I want to share my story as I hope my experience can help others understand that we are never alone, despite what we might tell ourselves — and that there is true strength, power and healing in speaking out. It is together, reclaiming our stories, that we can take back the night.
Over 15 years ago, I was the Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Coordinator at KU. My job included speaking about sexual assault and rape culture, providing services, and advocating for survivors. I never missed a Take Back the Night event. I didn’t leave bars alone and always watched my drink; I knew the drill.
Yet, despite all my knowledge and vigilance, I was raped by a stranger when I was out of town visiting another university. I never reported it. I didn’t even tell a soul. I had a world of support back at KU but yet I was so full of shame and humiliation. I didn’t need others to shame me, I did that all on my own. I replayed it over and over in my mind. How could I not have prevented it with all I knew? Why was I walking alone at night? I knew better. Why couldn’t I have used the self-defense techniques I had learned in a class I had organized? I didn’t come forward because I was scared, scared of the lies I had told myself, scared of being blamed, of being not believed. I also felt guilty as I watched other women tell their stories and face their accusers in court. I was ashamed of my lack of honesty and grit.
My struggles included anxiety and depression. I couldn’t confront my experience and my pain consumed me. I guess I survived. But barely. I stuffed the assault down so far that I couldn’t reach it. I felt my light fade, in the way that marks you. I felt unworthy but most importantly, I felt un-loveable. I let my rapist win.
Rape takes away your sense self. of safety. Your sense of right and wrong. Your sense of place and peace. My narrative was of deep shame.
But I am here to tell you that my story doesn’t end there. And yours doesn’t have to either.
After years of work, tears, and therapy, I am proud to report that I am no longer afraid. My story is one of redemption and power. I embrace who I am and where I’ve been; I see that my experiences do not define me but have made me into a caring and strong person. And I now have an incredible support network of friends and family and a dear husband I’m so incredible fortunate for the goodness around me.
We all know that in life, there will be pain. We will see and experience difficult situations and the worst in humanity. But we have a choice. To grow and love and be transformed. Or to sit and allow the pain to tear us apart. I spent over 7 years in that dark space, and let me tell you, it’s not okay. You have a choice. I choose life. Together, we can choose light to move through darkness and find joy.
I thought it might help to tell you a bit about what I’ve learned.
- We all are living lives of courage. We are all walking around with pain, both seen and unseen. In the tough times, it is important to remember that we have more courage and strength than we know.
- We are more resilient than we can ever imagine. The day after my rape, I never dreamed I would be speaking to you today, serving on the WASAC board. It is my privilege to be up here to say, we are all capable of change and resilience.
- We can choose forgiveness. I decided that holding onto the anger and fear was allowing my attacker to still control me. And as a dear mentor said to me, you can’t hate someone if you know their story. Forgiveness is our choice.
- We are never alone. There is help available! You might not deal with it for many years later, and that is okay. You can turn to WASAC for services even if you don’t file a police report. You don’t have to walk alone in fear. Trust me, vulnerability is worth the risk. I’ve been blown away from the kindness of those in helping professions, strangers, anyone committed to caring for others.
- You get to rewrite your story. You get to chose a new script. As Carl Jung said, I am not what happened to me, I am what I chose to become. So I’d like to invite you to join me. Let’s create a new way of being tonight, of relating. Let’s write stories of compassion and of goodness and of reclaiming our world.
We are in this together. And it is our power and beauty to give…