Sound Stories. Sound Voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You are on the KUOW archive site. Click here to go to our current site.

This is what it means to be ‘triggered’ by the news

Photography darkroom
Flickr Photo/Shankar S. (CC BY 2.0)/
FILE PHOTO: Kathy Sauber was assaulted by her father in a darkroom.

Kathy Sauber makes her living taking pictures. But these days she’s having trouble concentrating on her work.

On a recent shoot, when a client wanted a specific photo set-up that Sauber knew wasn’t going to produce good results, she could barely hold it together. She felt anxious, angry and slightly out of control.

Sauber is well acquainted with these feelings. She has faced them for most of her life.  And as a survivor of sexual assault, she thinks a lot of other women are feeling them too.

When Sauber read the news about Harvey Weinstein, she wasn’t surprised. But as the stories piled up, as the list of names grew longer, her anxiety kept building.

“I kept thinking that the worst was going to happen — like, every day something bad was going to happen, whatever that might be,” Sauber said.

She said she had been dealing with it by trying to put it out of her mind. But the news triggered her again.

"It made me sick to my stomach,” Sauber said.

Sauber wasn’t sleeping. When she was, she’d have nightmares. So she called her doctor and got back into therapy. 

Warning: this story contains graphic descriptions of  sexual assault. 

[asset-pullquotes[{"quote": "The Darkroom", "style": "wide"}]]Sauber fell in love with the art of photography as a child through her father, who had taught her the craft in his darkroom.

It’s also where he would put his hands on her.

Sauber was eight the first time it happened. For a moment she was stunned. She idolized her father.

“I knew instinctively as a little child that there was something wrong about this,” Sauber said. "From that moment on, I was scared of him, and I didn't know why. And it’s really confusing when a family member does it, because your survival depends on your parents.”

As time went on, Sauber said her father became more brazen and aggressive — once, assaulting Sauber right outside the kitchen window as her mother worked around the house. 

If she told, he said, her mother would likely leave.  And then he would kill her.

“Episodes like this kept happening. I'm scared to death," Sauber said.

“My father liked to whistle all the time, always whistling. He would be whistling and I knew it was coming up for me.”

The first time Sauber said her father raped her, she was 12.  They went out hunting on their 40 acres of land. 

"We went up to the woods and we were just sitting there in the snow waiting for deer, or whatever," she said. "That was the first time that he raped me: in the snow, in the freezing cold snow in Michigan.”

[asset-pullquotes[{"quote": "Blowing up", "style": "wide"}]]Sauber said she was too young to run, so she numbed herself. 

“You know what I tried to do was drink my way out of it. Drug my way out of it. I tried to crush it," Sauber said.

One night Sauber said she came home drunk and her father was up. “I had my guard down and he hugged me, and I could feel his erection against my body."

In that moment Sauber said something inside her blew up.

“I just wanted him to hug me, not abuse me. I just wanted a hug,” Sauber said.  “And because I was drunk, I grabbed him by his pajama top and I shoved him against the wall.

"And I said, 'If you ever touch me again I will kill you.' It never happened again. That was the end of it.”

The abuse ended more than 40 years ago. But Sauber said she’s spent a lifetime dealing with the effects of her father’s actions.

Over the years, she’s built a network of people she can trust. But for years during and after college, she stuffed it down.  

“It just built up and built up to the point where I was acting out and blowing up at people. I was suicidal and homicidal. I mean, this is serious business,” Sauber said.

She knows her story is not unique, which is why she’s choosing to tell it. She's incensed when she hears politicians dismiss women coming forward with stories from years ago.  She said more people need to understand the cosmic shift that happens to women who’ve been abused.   And more women need to seek out help if they’re struggling. "It often takes years to process it," Sauber said. 

As more women become empowered to tell their story, more victims will also be triggered by the revelations.

Sauber said she’s hearing about more and more women reaching out, but she know’s there are many who aren’t.

“The cycle is going to continue,” Sauber said. “Start the conversation. Bring it up with an understanding friend."

The web version of this story was originally published on December 15, 2017.

If you need help

Here are some resources for victims and survivors of abuse: King County Sexual Assault Resource Center 888-998-6423 Hotline for therapy, legal advocates and family services UW Medicine Center for Sexual Assault & Traumatic Stress 206-744-1600 Hotline, resources including counseling and medical care Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs List of providers across the state that offer free services. Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN) 800-656-4673 Hotline and/or online chat with trained staff