Breaking the Silence

You can recognize survivors of abuse by their courage. When silence is so very inviting, they step forward and share their truth, so others know they aren’t alone.

― Jeanne McElvaney

My daughter during her senior year of college a couple weeks before graduation texted me:

He was found guilty of rape. He will go to prison.”

A few weeks earlier she called me on the phone to seek emotional support before she testified as a witness in the rape case of her close friend. My daughter had been the last person to see her friend and the young man and the first to see her the next morning. In the immediate aftermath, she and her friend bravely took all the correct actions as they had been educated to do so.

During my daughter’s summertime freshman orientation, the Dean of Students spoke boldly and honestly about the rigorous policies and procedures of the school in complete cooperation with city and state law enforcement officials. The dean shared in a very adult and professional manner about the realities of date rape on college campuses. She covered not just the statistics but shared about the real dynamics of young people experimenting with alcohol, drugs, and sex.

Speaking refreshingly forthrightly about clear distinctions between consensual sexual relations and rape, the dean had everyone’s rapt attention. When truths are being spoken, people listen.

You could hear a pin drop in the auditorium filled with students and family members. Afterwards my daughter and I looked at each other in that knowing way. We had previously engaged in many honest and open conversations about these topics. And she knew what had happened to me.

When I attended college no one in leadership positions spoke about date rape.

While on spring break in another city with my older sister, we got invited to a Hung-Over Leprechaun Party, which we attended. My sister wanted to spend time with her boyfriend, who was in law school at the time. Her boyfriend introduced me to his roommate, who easily stepped into the role of my chaperone for the evening. He failed in that duty.

I remember the details vividly to this day. Earlier in the evening, I remember him saying as he placed his hand on my thigh, “You can trust me. Nothing will happen.” He stated this after I told him I had a boyfriend in my hometown where I attended college. I also admitted that I was still a virgin with a deep commitment to remain one even though I experienced feelings of lust and curiosity. He drank a lot of alcohol. I drank sips to fit in.

I fought back to no avail. He was stronger than me. My necklace broke. My earring got lost. He pinned my arms betraying his earlier assurances. Immediately afterwards I furiously hissed at him, “Do you feel better now?” I remember the photo of the woman with the long brown hair, brown eyes. He told me he would likely marry her. She looked stunningly beautiful in that framed photograph on his dresser. I remember asking him to spell his last name and how each letter he spoke felt like they branded themselves to the piercing, sharp pain of my lost innocence, my body seemingly marked for life. And likely for him, I remain a notch on his bedpost, a bragging moment in the men’s locker room, a scoff at how easy it is to deflower a virgin, an easily dismissed and forgotten transaction.

The next and last time I encountered this man was at my sister’s wedding. I walked down the aisle as the maid of honor. He walked as one of the groomsmen. At the reception while standing next to the non-alcoholic beverage table, I held my cup of punch as I watched him approach me with his smug smile, those “I conquered you” eyes staring at me, and his body swagger.

Oh, how many times have I gone back to this moment wishing with every cell in my being that I had put my knee in his groin or thrown my cup full of punch in his face and said all the words I had kept inside since that godawful incident.

Yet, I knew the context. My deeper commitment remained with my sister and the wedding day she had envisioned since she was young. Plus, the blood had drained out of my face; the freeze reaction immobilized me. Standing still in my beautiful green Laura Ashley dress, stockings and heels, I awkwardly mumbled a few words until he finally sauntered far away from me.

Today I thankfully have more confidence and dignity than I ever have. I see myself as a person who passionately thrives even as I continue to work to make peace with the challenges I endured. In many ways, I’m vibrantly healthy, though this awful experience and other past experiences, at times, haunt me as I continue to fully accept them as part of the messy, ugly, beautiful, rich tapestry of the life I’ve lived so far. Forgetting seems impossible. Sharing feels liberating.

Choosing and practicing radical honesty, acceptance, love, and empowerment have become their own form of redemption.

Bravely sharing my truth begins to release my nineteen-year-old’s heart from the prison of victimhood and silence. And I know that my inner soul truths regarding my beauty and worth remain untouchable and unconquerable. The qualities and contents of my character grow stronger every day.

Rape and sexual abuse have absolutely nothing to do with love or healthy sexual expression. Domination often mixed with mental pathology and alcohol create this godawful cocktail of poisonous righteousness inside of many men who commit sexual assault. Rape has nothing to do with women’s bodies-size, color, shape, the clothing they are wearing or not wearing, the alcohol they drink or don’t drink. Sexual assault and abuse happens to boys, young men, and men. This type of violence remains a human challenge.

All human beings deserve to live in safety, dignity, and peace.

In my next essay I will share strategies, ideas, and resources that I found to be profoundly useful in my own pathway to healing and some of the solutions I believe could be implemented to address this challenging issue in our culture and world.

Laura Staley
Laura Staleyhttp://www.cherishyourworld.com
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura helps people thrive in the physical spaces where they live and work. She educates people about the optimal arrangement of belongings for comfort, safety, and flow; de-cluttering for freedom; and planning transitions to new or updated spaces for optimal joy in life. Laura knows that the conditions of our homes and workplaces shape the quality of our lives. Trained and certified with the Western School of Feng Shui and seasoned by more than a decade working with a variety of clients, Laura uses her intuition and expertise to help her clients produce remarkable results in their lives. Her own awakening to the power of feng shui came on the heels of a flood and the realization that she could live with beloved belongings rather than unloved hand-me-down stuff. Her trifecta of serving people includes public speaking, writing, and compassionate coaching. Laura is a published author of the books Let Go Courageously and Live with Love: Transform Your Life with Feng Shui and Cherish Your World Gift Book: 100 Tips to Enhance Your Home and Your Life. Prior to creating her company, Laura worked as a full-time parent and an assistant professor at Ohio Wesleyan University. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University. Her joys in life include loving her dog, laughing with great friends, dancing, reading, meditating, running, being in nature, and listening to music she loves. You are welcome to connect with Laura below.
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Wendy Watson-Hallowell | The Belief Coach
Wendy Watson-Hallowell | The Belief Coach

Laura, I have also had this experience and we brought the man to jail. I was 15, it was 1977 and I was invalided by my boyfriend at the time who said it was my fault. It wasn’t.

I speak up in the silence for ANY invalidation we have experienced, big or small. Sharing our own experience and letting others know they are not alone is the key. Thank you for your bravery and the stand you take for others. Grateful for you and your bravery.

Kimberly Davis
Kimberly Davis

Oh Laura… I find myself holding my breath when I read your work. It’s so honest and brave. I had a situation in college that was similar… After the #MeToo thing broke I learned about so many friends who’ve gone through horrifying experiences like this. It’s courage like yours that will break the cycle.

Darlene Corbett
Darlene Corbett

You are amazing. Not only is your writing exquisite, but it embodies the warmth and the extra touch. Thank you for inviting me to read a prepublication of your book, and I look forward to conversing with you on my podcast. Laura, you not only have survived but thrived with illumination. I cannot wait for your next article.💖

JoAnna Bennett
JoAnna Bennett

Laura! Bravo! Thank you for sharing this story. I too was date raped while I attended university and there weren’t many resources available to help a woman in my situation. I’ve embraced the event as an adult engaged in therapy and stopped burying it with shame. The person who did it was a damaged soul. A man without empathy and compassion – similar to the man I ended up marrying (they even had the same first name). Life teaches you the same lessons until you learn them. Even though it took me thirty five years to learn them, I did. And I’m grateful to have my current mindset. Without all those damaging situations, I’d never have this beautiful clarity.

Thank you for being open and breaking your silence. I’m sorry you were raped, but I’m grateful you’re a survivor! Warrior women are powerful. We can change the world. And we do.

Lynn Forrester-Pitocco
Lynn Forrester-Pitocco

Thank you Laura for this post, as I can only imagine the many women who read this post can relate, I being one of them, but as a little girl, not as a college student. There is a fine line between the ages of little ones and college age, that is labled either Pedophile, Sexual Preditor, Molester, and Rapist, but the pain and the outcome remains the same. Painful, hurtfult, and just plain evil. Your daughter is courages in looking back on what she decided to do for her friend. Remain silent no more.

Mary Billiat
Mary Billiat

Thank you for articulating what I have been unable to for the past 35 years. You are so important in so many ways.

Joel Elveson
Joel Elveson

Thank you, Laura, for treating this subject in the manner that it should be.

Jeff Ikler
Jeff Ikler

“The qualities and contents of my character grow stronger every day.” And in the process, you hold space for and inspire others. Thank you, Laura.

Aldo Delli Paoli
Aldo Delli Paoli

Sharing one’s experience is undoubtedly a resource not only for oneself but also and above all for those who have not managed to find the courage to break the silence.
Everyone makes their journey in a personal and unique way but sharing with those who have had the same experience makes them stronger and shows that taking life back to be happy is possible!

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