Powerful Videos Highlight Inspiring Stories to Mark Sexual Assault Awareness Month
In 2015, more than 150,000 people called the National Sexual Assault Hotline — a staggering number that will likely increase in years to come. The people who called were women and men of all ages, backgrounds, and experiences, and many of them were talking about their assault with someone for the very first time, sometimes about assaults that happened years ago. But there's hope in the stories being told to the people on the other end of the phone, and that's part of the purpose of a new (all-women!) produced campaign for RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
Produced in collaboration with a grant from Getty Images and released ahead of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, The Survivor Series features intimate portraits and videos of survivors, highlighting not only the diversity of their experiences and backgrounds, but the universality of their hope and strength. Most of all, the campaign serves as an important reminder that there not only no one "right" timeline for talking about assault, but there is also no one "right" kind of survivor.
"On the day of the shoot, all of the survivors said to us, if one of their stories can help one victim out there or prevent one incident of sexual abuse, it will all have been worthwhile. Indeed it's true. Sexual abuse is not just a personal, behind closed doors issue, its effects on families, communities and society are tragic and far-reaching. I know I speak for the entire creative team, we are proud to be helping RAINN reach even more people out there and expand its vital work — to help change the conversation about sexual abuse," said Florence Buchanan of Buchanan Projects and the campaign's creative director.
Susan Carolonza Chanin of Mother Image and the campaign's executive producer, says that for her, the campaign felt especially personal as a mother: "It was so painful and important to hear about they had survived in addition to abuse. Many of the survivors had told their stories to the RAINN hotline for the first time, or had reached out after legal battles. As mother, a woman, and a human being, I do not accept a world like this. I want and need to be a part of change and support RAINN." You can watch the survivors featured in the campaign talk about their experiences, below:
You can watch the survivors featured in the campaign talk about their experiences, below:
Some of the featured survivors shared the following stories:
When Adam was 14, he was raped by his uncle. "I thought that was the way he loved me, without fully realizing, even at 14, 15, to step back and say 'that's wrong,'" he shares. When he came public about his abuse ten years to the day after his last attack, he says he learned — and hopes other learn — that "by people telling their story like I’m doing, it shows people who are victims, you know what, they’re saying it now. It’s OK if I tell. Speak up. Your voice needs to be heard."
Barbara was also assaulted at age 14; her boyfriend and a group of his friends took turns raping her. She chose not to go public with her assault at the time because she believed that since her boyfriend was her assailant, she was to blame for her own assault. Today, however, she wants other survivors to know that, "After being married to someone who was abusive for 15 years, I walked away with nothing. I decided I was going to heal myself. I would become a champion. I would take all this, all this hurt, all this pain, and turned it into something uniquely positive. When someone calls you and takes you back to that place...like I feel like my heart could just come out of my chest sometimes. When you let go of shame, you’re free."
Lucy was raped by a college baseball player she met at a party while an undergrad. “I remember knowing in my head, somehow, you had to scream ‘no’ or yell ‘stop’ at least three times. And because I didn’t do that, I thought, well, I can’t say this is sexual assault.” And afterwards, she thought, “He was a student athlete, so I never officially reported it. And I knew if I did that it would just be an uphill fight.” She went on to struggle with an eating disorder, depression, and the physical loss of her voice through a condition called paresis that is often a result of trauma. But nearly a decade later, and with her voice recovered, Lucy is telling her story because "[t]hat kind of painful memory and something that your body has gone through… the more you hold it in, the more it poisons you. With RAINN, it’s about healing that and making a safe space."
Keith was kidnapped, beaten and raped by a stranger when he was 14 years old. He stayed silent about his trauma for 35 years. "I was raped by a guy. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. And it was my fault. Of course, now I know it wasn’t. But it was living a secret and living in silence about what happened." He finally chose to speak out after all that time for his own children's sake, no longer wanting to hide a part of his past from them. To others, he says, "For 35 years, I didn’t disclose. So I’m not telling you you gotta disclose. But if you’re strong enough and you can, give RAINN a call. RAINN’s a safe place. You gotta believe that what happened to you wasn’t your fault. And then you can make that transition to being a survivor." And yet, in producing the campaign, all the featured survivors were also asked for five words they would use to describe themselves — and it's no surprise that strong, resilient, compassionate, loving, and compassionate were just some of the words that came up again and again.
To contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline, call 800.656.HOPE (4673) or talk via secure online chat at online.rainn.org.
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Photo Credit: RAINN/YouTube