By: Abrianna Morales
After being sexually assaulted at age fifteen, Abrianna Morales, the founder of Sexual Assault Youth Support Network, was inspired to create a resource that fights the stigma, shame, and silence surrounding sexual assault--whilst providing support, empowerment, and connection to youth survivors everywhere. Read the transcript of her Talk from TEDxABQWomen: Bridges 2017, detailing her story, the development of SAYSN, and how all survivors deserve to make their voices heard.
When I was fifteen, I was sexually assaulted, and before my eyes, the world changed. With newfound freedom from the secret I had long been forced to keep, came the devastating aftermath; faced with the brutal reality of coming forward, I encountered the harsh truths of what it means to live as a sexual assault victim. From stigma, from shame, from silence—I embarked on a journey of self-discovery; to find support, to be empowered, and to connect with other survivors, to give them the hope I once thought was lost. I am sixteen now, and I am the founder of the Sexual Assault Youth Support Network (SAYSN)—SAYSN embodies the very principles that guide a new, youth-based movement to end the stigma surrounding sexual assault, through youth-survivor support, empowerment, and connection.
Before I came forward, I felt remarkably lost—to myself, and to the world. Buried under the weight of the secret, the shame, and the silence—I was trapped, suffocating. I remember frantically searching the internet, trying to understand what was happening to me. Trying to explain the feelings. Trying to save myself, but not having any idea how, and trying to find the support that I so longed for. With little to no knowledge of the dynamics, trauma, and reporting of sexual assault: I felt, in a word, helpless. Being a survivor of sexual assault, it’s almost as if you’re below, stuck beneath the surface—in the dark; you long for safety, you long for light—and all it takes is a forward stride into this great, vast unknown. You’re searching for answers, you’re searching for guidance. You’re searching for support. This desire, this inherent need for support is the very thing that SAYSN addresses. By providing an avenue specifically for youth to have access to legal, social, and emotional support when confronted by sexual assault, we allow for the light to illuminate the darkness of confusion, of helplessness, and loss. We allow an open, welcome approach to understanding the laws governing sexual offenses, the judicial process, the social stigma surrounding sexual assault, and the power to understand the emotional dynamics of sexual assault, trauma, and coping. When we provide support, we provide safety, and sanctity. We allow survivors to take the first step of many to find their voice.
In many ways, when a survivor finds their voice, they also find themselves. This self-discovery, this empowerment, is what amplifies our voice—it is the middle-ground between fear and freedom, and between silence and strength. When you survive sexual assault, it seems as if, all at once, your life is broken into two separate parts: before, and after. In what feels like an instant, the only life you’ve ever known is taken from you. I went from being a girl, once unbroken by the world—a girl that had been whole, once—to a girl that felt hopelessly, and powerlessly silenced. I felt that way for a very long time; I believed that my liveliness had been dulled, and all that was left was the shell of a girl I once was, and never could be, again. The stigma, shame, and silence surrounding sexual assault ruled my life—and it kept me quiet, without a voice. Then one day, I was watching television—and the characters had to report a sexual assault; it suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t know how to report a sexual assault—and the only reason I was able to report was through the guidance of my parents; it then occurred to me that youth survivors, with a lack of knowledge and independence, may have felt the same way I did—powerless, and voiceless within their environments. By the very nature of sexual assault and the stigma surrounding it, power is taken from the victim. This stigma, which breeds shame and silence—creates a culture that renders survivors powerless and voiceless. By ending the stigma, ending the shame, and ending the silence, we cultivate a community that empowers survivors—and we place the power with whom it belongs. Through SAYSN, we can create this community of survivors, sharing with one another: experience, strength, and solidarity; by fostering an informative environment with articles by and for youth survivors of sexual assault, we cultivate empowerment. When we empower survivors, we help them find their voice. We help give them the confidence and strength that it takes to overcome the trauma of sexual assault—to report, to cope, and to make their voices heard.
But, what happens when we speak--and no one listens? What do we do when our cries for help fall on deaf ears? After I came forward, and people learned what had happened to me, nothing was the same. Where I thought I would be met with support, I was met with silence and ostracism. I entered school hallways, and heard my peers whispering about happened to me as I walked by. My photo had been passed around the student body in my absence, so that everyone could see “the victim.” To many, to those who did not even know me, I became, “that girl.” My identity became completely one-dimensional. Every accomplishment, every quality that I had, was overshadowed by my victimhood. To my peers, I was no longer a person, but rather, a spectacle. I lost friends, I lost my reputation, I lost myself. Not only did I struggle with reconciling my personal identity, but I also struggled with reconciling my identity among my peers. I felt so, incredibly alone. Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Every eight minutes, that American is a child. With those statistics, I knew that I couldn’t possibly be alone. But even so, I felt as if I had no one. If I felt alone, I could not even imagine how others felt. The peer-support that I needed and desired is something that SAYSN strives to provide. As the Sexual Assault Youth Support Network, we introduce a means for youth survivors of sexual assault to interact, and to see that they aren’t alone--and that someone out there understands them, that someone out there is listening. When we create a network, when we provide a support system, we provide unity. Together, our voices are brave, strong, and powerful; together, we are a movement that cannot be ignored.
This movement, this revolution to change the perception of sexual assault--for both survivors and those that support them--stems from not only my experiences, but from the experiences of many. From my journey of self-discovery, to finding the support, empowerment, and connection that I needed, I found my voice, and I found hope. In sharing my story and founding the Sexual Assault Youth Support Network, I hope to show others that your past and your trauma do not define you: you do. In this unified passage to end the stigma surrounding sexual assault, we are met with a need to speak out and to advocate; I call on you to speak out: share your story, share your strength, share your voice. You are supported, you are empowered, we are connected—and we are brought to a humble beginning: speaking out. With one word, we can change the world. Make a change, make your voice heard, with SAYSN.
All articles featured on this website are written by and for survivors, sometimes with the aide of mental health or legal professionals--each survivor or professional that is consulted will be identified within the individual article, unless they request otherwise.