I choose to speak out now so that others will know they are not to blame, they are not alone, they did not ask for or deserve this in any way. I am joined by men and women all over the world who refuse to look away, who stand beside those who boldly come forward about abuse so that others may not suffer the same fate and so that these thieves no longer feel emboldened to attack.
The past few weeks have brought up a lot of emotions in me, including anger. In my 20s I was raped. And since then I have been groped and aggressively sexually harassed multiple times. And yes I remember the minute details of how the attacks felt – particularly the mocking refusal to stop. But I do not remember the name of the street, the exact date and time. There were no witnesses and I did not report. “What would happen,” I asked myself then. No one would get caught, nothing would change, I would just sit and be scrutinized in a police station for hours, bare myself, feel mortified, and that would be that. So I didn’t report then. But the #MeToo movement and talking to survivors of violence at Women for Women International compelled me to share my story last year and to continue to do so.
I could be any woman. I am so many women and I am frustrated. I’m tired of the eye roll, the “get over it,” the “that happened a long time ago” refrain. Sexual assault is a theft. It robs us of our dignity, our confidence, and sometimes even our ability to love and trust other human beings again. For some, intimacy can even become a threat, a power play. An assault is not just “an incident.” It has permanence within the individual and without support to that individual, it can create a poisonous influence on society as a whole. My experiences live inside of me. Like the act of rape itself, they have forced their way into my body and life. I choose to speak out now so that others will know they are not to blame, they are not alone, they did not ask for or deserve this in any way. I channel this immense energy into my life’s work, serving other women who have been violated and had their sanctity stolen from them. I am joined by men and women all over the world who refuse to look away, who stand beside those who boldly come forward about abuse so that others may not suffer the same fate and so that these thieves no longer feel emboldened to attack.
I believe in people’s potential to educate themselves and see beyond knee-jerk prejudices so, here, I’ll give a little benefit of the doubt: some people just don’t know how common this is. It’s not only in the backrooms of bars or frat houses. It’s in our homes and workplaces here in the States and in cities, villages, and rural areas across the world. The National Institute of Justice states that 6 in 10 rape or sexual assault victims report that the perpetrator is an intimate partner, relative, friend or acquaintance. But the vast majority of those attacked do not report. President Trump tweeted that if Dr. Christine Blasey Ford were telling the truth, there would have been a legal documentation of events. The notion that assaults like this cannot exist without official record is mind-boggling.
The majority do not report, which means that what is reported is just an indicator of a much greater problem that exists all around us. The UK Office for National Statistics states that nearly 2 million adults experienced domestic abuse in the last year. In Afghanistan, 90 percent of women interviewed in seven provinces said they had faced harassment on their streets, schools, or workplaces. Assault is often not impulsive, but rather a premeditated and tactical decision. In areas of conflict across Africa, rape and sexual slavery are commonly used to wreak vengeance and are part of a genocidal attempt to wipe out a community’s identity. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has committed mass kidnappings of thousands of women, schoolgirls and boys since 2013. In the Congo, tens of thousands of women and girls have endured rape and sexual violence since the eruption of conflict in 1995. In many countries rape and sexual assault isn’t even a crime and furthermore the women who report it can be imprisoned for adultery.
These figures are grim and the story is old. But what is new is the upswell of citizens who are joining voices to end this disgrace. Their chorus fills my heart with hope and solidarity. In my interactions here at home and on my journeys to work with our sisters abroad, I see people taking a stand for one another’s human rights- in many cases, at the risk of life and limb. I call on all of you to take a moment to honor just how extreme these violations are upon body and soul and to recognize the negligence of shrugging our shoulders and disparaging those who speak out.
Each of us has a right to feel peace within our bodies and it is our collective responsibility to protect that for one another.
Laurie Adams is Women for Women International’s Chief Executive Officer.