Three years ago, I wrote a social media post about numerous sexual assaults I’ve been through over my life, including an incidence where I learned of a serial rapist serving two life sentences, currently under investigation in multiple murders, who brutally assaulted me at the age of fourteen. Dozens of people wrote to me after that post, sharing their own stories of sexual violence and abuse — men, women, intersex, trans men and women, reached out with brutal narratives about violence they’ve endured, and I was deeply moved by both the stories, and the fact that my public acknowledgement of my own experience had brought them to a place they felt secure to share. Most of these conversations remained private as the survivors were not yet ready to open to a wider audience, which I understand in a deeply firsthand way. When I first started planning the post, I was terrified, asking my partner, “but what about my job? There are people I work with on this platform.”
His response, rightly, was to emphasize this fear is exactly why I “need to write it.” The shame of the abuse had become so engrained, so much a part of who I was as a person, I hadn’t stopped to ask why my colleagues would judge me as a victim. The very act of acknowledging and coming to terms in my role as a victim of sexual violence brought to light a self-judgement I’d been carrying, a voice urging shame and guilt and denying any aspect of empathy, care, and understanding for the assaulted child and young woman I once was.
And so the other victims who came to me with their stories, questions, shared pain and deep understanding cracked something open that I don’t ever want to see closed again. This dialogue needs to be a common one, between victims and those who know and love them, and even perpetrators, who are so often victims themselves. If we don’t have this conversation, nothing will change. If we don’t teach one another the empathy necessary to have these conversations, nothing will change. If we don’t allow these stories to be told, our children, and our children’s children, will be subjected, quietly, to the same types of abuse, and that shame will force them to remain silent. We cannot be silent anymore.