History of Pandy's, an online support group, message board, & chat room for rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse victims & survivors
Pandora's Aquarium was born in 1999, as an off-shot of Welcome to Barbados, a Tori Amos inspired website for rape and sexual abuse survivors. I was featured on ABC's 20/20 in February of that year, and I knew that my site would be visited by many survivors and I wasn't sure I alone could keep up with all the email. Additionally, there was nothing like Pandy's online at the time, so I decided to start a small bulletin-board style message board so that survivors could support each other. Since then, it has (as you can see!) never stopped growing. Pandy's is the largest and most active message board of its kind on the internet, serving rape and sexual abuse survivors 24 hours a day.
Pandy's became Pandora's Aquarium, Inc., in 2007, and its 501(c)(3) tax exempt status is pending. Being incorporated as a non-profit organization will enable us to reach our goal of supporting survivors both online and offline. Since 2001, we estimate that more than 12,000 survivors have registered on the message board & chat room. Numbers like that are bittersweet. How wonderful that we can find and heal from each other; how horrible that so many women and men are victims of rape.
Why Tori Amos?
"You know when you've cried and cried, and you really can't cry
anymore, so you're very quiet? I started hearing the water, and Pandora
- the last song on the record - came to me. She was sort of warning me
that there are so many feelings under the rocks that I needed to turn
into. She told me, 'You need to dive into this one, Tori, because your
healing is in there. Once you go, it's a whole new journey, but you've
got to metaphorically leave this little dock and come with me to find
out what's really in this ocean of feelings.' So I did.
-Tori Amos, on Pandora's Aquarium
Tori Amos is a sexual violence survivor and an advocate, founding RAINN, a US nationwide hotline (1-800-656-HOPE). This board is partly inspired by Tori Amos because she is the one who inspired me to heal. I remember reading an interview with her when she said, "It's about realizing, painfully, you've kept that voice inside yourself, locked away from even yourself. And you step back and see that your jailer has changed faces. You realize you've become your own jailer." That hit me hard, and I knew that while I was once a victim with no control over a man's choice to rape me, I was now the one in the driver's seat. I was a victim of rape, but I would only continue to be a victim of what happened if I allowed it. So I stopped letting it control me.
I first met Tori in 1999 and have spoken with her many times since then. She knows about Pandora's Aquarium, refers rape and sexual abuse survivors to the message board, and asks me how the board is going when we see each other. She supports us and we thank for her what she has done for rape and sexual abuse survivors.
The woman in the tree on the board's artwork is Tori Amos, drawn by a board member based on the cover image of Tori's Hey Jupiter single. The board header also incorporates a note that Tori wrote for the members of the board. You can read the note from Tori Amos here.
About the name "Pandora's Aquarium"
Pandora's Aquarium is named after a song by Tori Amos of the same title. The lyrics in full can be found here. The song, to me, symbolizes the danger of silence after sexual abuse and rape. When we are silent, we drown. When we don't use our voices, we're only half alive. Several of the lyrics in particular inspired the naming of this support forum:
thoughts you thought you'd never tell: Members here share some of their deepest secrets, sometimes things they've never told anyone else. I am very honored and humbled to be able to be part of a place where survivors feel comfortable using their voices.
foam can be dangerous with tape across my mouth: We smother ourselves in our own silence.
you're still alive below the waste: Sexual assault violated our body, but it did not take our lives. We might feel lost, broken, and abandoned, but we have infinite strength and we just need to learn how to use it again.
Through the lyrics and conversations with Tori, I suspected that Pandora's Aquarium was (at least partly) about recovery from sexual abuse. That was confirmed when Tori published her book, Piece by Piece. In it, she says of Pandora's Aquarium:
"Even though there is a violation and a rape involved in my life, that story isn't my core. For example, Persephone is Beenie's [Tori's best friend] myth.... Beenie was molested by her father from age two through the age of seven, a nightmare that recalls the rape of Persephone and the betrayal by Persephone's father, Zeus, and her entire life has been devoted to healing the deepest, most invasive unseeable scar that one can ever have. She has truly made a journey through the depths....To see how incest can shred and divide a Being is the scariest thing I've witnessed in my life."
My hope is that Pandora's Aquarium will be a place where rape and sexual abuse survivors break the silence, tell their stories, heal those most invasive, unseeable of scars, and begin to live again. You don't have to be a victim, and it doesn't have to destroy you. There is a way out.