Storm Estes wants to remind Black women of the magic inside

Estes recently founded the sexual violence organization Survivors Not Victims, which has partnered with Zora’s House for its launch

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Storm Estes

When Storm Estes had her first experience with sexual violence, she said there was really nowhere for her to turn, and so she did her best to work through the turbulence on her own.

“I grew up with women — Black women, women of color — who had similar experiences, but there was never a safe space for us to share that, and we were always expected to sweep it under the rug and keep things pushing,” Estes said recently by phone. “There was no safe haven to come forward and say, ‘This happened to me, and I’m struggling.’”

While Estes said that she’s started to see a cultural shift in the last few years, with increased resources being made available to women who have experienced sexual violence, she believes that women of color are still underserved in the conversation, owing in part to misconceptions reinforced by cultural stereotypes. “Black women and women of color, there’s this constant notion put on us: ‘You’re strong. You can handle this,’” Estes said. “And it diminishes our experience, and continues to put us in the victim box … because there’s this idea that we’re always strong, as if it’s just naturally in our DNA.”

To counter that narrative, and to offer a safe space for women of color to begin to overcome the trauma of sexual violence, Estes recently founded Survivors Not Victims, which will kick off action with a series of healing sessions at Zora’s House beginning in May.

“Seeing and hearing other people who have experienced it, you realize you’re not alone, and that you’re not the only one having a hard time trying to heal, trying to get better. And that’s comforting. Half of the battle is feeling like nobody understands what it is you’ve experienced. But once you realize it’s not something you should be embarrassed about, or something you should carry the shame of, it allows you to take the next step in healing and growing,” said Estes, 26, who described this as an ongoing process, and one that can take years. “It’s a lifelong journey, not something where one day it’s all better. You reach certain levels where it's like, 'I know how to handle this in a healthy manner. I know how to deal with these triggers.' Then you reach a new level in life, and new challenges come, and you learn how to heal in those aspects. … But I no longer exist in that space as a victim. I have reclaimed my power.”

Survivors Not Victims

While Estes has previous experience working with Ohio Health’s Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO), when it came to launching her own organization she was initially overwhelmed, not knowing how to take those first steps to bring it to life. Eventually, Estes turned to Zora’s House, the Weinland Park community space for women of color where she has served as an ambassador since January 2020, partnering with the organization to help launch the new venture.

While Zora’s House has teamed with other groups in the past, founder LC Johnson said she used this occasion to reevaluate how the space could develop a more formalized approach to incubating these types of grassroots ventures.

More:The pandemic reiterates that Zora's House is more than a building

More:LC Johnson builds community, culture with Zora’s House

“We started thinking more about how we could support these organizations that are being launched by women of color,” Johnson said. “And we spent time trying to figure out what that might look like, and so far it’s looked like helping [Estes] refine the vision for what she’s trying to do and articulate the mission of her group, and even so much as one-on-one coaching sessions on creating agendas and thinking about outreach. It’s been a good opportunity to really support what she’s trying to do, and using it as a way to think about how we can support other folks who might later come to us with an idea.”

Moving forward, Estes wants to continue to grow Survivors Not Victims, expanding from healing sessions into education aimed at prevention, instructing people of all stripes on subjects such as consent.

“The reality is the healing sessions will always be important, because nobody can ever promise that sexual violence won’t happen,” Estes said. “But educating people on the importance of consent — what it is, what it looks like — can help with not only lowering the number of cases of sexual violence … but also to help hold people accountable when it does happen, because we will all now have a common understanding of what consent looks like. There would be no more excuses, no more ability to plead ignorance.”

Estes said her time with Zora’s House has helped better prepare her for a leadership role within Survivors Not Victims in a number of ways, pointing to the skills she developed while helping coordinate and direct different events, but perhaps most importantly by instilling her with a greater sense of confidence. 

“I think the big thing that Zora’s House did was serve as that reminder that there’s magic within me as a Black woman,” Estes said. “And I say that’s the most important lesson I’ve taken because it’s the thing I want to instill in these other women every time they step foot in a healing session: There’s a magic in you, and even if you feel like it’s been stolen, it hasn’t. It’s there. And nobody can take it.”