“My name is Shira,” I say. “And sixteen years ago, when I was twenty years old, I was raped.”
The audience is a high school class, an auditorium of college students at a Take Back the Night event, a police department, a group of BARCC volunteers in training. The speech changes with every audience - obviously, the cops get a different version than the teenagers! But that’s how I always start, how most of the survivor speakers start. Hi, this is who I am. This is what happened.
And then we stand up there and we tell you all about it.
Why do we do this?
Rape is regarded as something unspeakable. There is this tremendous, awful *silence* around the topic of rape and sexual assault, and it’s a silence that is tremendously damaging to survivors - because if you can’t talk about it, you can’t seek justice. You can’t call your rapist out. You can’t start to heal.
And you need to be able to do these things.
Sixteen years ago, I was raped.
Fourteen years ago, I started talking about it.
Eight years ago, I wrote about it on my blog.
And that post exploded.
Because once I started talking about it? Other people did, too. Once people see that silence is not mandatory, that you can talk about what happened and lightning will not strike you down - they start talking, too. The comments on that post unfolded, people from all over the world talking about what happened to them and knowing they weren’t alone.
It’s eight years later, and it’s rare that a month goes by that I don’t get a new comment on that post, or an e-mail from someone who read it. It’s still getting passed around to friends of friends of friends. It helps people. Just these words on a page and their message that you are not alone and that, if you speak, you will be heard.
I moved to Boston three and a half years ago. One of the first things I did when I got here was look up the local rape crisis center and apply to volunteer. The staffer who interviewed me mentioned the Survivor Speakers Bureau, and oh, I was in.
And I was terrified.
Public speaking is scary! Public speaking about personal trauma? Not any less scary, I promise you. Really. In addition… I’d written about the rape several times since the original blog post, but I’d never actually told the whole story aloud. Bits and pieces, to my husband and friends. But never a *speech*.
The survivor speech is five to ten minutes long.
That’s a lot to condense into five to ten minutes. Take one of the largest and most terrible things that ever happened to me and condense it into five minutes, with a beginning, middle, and end? Would you like me to do that backward and in heels?
But it’s that brief for a reason, and that reason is one of my big reasons to do this: after the speech, we take questions.
Which I think is fantastic.
Because, for the most part, the people we’re delivering this speech to have a lot of questions - and have never actually had an opportunity to ask them. Because how do you do that? How can you go up to someone and say “So, about your rape - I was wondering…” It’s not a thing that’s done.
But as part of a survivor speech, it is. This is the one place and time where it is perfectly acceptable to ask a rape survivor any question you need to ask. We have heard it all. If we don’t feel comfortable answering, we can defer to the volunteer accompanying us - but we answer just about everything.
Because we are all ambasssadors. Not just the survivor speakers. Not just the volunteers. Every single one of you is an ambassador. Every single one of you has the power to support survivors and effect social change, even if it’s just by being visible as someone who understands and will listen.
And to do your best at that, you need the tools. To get the tools, you need to ask your questions.
So I go to schools and workplaces and rallies, and I tell my story, and I stand before the audience as a person who has survived and thrived; I am proof of concept right here. And I answer questions, and I guide, and I listen.
I see the effects ripple outward.
I am so glad that I do this.
I am so glad that you listen.
Ask me anything.