Sexual assault awareness month is over.
I understand that an awareness month must end and that there are many different things that need awareness. I do. However—I also know, as a sexual assault survivor myself, that the impact of what happened to me and so many others permeates everything and will continue to impact us every single day.
As April (Sexual Assault Awareness Month) ended and May dawned upon me, I decided to have teal streaks placed in my hair (teal is the color of the SAAM ribbon). I have been a sexual assault survivor for 20 years but recently came forward and told everyone the secret that I have been hiding for so long—the secret that was eating me alive.
May came almost as an affront to me. I wasn’t ready to stop talking about the impact of being a rape victim; I wasn’t ready to hear others stop talking about it. So, I placed the teal in my hair as a way to wear the pain, the impact of that single night upon my entire life.
I have been humbled by the response.
When I am asked about my hair and I respond with the reason why I chose this style, I am sometimes greeted with painful silence. However, more often I am greeted with a moment of pause followed by the harrowing story of the other person’s survival of sexual assault—sometimes whispered, sometimes loud enough for all to hear. Grocery store cashiers, baristas, co-workers…they all carry such heavy stories.
It is not lost on me that Sexual Assault Awareness Month is followed by Mental Health Awareness month. It seems quite appropriate as so many, like myself, find themselves inside a deep depression after being violated in unspeakable ways. In fact, I tried to commit suicide seven times in the months following. I cannot help but wonder if we had a society that embraced and comforted victims and shunned the perpetrator if this would change.
Surely, such an affront of body and mind deserves a time of depression, introspection and rest but if we were not forced to hide and carry a burden of shame, might more of us come forward?
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), 97 out of 100 rapists face no punishment.
This is not a typo.
The violators of your mothers, your fathers and your children go free every day. According to the same statistics, every 107 seconds another American is assaulted. We are a country, a world in which women and men are violated in horrific ways every single day.
I’m asking that we don’t allow Sexual Assault Awareness month to end. That we speak up on a topic that has been taboo—that we talk about it over and over again until it is taboo no more.
My innocence was taken from me on that night before my 17th birthday. The shame that I carried afterward nearly buried me alive. I should never have had to carry shame for an event that was out of my control. I wish for the generations to come to not have that shame at all.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, I reach out to you with love, to let you know that you are not alone. If you are not a survivor, I ask that you stand beside us. Until the day when there are no more sexual assaults, let us stand together and ask for our culture to stop tolerating these atrocities.
Let Sexual Assault Awareness Month never stop until we have eradicated this altogether.
Author: Amanda Redhead
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Image: Chase Carter/Flickr