The UN estimates that at least 1 in 3 women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime.
I am 1 in 3.
In 1985, my family moved from the quiet suburbs of Washington, DC to Paris, France. I was nearly 10 years old and had already gone through puberty. By the time I was 15, I had been attacked in an elevator; sexually assaulted and bullied by five classmates on and off for three years; flashed by homeless men on my way to school; groped multiple times by “dirty old men” while taking public transportation; struck by a male principle with a fillip; catcalled by random men while going about my everyday life; and the recipient of an offer of child marriage. In the more than 25 years since, I have experienced numerous incidences of sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, and lewd behavior. Nearly all of my perpetrators have been acquaintances: classmates, colleagues, dates. I did not report the majority of these incidences to authorities or tell my community. Partly because, for a long time, every time I spoke up, it cost me more than if I hadn’t said anything at all. And partly because, by the time I was in my 30s, low-grade sexual harassment felt like the cost of being a woman in a man’s world.
For years, I blamed myself and, whenever yet another person hurt me or disrespected me or violated me, I minimized, de-escalated, and stuffed down my anger, fear, shame, and frustration. Several years ago, I began opening up about my experiences in women’s circles where I felt safe. Two amazing and unexpected things happened:
- The more vulnerable I was, the more women met me with support, sisterhood, and empathy, the more my shame melted away, and the more empowered I felt.
- Having the courage to share my survivor stories gave other women the courage to stand up and say “me, too” and share both their survivor stories and the times when they confided in a friend or relative and were met with blame, stigma, judgment, and re-victimization.
This collection is an invitation for you to share your survivor story (or stories) and take your power back. What happened to you is not your fault. You are not alone, love. Your voice matters. Together, let’s shed light on the darkness of rape culture and step more fully into our sovereignty as girls and women.