Book review: Whatever Gets You Through is a reminder that you are never alone

Whatever Gets You Through: Twelve Survivors on Life after Sexual Assault

Edited by Stacey May Fowles and Jen Sookfong Lee | Greystone Books

$22.95, 219 pp

There is a war being waged constantly — a war against women. Whatever Gets You Through is a dispatch from the front lines.

The numbers alone represent a nightmare. In 2017, nearly 24,000 sexual assaults were reported to Canadian police and judged to be “founded.” And that number, horrific as it is, is a gross undercount. Only one assault in 20 is reported to police and only one per cent of sexual assaults on women leads to conviction. Aboriginal women, poor women, women of colour, trans women, sex workers and women living with disabilities are all more at risk for assault.

In B.C., there are over 1,000 sexual assaults every week. Over half of B.C. women over 16 have experienced physical or sexual violence, primarily at the hands of men. And assaults are often lethal. Indigenous women and girls, as the national inquiry has taught us, are particularly vulnerable to the murderous violence that fuses sexism and racism.

But numbers alone can numb the heart. Every woman and girl assaulted had a name, a face, a history. A new collection of survivors’ stories, Whatever Gets You Through, provides a valuable reminder of this by giving readers 12 vivid accounts of life after sexual assault.

The editors of this important book, Stacey May Fowles and Jen Sookfong Lee, have chosen a dozen voices for this survivors’ chorus. Each of these voices is unique, and none seem tempted by the saccharine truisms of pop psychology or TV versions of “redemptive recovery.” They all tell their own difficult truths in memorable language.

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s essay, “Not Over It, Not Fixed, and Living a Life Worth Living, A Disability Justice Vision of Survivorhood” is a particularly eloquent and angry text, and like her recent book Care Work, brilliantly written.

Kai Cheng Thom, a Toronto based trans woman already well known for her fiction, poetry and community organizing, contributes a profound meditation on illness, pain, the body and memory. Other contributors reflect upon their varied paths to survival, from therapy to fabric art to peer support.

Women readers may find in this book the comfort of knowing they are not alone. Every man should read this book, although many will flinch from its painful truths and moral challenge.  As men, we have to change our own unacceptable behaviours and challenge other men to do so as well. Anything less is collusion in the war.

Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes feedback and story tips at

Stacey May Fowles (above) and Jen Sookfong Lee edited Whatever Gets You Through: Twelve Survivors on Life after Sexual Assault. Photo by N. Maxwell Lander.

N. Maxwell Lander /


Jen Sookfong Lee (above) and Stacey May Fowles edited Whatever Gets You Through: Twelve Survivors on Life after Sexual Assault. Photo by Sherri Koop.

Sherri Koop /


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