Philly couple helps survivors of child abuse tell their stories
November 19, 2012By Carolyn Beeler
In the wake of abuse scandals at Penn State and within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the horrific details of child sexual abuse dominated headlines.
But one Philadelphia couple was frustrated by the lack of attention given to the aftermath of abuse. So, they decided to publish a book giving voice to survivors.
Joel Hoffmann, 30, is co-editor along with his wife, Nina. He was sexually abused by his stepfather as a young boy, and an account of dealing with the legacy of abuse has now been published for the world to see. Still, he's a bit edgy when talking about his experiences.
"It makes me uncomfortable talking about, it frankly," Hoffmann said. "But it's something I know that I have to do."
Hoffmann first wrote about his abuse last year in Philadelphia Weekly at the urging of his wife, senior editor there. Back then, he wrote under a pseudonym. This spring, he came out publicly as a survivor after being frustrated by coverage of the Penn State crimes.
"It focused very much on the crime and on the sentencing and the most horrifying details of sexual abuse," Hoffmann said. "But I didn't see a whole lot about what it takes to come back from that."
The stories in their new e-book, "The Survivors Project: Telling the Truth About Life After Sexual Abuse," focus on how abuse affects relationships and intimacy for decades -- including an account from Hoffmann on how his past abuse almost destroyed his relationship with his wife.
He said editing the stories was both disturbing and cathartic.
"I feel closer to these people than I feel to a lot of people I've known for a long time and have met over and over again," Hoffmann said. "There's no substitute for that bond."
Philadelphia Children's Alliance head Chris Kirchner hopes the book will encourage former survivors to seek help for psychological or substance abuse problems they may suffer in the wake of abuse.
"When we talk to adults about the impact abuse has had on their lives, most people are surprised by the depth and breadth of the negative impact that child sexual abuse can have on someone's life, and these stories echo that," Kirchner said.
According to Nina Hoffmann, the project is Philadelphia Weekly's first book-length publication. It includes 57 stories from survivors and their loved ones, many from the Philadelphia area.
Their book is available for download on the Kindle now. Versions for iPad and Nook will debut in upcoming weeks.