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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.

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Laura Staley
Laura Staleyhttp://www.cherishyourworld.com
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura Staley passionately helps people thrive by guiding them to a holistic transformation of space, heart, mind, body, and soul. Laura knows that there’s a relationship between the conditions of our homes or workplaces and the quality of our lives. Trained and certified with the Western School of Feng Shui and seasoned by almost two decades of working with a variety of clients, Laura uses her intuition and expertise to empower her clients to produce remarkable results in their lives. Her trifecta of serving people includes speaking, writing, and compassionate listening. As a columnist, Laura writes personal essays focused on self-discovery, feng shui, emotional health, and transformations from the inside out. Laura is the published author of three books: Live Inspired, Let Go Courageously and Live with Love: Transform Your Life with Feng Shui, and the Cherish Your World Gift Book of 100 Tips to Enhance Your Home and Life. Prior to creating her company, Laura worked as a fulltime 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 laughing with loved ones, dancing, reading, meditating, running, being in nature, and listening to music she loves. She resides in Black Mountain, NC with lovable dog, Layla. Laura is a contributing author to the inspiring book Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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24 CONVERSATIONS

  1. 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!

    • Yes! So eloquently stated, Aldo! The experience of rising strong in love, in joy sometimes is indescribable after living through many challenges and yet, speaking out and living as an example of a person who has overcome odds becomes a humble and beautiful gift of this precious life. Thank you so much for the life-giving words you’ve expressed here. They enliven me. I appreciate you!

      • You are welcome, Laura. Our society has many issues on its plate that need addressing. The question becomes wh is going to address them. Politicians can barely advocate for their constituency let alone tackle a problem of this magnitude. It becomes tantamount upon all of us to look, see, listen, speak out, etc. to help whomever we can whenever we can and wherever way we can.

        • I completely agree. We can be empowered-each and every one of us to as you stated it “look, see, listen, speak out, etc. to help whomever we can whenever we can and whereever way we can.” Yes! Yes! Yes! And I happen to love the inspiration from Albert Einstein “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Pathways to healing are opening rapidly. Thank you for your additional comments. Human challenges remain for human beings to resolve and transcend in just the ways you’ve offered. I appreciate you!

          • Laura, sometimes a feeling comes over us that we can do more? But at the same time with the rise of anti-Semitism, gun violence, the coronavirus, political turmoil/scandals, etc. which are all important how and where do we begin to tackle all these problems? In my estimation prayer helps.

    • Thank you for letting me know I was able to put words to some things which you have struggled to put into words. Sometimes godawful life experiences leave us without words. You are in my heart always. I’m so grateful for your courage in making the connection to what remained without words in your being. Healing can be a silent process inside and with our bodies that no one outside of us may ever comprehend. You are important. You matter, Mary.

  2. 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.

    • Lynn, my heart goes out to you as you take all the actions to heal as best you can from those experiences as a child. While I didn’t venture to all the other experiences I had ( three years old with a stranger, at nine with a family member) please know that I actually get you-from that child perspective. I had a nasty trifecta (stranger, family, acquaintance). Yes, you are correct that the labels don’t really matter because this behavior comes from really damaged, demented beings and the outcomes of pain, hurt, shame, often silence, fear, anxieties etc. are the same. I hold you in my thoughts as we both continue to do the brave work to heal, to thrive as much as we possibly can and definitely to remain silent NO more. While I was heartbroken that my daughter’s friend was raped, I’m really encouraged and proud of my daughter and her friend’s incredible courage in bringing the young man to justice. He admitted his guilt on the stand. He continues to serve time in prison.

      May the root causes of these horrific deeds be brought to the light of day and create opportunities for this to become less and less a part of people’s life experience. And, again, we can no longer remain silent. This I know for certain. May we rise strong in our healing and connecting. Thank you for your courage in sharing what you’ve offered here to this difficult and yet, important discussion. I appreciate you and your bravery, Lynn. My heart is with you.

  3. 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.

    • Thank you for sharing how you, too, were raped and importantly how you healed and are now flourishing with clarity, JoAnna! YES, to your great courage, also!! I, too, have done a great deal of therapy, body work, and healing work around many, sometimes seems like “too many” life traumas and challenges (this incident obviously included)-and Yes-this sentence of yours leapt off the screen–“Life teaches you the same lessons until you learn them.” That completely and utterly resonates with my life journey. I am celebrating and cheering for the beautiful clarity you have gained- Interrupting patterns, grieving, processing through the limiting beliefs, making new, healthier choices, and bravely creating lives that are dignified, real, honest, and unrecognizable to our former selves! YES!!! We can change the world-a small (or large!) group of committed people with a vision can do just that!! May we see this shift in our lifetimes or do all we can for our grandchildren’s grandchildren!!!

  4. 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.💖

    • Thank you so much for all your kind words, Darlene! I, too, look forward to our conversation. I’m grateful and honored by your willingness to read and offer a review of Live Inspired. I have ordered your book and am eager to read it. Additional ideas keep flowing to me for the second follow-up article to this one. I’ve thought about the “thriving” and “transcending” the world of rape culture for a long time. (What can happen to shift this-for human beings to live in safety, dignity, and peace.) Multi-faceted for certain. Thanks, again, Darlene. Hearts and hugs.

  5. 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.

    • So many women, Kimberly, including you–and you, too, are a very brave and honest person. Speaking out is a courageous first step to bringing awareness to this challenge. I have thought a great deal about many pathways- multi-dimensional approaches to free more human beings from ever having these ugly and horrifying experiences. I realize this is unlikely to happen in my lifetime-and I will offer what I can to the healing and thriving conversations. We are stronger together. Thank you so much for your courage in sharing and willingness to listen to your many friends’ difficult stories. Grateful for you, my friend.

  6. 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.

    • We are not alone and together may our voices be heard, Wendy. It’s really helpful to know in your situation the man did go to jail (like the young man who raped my daughter’s close friend). I’m grateful for you and your courage — breaking the silence is such an important step towards healing and hopefully creating a context for this challenge to decrease or even disappear from the experience of so many human beings. A shift in consciousness to thriving from the inside out can be a piece of the solution puzzle-I realize it’s a multi-faceted issue and there’s no single “answer” or solution. Thank you so much for letting me know what happened to you-for your courage in sharing here. Attitudes and understanding are slowly shifting. Awareness-bringing this out of the darkness with all our voices bravely sharing is huge progress.

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