What To Expect If You Choose To Break The Silence

6 weeks after I was raped at knifepoint, I chose to tell my story publicly. Here's what I've learned about breaking the silence.

By Sarah Super

On February 18, 2015, my ex-boyfriend broke into my apartment and raped me at knifepoint. He was arrested that night, and the newspaper ran a story from the crime report the next day.

Six weeks after the assault, I called the reporter wanting to publicly identify myself as the victim of the crime. You could say my desire to go public was a cry for help on a personal level and a call for change on a systemic level.

Since speaking out publicly about my own experience, I've created an organization that invites other survivors of sexual violence to do the same and break the silence.

This year, my organization successfully lobbied for a statewide proclamation in Minnesota declaring August 16, 2017, as "Break the Silence Day." Break the Silence Day is an invitation to survivors of sexual violence to publicly say their names and tell their stories in solidarity with others choosing to do the same.

Here are some things to consider if you are thinking about breaking the silence:

Survivors surround all of us.

I was 26 years old when I was raped, and I remember realizing that night in the hospital room that I could not name a single person in my life who had also been raped.

I felt alone.

But in the days following the assault, I chose to tell a few trusted loved ones what had happened to me. I was shocked by the number of people in my life who said, "This has happened to me too."

Hearing the stories that came from people close to me made me feel the weight of silence that enshrouds sexual violence, a silence that protects perpetrators and isolates survivors in their suffering.

I learned that I was far from alone, and I guarantee that if you choose to break the silence, you will also hear from many people in your life whose stories have gone untold. Some might even be telling their story for the first time.

When we tell our stories, others tell theirs.

Marianne Williamson wrote, "As you let your own light shine, you unconsciously give others permission to do the same."

As we speak our names and tell our stories, we unconsciously give others permission to tell theirs. Breaking the silence is a ripple effect of survivors publicly saying, "This has happened to me too." And you can expect you will hear story after story after story.

Breaking the silence creates better allies.

There are many people who haven't been assaulted who do not believe they know a survivor or cannot name a survivor in their life. Before I was raped, I was one of these people. I didn't think much about sexual violence because no one talked to me about their experiences. I didn't notice the silence. No one talked about it. So because I didn't hear about sexual violence affecting people around me, I didn't think about. This lack of connection I felt to the issue meant I wasn't engaged in ending sexual violence and rape culture as an ally.

In history, we have seen how personal stories - particularly stories that come from people we know - have played an instrumental role in social movements. When LGBT friends and family came out to straight people, it changed how straight people understood the issues of gender and sexuality and called them to be allies to end discrimination and support marriage equality. It connected them directly to the injustice happening in our country.

By saying my name and telling my story, by putting a face to this historically faceless issue, I connected my loved ones to this human rights abuse. By breaking the silence, I called those in my life who hadn't been assaulted to speak up as allies and take an active stance in believing, supporting, and standing with survivors.

It doesn't end our suffering.

I thought that by speaking out about what happened I would reach the final destination of this healing journey and my suffering would be over. Like I could somehow liberate myself from being a survivor. I was wrong.

I also thought that by speaking out I would get the support I needed and deserved. Again, I was wrong. Most people didn't know what to say and didn't know how to support a person who had been traumatized.

Breaking the silence is hard. It's not for everyone.

If you choose to break the silence, there will be people who don't know what to say so will say nothing about it. There may be people who have good intentions but will say the wrong thing. There may be people who won't believe you. There may be people who will defend your perpetrator.

Breaking the silence will not end your suffering. This is not a magic solution that lifts away all the pain that comes with surviving.

It can change the world.

Just because breaking the silence is hard doesn't mean the invitation shouldn't exist.

We know that social change happens when people who experience injustice can organize themselves and speak their truth. It takes strength, courage, and leadership.

The truth is often rejected by society at first. People will turn their heads trying to reject the notion that someone they trust could commit this human rights abuse. And they might succeed for a while until so many voices are speaking this truth that it can no longer be ignored.

Most survivors have chosen not to break the silence because we live in a society that invalidates, blames, and shames survivors when they speak out. This is perfectly understandable, and we must support survivors however they choose to heal.

But there will also be those who do choose to break the silence BECAUSE we live in a society that invalidates, blames, and shames survivors.

We break our silence to create a better future where survivors can say their names and tell their stories and be met with a community that believes them, supports them, and stands with them.

It's easier to be courageous together.

Breaking the silence is hard, but it's a little easier to do when survivors do it in solidarity, together.

Invitations like Break the Silence Day (August 16) or our photography project allow survivors choosing to break the silence to do so with others choosing to do the same.

It doesn't make it easy, but it is easier than doing it alone.

It is simply a choice.

Breaking the silence is not the end destination of a survivor's healing journey.

It is not a "better" or "stronger" way to heal. It takes strength to hold a story like this in silence, and it takes strength to tell a story like this publicly.

The invitation to break the silence is simply an invitation, and you deserve to be supported on your journey whatever you decide.