The night of August 27, 2011, I was the victim of rape. A despicable man intentionally took control of my life and my body, over which I had no power. On August 28, 2011, I became a survivor of rape. Although he had control of me at one moment, he no longer does; I control my life. It is important that we differentiate a victim from a survivor. In the video that Spencer MacNaughton, Cedric Yerish and I created, we wanted to emphasize this, though I feel that this message was not recognized. By changing the framework from which we view rape, we are eliminating a feeling of shame -- the feeling of having something to hide. This allows us to reclaim power over our lives.
I am overwhelmed by the abundance of support I have been receiving since sharing my story with the world. I did not fathom that my message would be able to reach such great heights and so quickly at that. I am at ease hearing that others too are shocked and appalled by the reactions of the police. I feel a sense of satisfaction hearing that other survivors too are gaining even more strength to come forward. I admire each and every one of their strengths. It is important that we recognize that it is not only important to share our stories but to seek help for our feelings and well-being, as it is a real and scary crime to have to overcome.
Friends and acquaintances are shocked when they hear that I was raped and the reactions of the police; many having seen me over the past two years, with not a clue that anything had ever happened. It was a blessing in disguise. On the surface, I seemed fine but the inside did not reflect the same. I was able to carry out my life as though nothing had happened in the eyes of others, which is very much all I wanted, but I was fighting a treacherous battle on my own.
Not only did I have to deal with my trauma but I was also carrying an unnecessary burden on my shoulders causing me to lie to others in order to appear "fine." Nobody knows how to react when hearing about rape and it is understandable. Although rape has unfortunately been occurring for centuries, it is not talked about and therefore people are unaware of how to act. We must be willing to feel uncomfortable if we want a change. We can help others understand by making rape something that isn't hidden; that isn't something to be ashamed of; or something that should bring on guilt. It happens all over the world and in order to focus directly on the problem at hand, we need to bring the issue to the surface.
Instagram is used widely all over the world. A few months ago, a friend of mine posted a meme of a sloth whispering into a girl's ear a joke about rape. I was shocked and baffled when I saw it and was even more frightened to only find dozens more by other users. "I take the 'the' out of psychotherapist" or "Go ahead, call the cops they can't unrape you" or "Go ahead call the cops, see who cums first."
I have reported the pictures and accounts to Instagram but have seen no change. I have commented on the pictures, both educating and urging users to take them down, but I am mocked and left with comments like, "hahaha were you raped by a sloth or something?" I was shocked to discover that these comments were by girls and boys of all ages. I originally asked my friend to stop participating in posting these nasty memes; however, he refused. After releasing the interview about my rape, I sent him the video and pleaded for him to reconsider once again. He apologized and no longer posts these memes. Even this small victory assures me that sharing my story is not being done in vain.
Social media, the news, and the criminal justice system have all been gateways used to re-victimize survivors of sexual assault. Rather than the support that I have gratefully received, many survivors are blamed for their assault. It is time we stop searching for different excuses for rape and start focusing on those who are actually at fault. Enough focusing on precautions women should take in order to avoid sexual assault.
Sexual assault, although frequent, happens to men too. Everyday we are taking risks by leaving our houses and there are common sense precautions which we all take; yet they are not emphasized on an ongoing basis. It is time we focus on why rapists feel it is acceptable to rape. Why people feel it is acceptable to make jokes about rape and to bully survivors of rape. Everyone should take precautions when going out and focusing on reinforcing these precautions after someone has been sexual assaulted, simply places some of the onus on him or her. Let us all take precautions when going out, as it is something that could happen to anybody.
That one night does not define who I am. I am still Sarelle Sheldon, a very petite young woman with a big personality. Who I am, is what has given me the strength to continue to overcome this battle. Who I am, has given me the courage to turn this unjust experience into something bigger that could help others.
Many people have contacted me wishing to help spread my message and asking how they could help. Please let my message resonate with you. Please share my message with others. During your everyday lives, respect others and respect their wishes. If you hear someone finding humour in something where there is no humour, don't be afraid to stand up and say something. If you see someone taking control over someone else, please have the courage to help him or her regain his or her rightful power.