Monday, July 20, 2015


An interview with Robert Uttaro, author of To the Survivors, a book about the author's journeys as a rape crisis counselor.


Hi! Welcome to Zigzag Timeline. Can you tell us about your background as an author?

I am a first time author who published my debut book To the Survivors.  Currently, I am writing a second book and teaching a writing course to high school sophomores.

What got you into writing?

I did not consider myself a writer and never once tried to write a book until the experience of an intensely vivid dream one morning changed my life. I woke up from this dream and said, “I have to write a book.” I interpreted this dream as a vision from God. I prayed to God, moved from the bed to the computer, opened up Microsoft Word, and continued to pray. That is how To the Survivors began. In other words, God inspired me to become a writer.

What was the first idea you had for your book, and how did the story grow from there?

As I described in my last answer, the idea to write To the Survivors came about through a dream. I knew two things in that moment. First, I knew that Jesus would be in the book. Second, I knew there would be multiple survivor stories from women and men who have been raped and sexually assaulted showing their pain and recovery. To the Survivors ultimately grew when I met more survivors who wanted to share their stories.

Among your characters, who's your favorite? Could you please describe him/her?

That is hard to answer because To the Survivors is non-fiction and has many different people in it who have shared deeply vulnerable, painful, and inspirational stories. There are so many great people in the book like Jim, Alexis, Chris, Jenee and others, but I recommend you read for yourself and interpret how you interpret.

What's your favorite scene from your novel? Could you please describe it?

Again, that is really hard to answer because To the Survivors deals with so many compelling issues. I don’t think I can choose a favorite scene, but I will choose two parts that I love from the “Chris” and “Jenee” chapters. A big part of To the Survivors is helping people understand that they are not alone in this world and that they can overcome anything, no matter how painful their experiences may be. In the “Chris” chapter, Chis says,

The abuse was something that was done to me. It doesn’t speak to my character. Releasing that shame allowed me to feel like I belonged in the world more. That felt empowering. Being around other people. Being around supportive people. Being around people who are willing to share. I began to see the universality of the effects that this abuse has.
And then you realize that this clearly is not about me. This cannot be about my character. There are thirty men in this room of all different sorts coming from all different walks of life who had this singular experience, and because of this have this very clear set of results and symptoms in their life. You begin to see that this cannot be just me. The power of that is really helpful in removing some of the shame and stepping into one’s power. 

Jenee’s chapter is also very powerful. She tells us about her own story and shares her hopes and prayers for humanity. Jenee says, “Any support we can give children in particular to not be ashamed and know they will be believed and loved desperately if they have something to share, we must. We must give each other that support.”

Jenee closes by saying, “Make peace with all people if you can, and especially, make peace with yourself. Always know there are friends somewhere rooting for you. There are people you don’t know, always praying for you and lifting you before God.”

What's your favorite part of writing? Plotting? Describing scenes? Dialogue?

I love writing to speak about truth. I also love to ignite thoughts and emotions, to teach and comfort people.  As a writer, I think it’s important to make people think and feel.

How long does it take you to write a book? Do you have a writing process, or do you wing it?

To the Survivors took me a little under three years to write. My writing process is always accompanied with music, meditation or prayer.

What is it about the genre you chose that appeals to you?

For me, non-fiction is so important to write about and read because it deals with real people in real life situations. Our lives are valuable and everyone has a story. For me, the best way to convey certain truths about ourselves and to learn from others in terms of writing is through non-fiction.

Are there any books or writers that have had particular influence on you?

Musicians have always had more of an influence on me than books or writers. However, one author who has had a strongly positive influence on me is Immaculee  Iligabiza.

Did you ever surprise yourself when you were writing your book? Characters who took on lives of their own? Plot elements that took unexpected turns?

One thing that surprised me was just learning about how young some children are when they become sexually abused. It’s one thing to hear of a story in the news, but to meet another person and listen to him or her disclose their childhood trauma of being raped or molested as a child is very sad and infuriating. I do not have adequate language to fully describe how horrible it is. However, I was able to witness the survivors’ bravery, strength and perseverance through their sharing. I learned what has helped various individuals in their lives and how they have grown from these traumatic experiences. A great deal of these insights are evident throughout To the Survivors and continue to serve as inspiration for me and hopefully every person who reads the book.

Thanks for stopping by!


Robert Uttaro is in his eighth year of working and volunteering as a rape crisis counselor, public speaker and community educator. Inspired by his undergraduate studies in Criminal Justice, he continues to embrace a life-long commitment to activism and advocacy for survivors of sexual violence. Serving as a counselor, Uttaro supports rape survivors and their significant others through various legal and case management issues. He also facilitates workshops aimed at education, prevention and exposure of the realities of sexual violence. Uttaro is currently touring many universities and high schools throughout Massachusetts.


To the Survivors is a deeply-moving, empowering, and brutally honest book about one man’s journey as a rape crisis counselor combined with true stories of sexual violence shared by real survivors in their own words. Gently and beautifully constructed, To the Survivors is moving, tender, sharp, and piercingly true all at once. The reader will encounter uncensored written stories, poems, and interviews shared by women, men, and one transgendered person who have been raped and sexually assaulted. The impact of this work is far reaching – it is multi-cultural, multi-generational, and fully expansive in its ability to reach people's hearts and minds around this critical human issue. Robert Uttaro believes anyone can benefit from the words in these pages; rape survivor or not.

"Rape counselor Uttaro draws upon his years of experience to warn that sexual abuse is far more prevalent than most people suspect, and provides a moving series of survivor stories. Uttaro persuasively argues that each survivor's story is unique—and this militates one-size-fits-all advice. The surprising revelations of the survivors Uttaro interviews corroborate his claim that justice is an individual concept that depends on what redress survivors seek. Uttaro's assurances that survivors are not defined by sexual abuse offer the possibility of a positive resolution. This book is both informative for the general public and supportive for those who have suffered sexual abuse. It is hard to imagine that members of either group will not gain from reading it."

- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred review)

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