The 27th Annual Holiday Auction was held on Sunday, November 23, 2014. Celebrating the agency’s 40th anniversary, the auction raised over $100,000 to further the Center’s mission to end sexual violence and its impact! Many thanks to all the donors, supporters, and volunteers who made this such a successful event.
At the auction, we debuted a special 40th anniversary video highlighting the work we do in the Orange County community. Created by Ora DeKornfeld, this award-winning video features clients, volunteers, and staff members.
The following is the text of the speech given by bestselling author Sarah Dessen at the 27th Annual Holiday Auction on November 23, 2014.
Everyone has a story. It’s a great thing. At least, it is for me, since I make my living telling them. But when it comes to stories, good, bad, all kinds, it’s not just about who is doing the talking or what they are saying. You also need a listener.
Without a listener, there would be no conversations. No debate. It’s harder to listen than to talk, because you’re giving up control of what is being discussed. Maybe something might be said that makes you uncomfortable, or that you don’t agree with. But if we want to be heard, we also have to listen. It’s how the world works.
There are so many times I really don’t want to hear what someone is saying. Like when my husband points out yet again that it’s my turn to poop scoop the dog yard. Or when my daughter points out that actually NO, she has fifteen minutes until bedtime, not five. (Why did I think it was a good idea for her to learn how to read a clock?) I hate listening to public radio pledge drives, someone tell a story I’ve heard a million times already or the sound of someone smacking gum behind me in line at Target. But I have to listen if I want everyone to pay attention to my story, fundraiser pitch or latest neurosis involving my writing. This is the courtesy we do each other. It is the turnabout that leads to fair play. Be quiet, and listen.
I believe in the power of listening so much I wrote a book about it. Okay, not exactly. What I wrote was a novel about a girl named Annabel who is sexually assaulted by a boy she knows at a party. She doesn’t tell anyone. Over the course of the book, she forms a friendship, and then something more, with a boy who is brutally honest and encourages others to be the same way. Eventually, Annabel feels safe enough to tell her story. But before she does, she asks for one thing: “Don’t think or judge. Just listen.”
When I wrote this, I knew it was a important line. Sometimes, when you are having a good writing day, things just click. But it wasn’t until the book was released that I saw how much it struck a chord not just for me and Annabel but so many readers, as well. I saw it in memes on the internet. On personal blogs. On quote sites and Facebook pages and T-shirts, highlighted and dog-eared on the copies of the book that came through my signing line.
But the most amazing to me was a girl who came out to one of my appearances a couple years back. She asked if she could show me something, and when I said yes, she turned around and lifted her hair up. There, on her neck, in script, was tattooed that quote. Don’t think or judge. Just listen. Of all the words to pick in all the books she’d read, she had chosen mine.
Now, I don’t have tattoos. This used to make me normal, back when they were associated mostly with bikers and sailors. Now, I’m that one girl at the party who doesn’t have ink to show off while wearing a pretty summer sundress. The closest I have is a C-section scar, but really, you just don’t get the same cred for that. Although you SHOULD, I think.
Despite my lack of ink, I know what a serious thing it is to choose to mark yourself with something forever. My husband got his first ankle tattoo back in 1988. Now, he seems determined to cover every inch of available skin, and I know from watching him do this that each image means something important, with a weight he wants to carry forever. Since that girl with the neck tattoo, I’ve seen a handful of others with the same quote, some on their arms, wrists, even an ankle. It is by far my best known line, and I’m honored that so many people have chosen to make it part of their stories as well. Most of all, though, I’m glad it’s not just me that feels the need to be reminded about how important it is to hear each other. Even when the story is sad or scary. Even when the news is bad. Because really living in this world is not just about speaking your mind, but paying attention as someone else speaks theirs.
The Orange County Rape Crisis Center has been listening to our community for forty years, providing counsel, support, education, and outreach. This is no small feat, but what’s even more impressive is the fact that in doing all this good work, they’ve actually been able to change the conversations themselves. With their SafeTouch program, the Center teaches kids from Pre-K to fourth grade about personal safety, good and bad touching, and trusted adults. In middle school, they provide workshops on what to do if you experience or witness sexual bullying. Finally, in high school, the Center teaches students about date rape and what constitutes an unhealthy relationship. With these programs, the Center provides a baseline that all the children understand from a very young age. They are educated. They know what is right and wrong for themselves, their bodies, and their personal space. The Center gives students a voice and the power to use it. The result is not only the power to tell and the courage to listen, but a total change in the way our children learn to interact with each other.
As the mother of a seven year old in the public school system, I am so grateful for this. Again, I know firsthand the power in language, how having the right words can make all the difference. They did for me: I wouldn’t be lucky enough to be up here tonight without them. I hope you’ll join me in thanking the Center for helping our community to speak for all these years. This our conversation. Let’s keep listening.