BilliJoy Carson is many things: an editor, writer, advocate, speaker, founder and president of a nonprofit, and a student of jiu-jitsu. She is also a survivor of sexual assault and child sex trafficking. After years of coping with trauma, BilliJoy is using her own experiences to help others, and she is not resting until every survivor has the resources necessary to heal. NO MORE talked with her about her story, and how she is working to improve the lives of survivors through her organization, Kick at Darkness.
BilliJoy was sex trafficked as a child—from the ages of four to fourteen. Her pastor, who she trusted, sold her to a man who moved into her neighborhood, right next door. During this time, she lived with the fear that if she did anything wrong, or let anyone find out, her family would suffer. For years, BilliJoy told no one about her experiences. She told us, “I didn’t cope. My strategy was telling myself, ‘Block it all out. Be the smiling face. Have the eating disorder. Be the cutter, and survive. But do not let anyone see.’” This response—staying silent for fear of being punished or retaliated against—is common, and is one of many reasons survivors do not immediately disclose assault.
At age 26, BilliJoy was attacked and raped by two men in a gas-station bathroom in Arizona. Like so many survivors, she lived with this abuse privately for years, silently trying to get through her trauma. Reporting a rape — as BilliJoy knew — is difficult for many reasons. Because of the way trauma affects the brain, the ability to remember precise details related to an assault is difficult and painful. Many survivors also know, upon reporting, they’ll be asked to complete an invasive and traumatizing forensic exam, in which they’ll be asked personal questions and subjected to intensive physical inspection. Despite her injuries, it didn’t occur to BilliJoy to report her rape to authorities. She felt she should have known not to be there alone, and her shame for having used the bathroom to purge from her eating disorder compounded her feeling that it had been her fault.
Eight years later, BilliJoy saw photos of her rapists on a news post on Facebook. In a whirlwind of emotions, her healing began. She learned the police were seeking information about the two men. They had been arrested for another rape, and were confessing to others. Upon seeing their faces, BilliJoy experienced the flood of emotions so common for survivors—shame, self-loathing, panic, frustration, and anger. Although her first response was to try to avoid it, she knew she had to talk to someone.
BilliJoy realized if she was going to confront what had happened to her, she needed to do it head-on, but it wasn’t easy. She needed to communicate with the police first; she had to build a case. Twelve calls to the police department, attempting to give them information about her rapists, had gone unanswered and un-returned. They claimed her rape had occurred outside their jurisdiction — fifty miles away — and they didn’t have a reason to call her back. Finally, once she discovered how to contact the correct police department, she was able to talk to a detective. The experience, however, could not have been worse. The detective intimidated, questioned, disbelieved, and blamed her. BilliJoy, like so many survivors, was asked, “If you were a real survivor, why didn’t you come forward sooner?” She was interrogated and made to feel that she was at fault for being raped. She was so intimidated by the detective that that she even feared she would not be allowed to leave.
After months of struggling, BilliJoy found an advocate who believed her. Her advocate connected her to the Phoenix Police Department and helped her report. This time, the police believed her; the detective believed her; her advocate was by her side through every step. BilliJoy says it was as painless as reporting trauma can possibly be. She thought to herself, “This is what survivors need. How can other people find an advocate when it was so hard for me, and online research is part of my actual job?” She began, in the middle of her journey, to fight for other survivors.
“Yes, I get broken, but I’m not alone. I’m surrounded by an army of people who are also fighting. We are getting stronger, together.”
BilliJoy knew what it felt like to be shamed and disbelieved after being assaulted. She knew how difficult it was to report, to navigate the complex legal system, and find support. Beyond that, BilliJoy knew that once support was found, the crime had been reported, and the survivor was set to start healing — the costs were exorbitant for trauma-informed help. According to RAINN, a survivor needs $122k lifetime to heal from one sexual assault. BilliJoy had spent well over that in her own healing journey.
So she created Kick at Darkness (KAD)—an organization aimed at helping survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, sex trafficking, hate crimes, and child abuse. Because, as BilliJoy puts it, “No survivor should ever have to pay for their own healing.” KAD helps raise the needed funds, trauma-informed services, or supplies for survivors to heal. Kick at Darkness works in conjunction with organizations that can help support survivors of sexual assault, no matter where they are in their healing journeys. This amazing organization helps survivors in countless, creative ways.
Part of BilliJoy’s work with Kick at Darkness is conducting trainings that increase the availability and quality of services for survivors, including trainings for sexual assault organizations to ensure survivors can easily find and access their resources. She also provides training to first responders—youth workers, police, EMTs, nurses—to ensure responders believe and support victims in the wake of their assaults.
Through tools at KickAtDarkness.com, survivors can search for an advocate and access information about what to do after an assault. They can obtain a Sword and Shield Warrior Kit, full of tools to help them navigate PTSD when experiencing symptoms of trauma. Survivors can also hear from other survivors who understand their experiences. All this is provided by BilliJoy, a woman who decided to use the most traumatic experiences of her life to help others.
She isn’t stopping there. BilliJoy is currently working with a team to create what would be the only 24/7 dedicated rape crisis center in Arizona — focusing on survivors of sexual assault. “I’m far into my journey, and for a long time I didn’t know we don’t have a rape crisis center. Across the nation, there are over 1,100 rape crisis centers, but Arizona has zero. We once had one, and now we have many organizations doing pieces, but they are open weekdays, from eight to five, and have their full-time staff work on-call for the rest of the time. My passion has become getting a 24/7 rape crisis center here in Arizona.”
Through all of her work and activism, BilliJoy keeps survivors’ stories at the center. She likes to remind survivors how the mighty katana sword is made. “You build it by breaking it. It gets stronger throughout its history of battles. You break it and reforge it. Break it and reforge it — so it becomes stronger and stronger. Yes, I get broken, but I’m not alone. I’m surrounded by an army of people who are also fighting. We are getting stronger, together.”
BilliJoy has been working on an adult coloring book for survivors — drawings and phrases that represent the healing journey and the potent honor it deserves. The book will be available during this 2018.