MAKERS Takes a Stand for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

This April we are sharing inspiring stories all month long for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

While each of our MAKERS champion women's rights and have made unique and significant achievements in making the world a better place, they each have endured different hurdles and obstacles along the way.

Here are the stories of four MAKERS who survived instances of sexual assault, harassment, and rape.

Brenda Berkman served the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) for more than two decades and filed the lawsuit that opened the FDNY to women firefighters for the first time. But she has also encountered struggles along the way.

In her MAKERS interview she shared a personal experience of sexual assault. After serving 10 years as a female firefighter, she was assaulted by an employee but could not get the fire department to do anything about it.

Berkman said she suffered depression and was worried about losing her job but she received strength from other survivors like Anita Hill who spoke out against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with her claims of sexual assault.

"It really does take a village," Berkman said. "This was not something that certainly, I or any other person could have done on their own."

Zainab Salbi is the former CEO of Women for Women International and has advocated for women's rights as a humanitarian, author, and social entrepreneur.

Though she also says she survived being raped by her own husband and faced comments by women invalidating rape by a husband.

"I can't tell you how many women told me but he's your husband, he's allowed to do what he wants to do with you. There's no such a thing as rape in marriage," she said in her MAKERS interview.

But Salbi couldn't deny her rape. "I was raped by this man, there's no doubt in myself," she said.

It was her mother's words and comfort describing sex as something that is supposed to be "nice, and calm, and pleasurable" that helped her to walk away from her marriage and the man she says raped her.

"It was my mom's instructions, without knowing what I eventually would go through, you know. That this is just not right," she said.

Co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, Dolores Huerta, is a legendary civil rights and labor rights leader. 

At the age of 25, she was working to pass a bill to help legal immigrants receive their old-age pensions. In her MAKERS interview she recalled the time she went to see an assemblyman to explain the bill. His response was unforgettable.

"He threw his hotel key across the desk, and he said come and see me in my hotel tonight if you want my vote." 

But Huerta stood her ground. She walked right out the door and did not respond. 

Lilly Ledbetter, champion of the Fair Pay Act in 2009, has been an active voice in the fight against gender-based pay discrimination.

In her MAKERS interview she describes how difficult it was to fight against sexual harassment in the workforce.

"I was true blue to the company but I will say I put up with a lot through those years that would have been big suits," she said noting that she finally stood up to her boss after he threatened to fire her.

"He looked me in the eye and he said if you don’t go to bed with me, come next week you won't have a job," she said.

Ledbetter says she went to the human resources manager for help. She could not afford to lose her job with college tuition bills and mortgage payments to make. She remembered the manager saying her boss would continue to work despite her allegation. It was then Ledbetter noted that she had to continue being paid if he was going to be paid.

"I said if he stays, I stay," she said adding, "I want the same treatment."

We hope these stories show that sexual assault, harassment, and rape can happen to anyone. We encourage you to reach out for information or help if you or someone you know needs it.

NEXT: Powerful Videos Highlight Inspiring Stories to Mark Sexual Assault Awareness Month »

Related Stories:
Finding The Rape Crisis Center
What Can Colleges Actually Do to Prevent Sexual Assault?

Photo Credit: Shahar Azran/WireImage; Mike Albans/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images; Michael Loccisano/Getty Images; Valerie Macon/WireImage; D Dipasupil/FilmMagic