Prophetic Survivors: Monica Daye
In the springtime of 1992, at age eleven, Monica Daye wrote her first poem. She titled it “Alberta”—an ode to her grandmother who had recently passed away. Ever since, for the past twenty-seven years, Monica has responded to grief through poetry.
Just a few months after Alberta died, Monica’s life turned yet another a tragic page. At a summertime church convention, Monica left a session to use the restroom. A young man hired as a vendor coerced Monica into an elevator, led her to an empty stairwell, and raped her.
For the rest of Monica’s childhood, teenage years, and into adulthood, she wondered if the assault was her fault. Maybe, she thought, her choice to walk out of a gospel service rendered her culpable.No one ever told Monica directly that the rape was her fault, or that she sinned by leaving the service. But no one ever said the opposite either—that the rape was evil, or momentous, or a tragedy. After the initial steps of a hospital visit and conversation with police, Monica’s mother no longer spoke with her about the crime or resulting trauma.
Look the Other Way
Monica’s mother had long engulfed herself in church activities and continued to do so after her daughter’s assault. Monica now understands this as her mother’s response to her own abuse. Her generation had been taught to keep quiet, forget about pain, and sweep abuse under the rug.
“It didn’t matter if it was Uncle Johnny, or your dad, or your grandad, or the people you were working with in the tobacco field,” Monica said. “They kept those things quiet when a woman was violated.”
So for Monica’s mom, getting the church involved was unthinkable. These things weren’t to be discussed. And what trouble might the pastors, or the singers, or the convention leaders get into if the story spread?
She’s a slave
while souls are being saved.
God in the place
only a couple of yards away.
“It was 1992,” Monica reflected. “No one was openly talking about sexual abuse. I was an eleven-year-old girl who had been raped at a church convention. A big church convention with a major gospel singer as the host. My mom didn’t want it to blow up.”
For Monica, her mom’s approach of immersing Monica and herself in a church culture that did not acknowledge abuse had a devastating impact. The church’s sweep-it-under-the-rug attitude communicated to Monica that they wanted a version of her who didn’t exist anymore. It was as though the doors to the safe haven the church claimed to be had slammed behind Monica when she stepped out of the service at the convention, unable to open for the girl she was now.
Monica’s father sought out counseling for his daughter. But Monica couldn’t bring herself to share with the male counselor. No one seemed trustworthy or safe. So she kept to herself for a year, and then she began to get in trouble at school and seek approval from older boys. Eventually, Monica ran away from home.
At the age of just thirteen, Monica found herself trapped inside a relationship rife with domestic violence. All versions of abuse became part of her everyday experience, which further compounded the trauma Monica carried with her. At fourteen, she lashed out violently in her pain and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in a juvenile detention facility.
Take me into another world
where I can be free.
And erase the pain
that leaves bloodstains
that never healed.
Monica wrote letters and poetry to God during her months locked away. She thought of her pieces as responses to God’s presence with her and guidance of her. Writing brought Monica relief and release during those years of isolation when the home and life she had always known lingered out of reach.
A Potential Path toward Healing
Monica was released from juvenile detention as a seventeen-year-old senior in high school. While she had learned skills like anger management and begun to write poetry therapeutically over the past few years, Monica was yet to have the fundamental trauma of her life validated. When was someone going to find a way to break through the darkness and shine a light on the moment when, as Monica put it, a rapist “took my childhood away from me and changed my life completely?”
Unable to separate love from abuse, Monica entered another relationship with a violent man. Her late teen and early adult years held great suffering and great change. Monica became a mother, which helped her grow in understanding the differences between love and abuse. Eventually, she wanted to leave.
One of the first sparks of light that illuminated the path to freedom ignited at an open mic night, where friends encouraged Monica to share a poem entitled “Three Years” about her experience with domestic abuse. After she shared, women came up to her with words that Monica has heard over and over again in the years since.
“Oh my gosh,” they said. “That’s my story.”
You say you love me.
How do you love me
when you don’t even call?
How do you love me
when you want to see me fall?
How do you love me
When you say
I have no sense
Yet you say you love me.
Poetry and spoken word helped Monica find what her counseling and church experiences had not offered her—clarity about the horrors of what had happened to her and assurance that she was not alone in experiencing rape, assault, or domestic violence. As Monica told her story on paper and into the microphones of poetry slams, she also found that her vulnerability and honesty invited others to speak about their abuse and pain. She began to perform and speak at poetry venues, churches, and universities. Eventually, Monica’s life became a blend of award-winning poetry performed and published, shared healing, and activism.
Offering Hope to Others
Monica became known as “a voice for many silent whisperers” in the Durham, North Carolina area, and developed relationships with domestic violence shelters and support services throughout the community. She wondered what poets and artists could do to support victims, and decided to start with collecting personal hygiene items for the battered women’s shelter at the poetry nights she hosted. Monica named the events “StandUp-SpeakOut.”
As she learned more about the support systems for victims of domestic violence in her area, Monica noticed the same gap that she herself had experienced. She found a range of services available for women in domestically violent relationships, but the resources and support for children and teens seemed minimal—a few counselors and a Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
“What helped me begin the journey of healing?” Monica asked herself. The answer, of course, was poetry. Monica knew that if her childhood counselor had ever said, “Here’s a journal. Here’s a pencil. Whatever you’re feeling, write it,” she would have found her way into productive therapeutic conversations. So she began to wonder how she could offer children and teens who had been abused or had witnessed abuse the opportunity to express themselves through poetry, art, or dance.
Over the next few years, Monica continued to do community outreach and taught workshops. In 2010, she gathered a board of directors. In 2012, she organized a support group. And in 2015, StandUp-SpeakOut of North Carolina became a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization governed by a mission “to empower individuals we serve by providing advocacy and therapeutic support through Art Therapy for children and teens who are victims or witnesses to domestic violence and sexual abuse.”
Monica’s experience of abuse in a church setting has given her great compassion and creativity when it comes to relating to fellow survivors of violence, abuse, and assault who have not found the church to be the safe place they hoped it would be. She’s heartbroken over the need for the #ChurchToo movement but ecstatic that it exists. Many voices can speak far more loudly than one.
“Imagine if there had been a #MeToo or #ChurchToo movement when I was raped,” Monica told me. “My mom probably would have had a whole different response, because she would have thought, ‘Oh, this is not okay. I have supporters and people who are going to back me when I try to protect my child and not just the church.’ But that resource wasn’t there at that time.”
A Prayer for the Future
Monica doesn’t want other children in the church to suffer as she did. And she believes that there are tangible steps churches can take to protect the vulnerable in their congregations.
“The first, biggest thing that churches have to know is that a lot of survivors do not trust the church,” Monica said. “The first thing to do as a church leader is to figure out how to build trust with the community again so that church is known as a safe space. Bridge the gap between the church and the community.”
Never one to be short on ideas for bringing about healing, Monica has many suggestions for how the church can partner with artists, poets, and survivor groups to resist and respond to abuse.
“The church has to be mindful that you can’t just be in your building. I don’t associate church buildings with safety,” Monica told me. “Partner with community organizations that are doing the work. Once your congregation and people [in the community] can see that you’re genuine and mean it, you can build up trust.”
Monica encourages church leaders to be vigilant about running background checks on anyone volunteering with children or teenagers. She also emphasizes education—hosting abuse experts to speak to congregations, attending community events centered on responding to violence and abuse, and participating in online trainings like the webinars StandUp-SpeakOut will offer later this year. And then, when the church has established a precedent as an informed congregation that cares deeply for survivors of abuse, leaders could offer support groups that use tools like creative writing.
As for Monica, she will continue to live as a poetic invitation, beckoning the church, survivors, and advocates to stand up and speak out.
to open our eyes
and come out
of our silence.