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Dear courageously strong man or woman,

Over the past 11 years this is what I've learned.

I really struggled with the idea of sharing my story on a more public forum. For years I had been paralyzed by the stigma around rape and sexual assault, letting it dictate the decisions I made moving forward.

STIGMA: a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Synonyms: shame, disgrace, dishonor, humiliation.

Stigmas disable people from receiving the help they need to move them forward into living out their potential and purpose. Stigmas paralyze… It paralyzes a purpose, person or ability. 

I was raped 11 years ago, just two weeks after my 17th birthday. Except I didn’t recognize it for what it truly was until 3 ½ years later. What I did accept was the shame, guilt, disappointment, humiliation, disgrace, and dishonor I felt immediately after. What society told me was that a rapist was someone I didn’t know—potentially in a back alley—running or fighting for my life, doing whatever I could in my power to prevent it from happening. Society didn’t tell me that it would potentially be someone I knew, someone I called a friend. Society didn’t tell me that even though I was drunk, my several “no's” still meant “no”. Our sex industry tells us that “no” is just a tease. For years, I blamed myself for not fighting back, for being weak and becoming paralyzed in that very moment. 

The stigma, which I had around rape paralyzed me from getting the proper help I needed. 

I struggled with what others will think. What will those that knew me back then think? Will they doubt me? Will I have to defend my story? Will my story be categorized, critiqued, edited to sh** and put on a scale from “mildly traumatic to severe”? It took me 6 years before I could accept it for what it was and call it rape (I used to constantly minimize it), and it took me 8 years before I could tell my family. It took me 10 years to recognize I had common symptoms of PTSD. It took me 11 years to accept that having a consistent counselor in my life does not mean I'm weak. It means I'm bold, I'm strong and I'm not afraid to deal with the messiness of life head on—standing in my identity, firmer than ever before. 

Omitting stigmas around rape and sexual assault begins with vulnerability..

I had never recognized the power of vulnerability until I became so uncomfortable with myself that I decided to get help and see a counselor and embrace the vulnerability I felt.

I first shared my story in a school to grades 5-12. What I didn’t realize was that vulnerability creates a ripple effect… After the first day, multiple girls and boys come share their story of sexual abuse (many of them sharing it for the first time). It was like I was holding a key to the most inner part of who I was. I could either use what was originally meant to harm me and let it disable me from ever reaching my full potential. Or I could become vulnerable and live whole heartedly—becoming more than my past, using it for the good and have the opportunity to help bring healing in other’s lives.

When I first started to share my story, it was a major part of my healing process. Today, when I share parts of my story, I share because it creates an open door for others to be vulnerable and know they aren't alone. 

Vulnerability begins with one person and one conversation... 

Embrace vulnerability. Speak out about your story—don't minimize it. Our vulnerability makes us strong; it makes us courageous. We are all imperfect, but we are worthy of love and belonging. That one thing in our lives that made us vulnerable, also made us beautiful. For we are all beautifully flawed. Vulnerability is the birth place of joy, gratitude, happiness, creativity and innovation. You matter, and your story matters.

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