Making something of it – the optimism of Susan Somes

By Adam Sikes, TACOM Public Affairs OfficeApril 27, 2023

Susan Somes, Rock Island Arsenal-Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center's victim advocate smiles from the podium as she explains her experience with survivorship and advocacy.
Susan Somes, Rock Island Arsenal-Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center's victim advocate smiles from the podium as she explains her experience with survivorship and advocacy. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

DETROIT ARSENAL, Mich. - Susan Somes, Rock Island Arsenal-Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center’s victim advocate, ascends the stage and peers out over the auditorium’s crowd from behind her podium. She has a challenging task, for before her sits a crowd of people to whom she must relate a (hopefully) unrelatable and difficult story. Yet, it is difficult not because it involves an accounting of how she has been sexually assaulted, but because she must change the way people view those who experience trauma. For to experience trauma such as hers then makes it easy to be singularly defined by such experiences. Yet, Somes is primarily here not to detail her victimhood, but to do something altogether different.

It’s easy to see an individual through a singular lens. We understand our coworkers through the lens of their profession. We see veterans through the lens of their prior service. Yet, for Somes, perhaps the trickiest such pitfall is being seen through the lens of a sexual assault survivor. However, listening to her, and later sitting across from her at a restaurant, you quickly see through the singular dimension of trauma. For as Somes detailed her several-days-long kidnapping and assault by her captors, you hear clearly the person beneath the harrowing tale.

“I grew up on a farm with my family in the Midwest,” she starts. “Nothing ever happens in the Midwest, nothing like that,” she says, referring to sexual assault. However, as I sit across from her, our conversation doesn’t dwell on the trauma she discussed earlier in the auditorium. Instead, we end up talking about her faith, Elvis and our shared love of horror films. “Ultimately,” she says, “I just want to get my story out there – to help others who’ve experienced sexual assault and make something of it, to share my knowledge so that others might be protected. It can happen anywhere.” However, it’s one part, the making something of it, that shines through the strongest. “I’m the person who’s more upbeat. I like to think positive. I believe firmly that God has a plan for me, and I want to help and enable other survivors,” Somes continues. You notice that every mention of her experience with assault seems qualified, as if she always holds some in reserve. Not to hide, but to eagerly show another part of herself. This, I realize, is the point of her role as a Victim Advocate. The point is to openly acknowledge what has been done, yet equally maintain your humanity – how you adapt and live in spite of the adversity.

"Mine is not an easy story, but I want to share it,” she says, “I want to help others. I tell my story in the hopes that it prevents someone else from experiencing that kind of trauma.” The point Somes makes is that, for victims of sexual assault, it’s easy to be seen as simply that, a victim. What people often fail to see is the person behind the victim.

It would be easy for her to accept an interview seeking primarily to discuss her past trauma. However, sitting across from her and peering into the glasses now resting on eyes crinkled in her recurring smile, the conversation could not be any more distant from that trauma. “I love horror movies!” she exclaims. She continues as we run through our favorite forms of entertainment, “I grew up loving Elvis. I still love and listen to him.” In between mouthfuls of sushi and professions of love for Elvis and kayaking, we talk periodically about her past and how she helps victims of sexual assault in her current role. This is what she came to talk about: how she loves kayaking and afternoons in Florida just as much as she loves helping others to a sense of dignity and safety.

It would be challenging enough to stand before a crowd of your peers and detail half of what Somes did. It would be challenging still to do so and, simultaneously, illustrate an individual of deep abiding faith, kindness toward her fellow man, and genuine optimism. Yet as she smiles at the podium, you cannot help but see an individual who takes pride in the person she is, confident in the knowledge that she is more than any single dimension, confident that she makes life better for others. Trauma should not define us. It simply reveals the remarkable and resilient individual that already resided within us.