April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so we reached out to one survivor to share a bit of her story with all of us, and here it is:
I think we all have an idea in our minds of what a perpetrator looks like; he's a scruffy, dirty, "creepy" man who hangs out in alleyways and drives a van--that, of course, has no windows. Part of this mentality is that we like to think we can tell just by looking at someone whether or not they are dangerous. We like to think if we know what to look out for, and if we know how to be safe, nothing bad will happen to us. Ahh, if only, if only...
This false image of perpetrators played a big role in keeping me quiet after I was raped on a date on November 14, 2009. After it happened, I was confused and so angry. I was embarrassed and blamed myself entirely for not having recognized a rapist even when standing face to face. When I considered coming forward, I thought to myself, "Who is going to believe a guy as successful, handsome and charming is capable of raping someone? And who is going to believe someone would rape someone on a date?" He doesn't fit the image society has of a perpetrator, or even my image of a perpetrator, and that terrified me. The fear of not being believed overshadowed my desire to be heard or validated. Never having felt more lost and alone, I kept it to myself.
My healing was full of hiccups. I made a lot of bad choices, and in between those bad choices was courage to keep pushing forward--despite all the "two steps forward- one step back" progress. The journey was painful, and trying, and beautiful--and mine. Every victim and survivor is going to heal in their own way. What they need and deserve from the people around them is patience, validation, sensitivity, and empowerment. They deserve for us as a community to stand up and say, "We believe you. It wasn't your fault." It's not a pretty subject. People don't like to think about how often it happens and they certainly don't want to talk about it. It's awkward. But survivors aren't going to feel comfortable coming forward when we as a community are terrified to talk about something that happens every day.
My story went public for the first time for MADI Apparel's #HerSuperPower campaign.
Since then, I've been public speaking all over Kansas City and making short, educational videos on YouTube to help raise awareness.
I wasn't ready to have a voice for quite some time, but now that I do, I hope I'm able to be a voice for the voiceless. I hope the world hears me and chooses to treat survivors with compassion instead of criticism. I pray my voice reaches all the men and women who have been impacted by sexual violence, either directly or indirectly, and it motivates them to keep faith. I pray they hear me when I say, "It may not seem like it now, but I promise healing is possible. You too, can feel whole again."