By Danielle St. Pierre, Massachusetts State Director
Content Warning: Sexual assault
We all live in a world where we never want to feel alone, and as a survivor of sexual assault; in my darkest moments I felt alone. It was that exact feeling that drives the work I do with survivors everyday, I never want anyone to feel the way I did. When I was assaulted, I felt broken. I was mad at the systems that failed me. I became angry, and that lit a fire inside of me that I could not put out. If the system failed me, how many others had it failed? Hundreds? Thousands? This had to change. Anger and determination to change the system led to my first phone call with The Every Voice Coalition. After that phone call, I knew that we would change the system and help take steps to fix what was broken, not only with rape culture on college campuses, but what felt broken within myself.
It was when I first started sharing my story publicly that I felt like I had survived. I made it to the point where I could talk about it, and call myself a survivor. I was attending legislative meetings, sharing what it was like to be a survivor fighting within this space, and sharing part of myself with everyone I met. It was nerve wracking and yet so freeing at the same time. I met survivors from all across Massachusetts, creating a support system for us to share parts of ourselves, our stories, our pain, and our journeys. We knew that no matter what we had to face within this work, we weren’t doing it alone, and that felt empowering.
Being a survivor in this space, we had to set boundaries for ourselves, because not everyone was or is trauma informed. Not everyone was okay with us sharing our truths, but we had to find a balance between being completely honest with how we felt and knowing when to hold back. We expose ourselves when sharing our stories -- we relive the moments that changed our world forever. We are told that to make people listen, we need to talk about it, to let people know exactly how we felt. How can someone understand if you aren’t willing to talk about it?
There isn’t a guidebook on how to navigate working within this space when you have been impacted firsthand. Countless hours have been spent worrying -- wondering if sharing my story is worth it. Worrying about how we are going to feel afterwards and wondering exactly how someone else is going to react to it. I dreaded wondering if the response was going to silence me or make me want to fight back tenfold. I wondered if it was ever going to make a difference. Being part of this movement is not easy. There have been nights of crying, stressful drives home from meetings, and long conversations about why we have to keep teaching people how to be trauma-informed when it feels like common sense to us. Isn’t it inherently obvious? No one should have to go through what I did. Common sense.
In sharing my story, fighting back, and finding my voice, I gained the confidence to let others know that those who have experienced something like I had, belonged in that space. Our voices should be uplifted, heard, and listened to. Knowing we weren’t alone inspired us to continue, no matter how many roadblocks we came across. I felt like every time I shared my story, I got a piece of myself back that I lost those FOUR times I was assaulted. It was then, I knew I was healing.
My healing journey has been a rollercoaster, but with the support of the community that this coalition created, I am able to be where I am today. Not only does this coalition fight for change, but ensures that all of us feel supported, heard, and continue to advocate for survivors. I have learned such valuable knowledge over the years. I have learned that we are not fighting for survivors if we are not including them in these conversations. Not everyone identifies with the term survivor and healing is not linear, but together we can create change. OUR VOICES WILL ALWAYS HAVE POWER, and YOU WILL NEVER EVER BE ALONE. Our experiences do not have to DEFINE US but DRIVE US.
I went from feeling broken, to surviving, to healing, to being a fierce champion in this space.
About the authors
This blog is home to pieces written by Every Voice survivors, students, and alums, sharing their stories and experiences through organizing, advocating, and surviving.