Survivors’ voices need to be heard

Liz Stephens, Columnist

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Recently I wrote an article speaking out about the story of my sexual assault in hopes of encouraging other women to feel comfortable speaking out about their own stories.  

I was invited by Elizabeth Halbe, a woman from the Charleston community whom I’ve done many theatre productions with, to submit my story for a #MeToo event she organized to be held at 7 p.m. Friday, March 9 at Bob’s Bookstore. 

When I first decided I was going to speak out about my own story I was hesitant, but the flood of positive feedback and stories from other women made it worth it. I am hoping to see a similar response with this event. We (as the group) plan on having both the HOPE Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Counseling and Information Services at the event for any women attending the event who need their assistance.  

Those of us participating want it to be a positive and empowering event for women who attend, rather than being traumatic for those who have experienced similar things as those of us reading. During the event, those of us who volunteered will read many women’s stories, most of which will be kept anonymous as to who submitted them.  

I have decided to read my own because there is something about hearing a story and being able to match it with a face that makes it more powerful. We have also decided to try to include stories about men who can identify with the #MeToo movement and represent how they receive harassment from women as well.  

On Sunday evening the group of women, including myself, who submitted stories and volunteered to read the stories at the event, had our first rehearsal and were floored by some of the story submissions. Some left us speechless and led into questioning of why and how our society has not put an end to its rape culture.   

The biggest thing I took from the rehearsal that was held Sunday would be the realization that we cannot let a rape culture thrive without silence.  

After hearing the group of women I was reading tell their own stories, whether on the script to be read at the event or not, I realized that silence is why things have been swept under the rug. 

One of the readers, Ann Bruehler, mentioned that in the past people swept these tragedies under the rug by saying “boys will be boys,” or “that’s just how boys are.” 

According to an article by the Huffington Post, one out of every six women will have survived an attempted or completed rape at some point in their lifetimes as of 2017. 

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/sexual-assault-statistics_us_58e24c14e4b0c777f788d24f

The thoughts that flooded my mind while reading this statistic were static, except for one – that this means one out of every six of the young, innocent girls I see while living my daily life will have that title of a rape survivor if something does not change.  

The other statistics that spoke for themselves that made my heart heavy were that 99% of perpetrators of sexual violence will walk free, and there is approximately 17.7 million women who have been victims of rape since 1998.  

I hope to see many of my friends and peers who can identify with this movement come to the event and help end the vicious cycle of being silent and sweeping rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse and harassment under the rug. It is time to let all the debris that has been swept under the rug be shown so we can start breaking this rape culture, starting with our community. The more popular it becomes for people to speak out and tell their stories, the more comfortable others will feel telling theirs and turning in their perpetrators.

By Liz Stephens 

Columnist | @DEN_News