From Silence to Strength: The Power of Poetry for Sexual Assault Survivors

Let’s take a look at 6 poetry collections by survivors who put every raw emotion into their work in the hopes of bringing about empathy and justice.

Book Culture Opinions Poetry & Drama Recommendations
Two poetry book covers and a drawing of a woman and flower on paster bordered background

Trigger Warning: The mention of Sexual Assault and PTSD may be triggering for some readers. Please exercise personal care when reading.

There is no way to fully understand the complete and utter violation and devastation that a survivor of sexual assault feels and goes through. The trauma from a singular event can last a lifetime, wrecking relationships, hindering one’s ability to trust, forcing them to cocoon themselves in isolation, and ultimately making them feel uncomfortable in their own skin. Furthering the trauma post-survival is the social stigmas against not the abusers and criminals but the victims themselves. The fact that Rape Culture is a thing spoken of at many Sunday dinners is enough to continue the unjust connotations thrust upon the many men and women who did nothing to deserve the acts done to them.

This needs to stop. People shouldn’t be afraid to walk alone to their car, wear a cute outfit, or worry about whether saying hi to a passing stranger is going to trigger a cataclysmic, life-changing assault.

Every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 9 minutes that victim is a child. Meanwhile, only 25 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison.

The following poetry collections are written by sexual assault survivors. They were created as a means to heal, to rage against the system and acceptance that has been created by society and government, and to bring awareness and empathy to the masses. Each author has my utmost respect and gratitude, the strength it took for them to be able to write down their memories and feelings on such a horrendous topic cannot be underemphasized.

The Renunciations by Donika Kelly

Kelly’s whole self is exposed in this raw emotional dive that rips open the fabric of a life that began with abuse and survival at the forefront. Her poems are simultaneously breathtaking and gruesome. She holds nothing back, and yet, you don’t want her to. From her word choices to the poetry form and the repetitive cycle of themes, her collection not only tells you the story she’s conveying but also gives you a glimpse into the psyche of someone trying to reconcile, cope, and move forward with their life post-trauma.

The Renciations by Donika Kelly, book cover with crushed blue background and the title.

With Donika Kelly’s signature stinging beauty, The Renunciations names acts of wounding and making, refuses to separate elemental memory from the language of human remembrance… Kelly’s poems gather us from cliff edge to river fold, from terror to more terror, from what cannot be known to what intuition and mirrors can divine.

-Khadijah Queen

The Bones Below by Sierra DeMulder

Get ready to feel the utter devastation of raw honesty that comes with this collection. DeMulder, a renowned Slam Poet, has put together an anthology of poems that looks the worst acts of humanity in the eye and never flinches. From domestic abuse and SA to the mother of a serial killer and gun violence, you’ll read each poem over and over in an attempt to absorb the nuance, emotion, and message fully.

The Bones Below By Sierra DeMulder, book cover with teal and grey blocks a a partial view of a woman's face.

This book was lovely! I really enjoy Sierra DeMulder’s style, and her poetry was lovely to read. I definitely recommend this book for fans of poetry — it’s full of pain, beauty, and power, and was an incredible read!

-Amazon Review

Build Yourself A Boat by Camonghne Felix

Felix’s collection is a devastatingly beautiful look at survival and strength in pushing through trauma and finding the things that keep you afloat amid the churning waters of emotional turmoil. The poems with the covers will exhaust and reinvigorate you in their complexity, insightfulness, and bold themes, which many leave unspoken.

Build Yourself A Boat By Camonghne Felix, book cover depicting a woman swimming through a sea of star and a floating boat

It’s hard for me to express how a thing so bloody, woven around trauma, centered on rape and lynching, could be so full of comfort and hope. For me, it is the relief when somebody finally says out loud what needed to be said, and says it well. I have said before that all I ask of any poetry is that it set me on fire. This did the job very nicely. Words in a master’s hands.

-Amy, Goodreads Review

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

One of the most celebrated collections amid these recommendations, Kaur’s Milk and Honey is the book of a generation, and she, the voice. Published in 2015, this book of poems centers around topics of love, loss, survival, and femininity. Among the raw emotional poetry is also prose of heartfelt beauty, each claiming a space just as they would in the psyche of humanity.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kuar, book cover depicting a black background and white drawn bees.

Rupi Kaur’s first book, Milk and Honey is the poetry collection every woman needs on her nightstand or coffee table. Accompanied by her own sketches, the beautifully honest poems read like the everyday, collective experiences of today’s modern woman.

-Erin Spencer, Huffington Post

Purple Sparks: Poetry by Sexual Assault Survivors

The difficulty of speaking up about the assault that happens to you is immeasurable. The strength to do so, even with tears streaming down one’s face and one’s voice cracking, is undeniable. This collection is exclusively written by sexual assault survivors in an attempt to fuel empathy and advocacy to rid the world of Rape Culture. Hear their words, feel their rage, sorrow, and pain, and know that this is something that can be stopped if only humanity stands together.

Purple Sparks: Poetry by Sexual Assault Survivors, book cover of abstract people in purples, browns and blacks

Powerful compilation of survivor’s voices. Our society needs to understand the real impact of sexual assault on people’s lives and this is a step in that direction.

-Amazon Review

Soft Thorns by Bridgett Devoue

Bridgett Devoue’s collection is a journey through the events, struggles, and reconciliations of her life. She holds nothing back and ensures the reader is just as affected by her words, and she has been living through all that has made her who she is. With themes of love, assault, womanhood, and sexuality, Soft Thorns is a tender and evocative book for all to read.

Soft Thorns by Bridgett Devoue, book cover depicting a black background and an illustrated hand holding a red rose dripping blood.

Bridgett’s book is such a beautiful, tragic, and gripping book. She takes you through some very harsh and real experiences that she went through, while taking you through her journey of healing. Her work is so real and raw, showing her genuine heart. Every piece leaves you wanting more. It’s an absolute beautiful and heartfelt truth that I encourage everyone to read.

-Amazon Review

Hopefully, these survivors’ stories made an impact on you and many others. SA is a crime. It is not a rite of passage or the fault of the victim. It is not something that should be swept under the rug, never to be spoken about. The assailants should be penalized to the highest degree for their actions, not given slaps on the hand for their age or social standing, or because the justice system deems it a part of society that is less criminal than marijuana possession. Read the books, call your representatives, and vote for the rights and laws that should be put into place to protect everyone from this disgusting act.

To feel safe at all times is a fundamental human right; let’s work to make this world physically and mentally safe for everyone. We urge you to make the call to seek the help you need if you or a loved one has experienced the devastating effects of Sexual Assault.

Help is available at the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673

For more content on SA and literature, click here.

To browse these poetry books and more, click here.