an eye-opener, an empowering tool, and an encyclopedia of emotions. Sexual assaults are happening everywhere, but real numbers of these incidents may never surface. The reason for the discrepancy in the number of reported cases and the real number is the "victim-shaming" that follows once the victim reports the incident. When a theft occurs, people do not begin berating the victim; however, when a sexual assault occurs, almost everyone begins spreading their "wisdom" of how the victim could (and should) have been more careful. Society begins digging up various life-events of the victim to find clues that would help them to identify the victim as somebody who was "asking for it."

These survivors, who have shared their traumatic events in this book, are truly survivors. They were broken once, but they chose to take control of their lives through various mediums. Some of these survivors turned to drugs to numb their pain, but once they realized that they needed a healthier outlet, they found what really worked for them: individual/group therapy, yoga, religion, etc. That's why I called this book "an empowering tool" in the very beginning of this review. If any victim of self-assault would read this book with an open mind, they would not only relate to these survivors, but also learn a few coping mechanisms.

Each word of these assault incidents is authentic and hits very close to home. There are times when we brush something off as our imagination or deny somebody's inappropriate advances as nothing, but while reading this book, one would be forced to reassess whether they ignored a sexual assault in their own lives. I know it triggered something in me, too. It's very tough to reach out to one's friends and/or family to talk about a sexual assault because even our loved ones tend to question our intake of alcohol, appearance at the time the assault happened, among other details. They think they are helping us by pointing out in what ways we might have provoked the predator and, by doing that, they are enforcing the rule that we should be more careful. Although that's true and advisable, us being vulnerable does not mean that we gave our permission to anybody to sexually assault us. Let's blame who must be blamed and it's definitely not the victim.

Another thing that makes this book incredible is the inclusion of advice and encouraging words of many professionals. These are the people who work closely with the survivors and help them in whatever way they can. Their general advice is to report the incident and join any coping mechanism that might work for you. Every individual is different and therefore one coping mechanism that works for me may not work for you. Breaking Through the Silence: The Journey to Surviving Sexual Assault by Marissa F. Cohen is a must-read for everyone. It would aid the survivors in finding their center and others, who have fortunately not been in such situation, to be less judgmental of the victims.

Gisela Dixon

Breaking Through the Silence: The Journey to Surviving Sexual Assault by Marissa F. Cohen is a non-fiction book that recounts the real life sexual abuse and sexual assault cases of several women from all walks of life. Breaking Through the Silence is an extremely relevant book in today’s day and age where sexual abuse cases and the society that enables these incidents are more and more in the news. The book contains several such cases about women from all backgrounds and ages and covers the gamut of sexual abuse, rape, molestation, stalking, unwanted advances, sexual harassment in school and the workforce, and more. There is also a complementary set of perspectives from the people who provide the support system for the victims of these cases, including medical professionals, nurses, law enforcement, etc. This is a book that is meant to eliminate the stigma attached to a sexual assault survivor and also inspire and help all women to come forward with their stories.

Breaking Through the Silence: The Journey to Surviving Sexual Assault by Marissa F. Cohen is a powerful book and it could not have come at a better time. The women, rightly being described as warriors, each have a unique story to tell and make one realize that sexual abuse can and does indeed occur in all forms and across all cultures. It is indeed a universal phenomenon and the perpetrators need to be made accountable without exception. Marissa’s own story and empathetic writing style go a long way toward making this book a personal and moving read.

Rabia Tanveer

Breaking Through the Silence: The Journey to Surviving Sexual Assault by Marissa F. Cohen is much more than just a book on a social issue. This book is a call to action and a support system for the people who had their self, their innocence and their bodies ripped away from them. This book features a collection of interviews from the survivors of sexual violence, the “warriors” who fought, clawed and screamed their way back to themselves. This book sheds light on the lives of these people, how they got their bodies back and became their old selves.

Apart from the interviews from the survivors, the book also includes interviews from the support system. The interviews are from the nurses, the lawyers, the social workers and even the detectives who help these warriors from the beginning of their devastated selves to the rebirth of their confidence and their lives. With these stories and interviews, the people healing from their assaults can find a coping mechanism that will help them rebuild their lives.

I found that the stories and the advice from the support systems are very helpful. Taking control of their lives, their minds and bodies can be very empowering. The best thing about these stories is that nothing is written in a know-it-all tone. You can feel the compassion and the emotion behind every single word. Just a few pages in and one can feel the urge to speak up and raise their voice. No one is truly alone; there are people who will always be ready to pick you up and help you give yourself back to you. This inspiring book tells the reader exactly that! Really good and well-written.