The Mighty Logo

Why I Speak Up About My Sexual Assault and Abuse

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

On September 18, 2013, BuzzFeed published “27 Survivors Of Sexual Assault Quoting The People Who Attacked Them,” an article based on the photographic work of Grace Brown, the founder of Project Unbreakable. An online photography project that aimed to “encourage the act of healing through art,” Project Unbreakable exploded online as it exposed a demand for sexual assault awareness. The critical need for this type of advocacy work led the BuzzFeed article to be viewed by over 2.5 million readers.

• What is PTSD?

I am one of the 27 survivors quoted.

Two and half million people have read the words my abuser said before molesting me. Two and half million people have read the words my date rapist said after he finished.

But 2.5 million people have not read the words that reveal why I choose to be photographed or speak up. And 2.5 million people have not read the words that reveal how survivors of violence, sexual assault and trauma become alchemists — transmuting pain into power.

I was first exposed to Project Unbreakable in 2011. At that point in my life, I was exiting an abusive relationship and I did not identify myself as a rape victim or rape survivor. I didn’t identify because I could not grasp the concept of sexual assault.

My body always knew my sexual experiences were not consensual. The signs were there in the bruises, the blood and the deep pain I felt inside. The pain of emptiness, hollowness and deadness.

But I wanted to believe, like many of us who are abused, that we are not being abused. That it is not rape, sexual assault or any form of abuse. Because to admit someone we love is hurting us is a type of heartbreak no words can define. It is a heartbreak that permeates the entire body, leaving you shaking, heaving, hollow and hungry.

I did not identify with being a sexual assault victim or survivor because I felt I did not fight back enough, scream loud enough and because the rapist was not someone in a back alley. The rapist was my boyfriend, the rapist was my friend, the rapist was someone I knew…

None of the men who raped me attacked me in a midnight black-back alley while I was alone and vulnerable walking home. None of the men who raped me fulfilled the stereotype of a rapist or rape that patriarchal society sells us.

These stereotypes need to be dismantled, now more than ever.

The statistical information is there to put these stereotypes to rest. We know 75 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, while 28 percent are committed by a stranger; however, the myths continue because bringing light to the truth would expose both patriarchy and its relation to perpetuating rape culture.

Patriarchy is a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are excluded. A system where we are taught to search for external gratification instead of feeling our own internal sensations. A system that excludes the feminine and distorts the masculine. All of which I believe contributes to sexual, physical and emotional violence. Sexual assault is perpetrated by those who embody patriarchal values.

The act of sexual assault requires a level of disconnection with oneself so intense that the perpetrator cannot be conscious to the harm they are inflicting. If the perpetrator were aware of the poison of their penetration, they would not be able to complete the act. The disembodiment the perpetrators acts with is the level of disembodiment the survivor lives with for years after.

Project Unbreakable was revolutionary because it exposed the power of embodiment in survivors’ ability to honor their pain. The project demonstrated that sexual assault happens across all ages, sexes, genders, classes, ethnicities and cultures. It demonstrated how rape culture and sexual assault affects us all, and those directly affected can move from victim to survivor, and even further…

In North America, 1 in 4 women will be sexual assaulted during her lifetime, and 1 in 6 men will also be sexually assaulted.

Project Unbreakable offered an opportunity for the people behind those statistics, the crème de la crème, the experts in the field, to educate society about sexual assault, showing us you can find serenity within your struggle.

Those photographed took a bold stance against rape culture — a culture that has been absorbed into mainstream media. Everywhere we look — our social media, our phones, our televisions, outside our bedroom windows — we witness the commodification of the body.

The objectification of the body for profit. We witness disembodiment.

Disembodiment isn’t just the consequence of abuse. Through our consumer-commodified culture, we all — men and women — live with a degree of disembodiment, a consequence of rape culture.

I owe the acceptance of my truth to one women’s photograph, her embodiment. Her words resonated past my deep core of shame and struck my authentic truth and led me back to my body, a body that had been stolen over the years of abuse. Her embodiment helped me and led me to my embodiment.

Embodiment meant healing, healing meant feeling, and feeling meant entering my pain, facing truth and foraging to find freedom. The freedom I found when I confronted my truth is why I felt absolutely obligated to be photographed back then and speak up now.

If I inspire one person, if one person connects to my truth and consequentially connects with the truth harbored in their own body, then my intimate, raw, messy disclosures of the bits and pieces of my once shattered soul are so worth it. Beyond worth it.

Because living, loving, moving and being embodied in a world that sells the opposite is the ultimate act of radical defiance and power.

Living radically-defiant and embodied lives can create a ripple of change, because embodiment is linked to freedom — to my freedom, to your freedom and to everyone’s freedom. To be truly free, we must illuminate the darkness within not only ourselves but the world around us, so that the darkness, shame, secrets and suffering no longer silence us. No longer control us. No longer define and limit us.

Instead, they expand us; Expand us to question, reconsider and rethink sexual assault, abuse, rape, rapist, rape culture, patriarchy and feminism, as well as the images, messages and media that are in our habitat.

They expand us to fully inhabit our bodies and live embodied lives. Expand us to transform pain into power.

They expand us to bring light to the dark.

They expand us to transform struggling into serenity.

We need more stories of real radical vibrational vulnerability, messiness, rawness, humanness, wholeness, feeling and healing. We need more people living fully and wholly in their bodies.

Because sharing our stories can be the catalyst for someone else to pause, to listen to their inner voice, to question and become more in touch with their body, with their story and with their truth.

One by one, in this way, we will become a more embodied society.

A society that no longer accepts or perpetuates sexual assault myths or rape culture.

And so, I share my story, my full story of abuse, of healing, of feeling and I will keep doing just that because that is how I live an embodied life.

That is how I honor my privilege of calling my body home after so many have tried to evict me from it.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Photo by Rhett Wesley on Unsplash

Originally published: November 30, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home