We must talk about rape

Amanda Dufresne is a One Young World Ambassador from the United States and a speaker for the non-profit SOAR (Speaking Out About Rape).

Ten and a half years ago, I was training for my first half marathon when I was attacked, beaten and raped.  I narrowly escaped with my life by rolling myself over a small cliff and running half-clothed to safety. That was the easy part.

Rape is the most brutal of crimes; it attacks the body, mind and soul

I spent the next three years undergoing intense counselling and therapy. I was an insomniac. My grades suffered for the first time. The psychological trauma meant I wasn’t able to run again for 9 years. And I even attempted suicide, to try and end the pain.

But I truly am one of the luckiest people I know. I wouldn’t have survived to be the woman I am today without my family. My sisters and parents were by my side through the detective visits, doctor appointments, therapy and counselling.  I’m so lucky to have an amazing family and resources to help me get through this. Not everyone is as lucky.

The theme of International Women’s Day 2014 is ‘Inspiring Change’. Parts of the world have come a long way in tackling the stigma associated with sexual assault survivors. But for many, survivors struggle to get basic support and resources needed to recover from rape - some are even punished for ‘adultery’ or public indecency.

For this International Women’s Day, I’m imploring for change: we must start a conversation about rape. Yes, the word 'rape' is uncomfortable and seems taboo for everyday conversation. But if we want to protect our sisters, daughters - and our brothers - we must talk about rape.

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Rape is a weapon, happening every day in every country

A pregnant woman’s gang rape was captured on video in Sudan - she was charged with adultery and handed a prison sentence. A 23-year-old student in India was attacked, raped and murdered by four men on her way home from work. More disgusting still: a 14-month-old baby girl in India, raped by an army corporal. Here in the US, we’ve learned of startling statistics about rape in the military, including the fact that women are 15 times more likely to be raped by a colleague than killed by an enemy.

We are all rightfully disgusted and shocked when we hear these stories. Yet we don't talk about rape, and by not doing so, we silently disregard the very survivors we hurt for when we hear such stories.

Rape is a silent epidemic

Statistics are very hard to come by.  Many men and women don’t – or can’t easily - report their rapes. In some countries, you can be jailed for reporting rape, and in others, you and your family are shamed into silence. I can confidently say every one of you reading this knows someone who has survived rape and some of you are survivors of rape.

We need to educate young boys and girls to respect minds, bodies, and souls; to treat each other as equals, to encourage victims to step forward, report and stop sexual abuse. We need to teach that violence against women is never okay. People need to understand rape is the most heinous crime and destroys lives.

We must talk about rape

In August 2013, I celebrated ten years of survival from my rape. I celebrated by running the half marathon I had been training for when I was attacked. At the beginning of this post, I told you running had become impossible for me. I'd run for a minute and get physically ill because I thought I was about to be attacked. But one minute at a time, one mile at a time, with a lot of help from family and friends, I finished 13.1 miles.

I was so lucky I survived. I was so lucky to have access to the resources I needed to recover. Not many women have that - resources are not available, they can’t talk about it because society doesn’t talk about rape.

So this week in celebration of International Women’s Day 2014, I hope I inspire a bit of change. I started the conversation today: I was raped. I’ve now used that awful word 'rape' 25 times. I challenge you to talk about rape once today and next time you hear another devastating story in the media. And keep talking about it. We must make this world safer for our women and young girls.

We must talk about rape.

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Amanda attended the One Young World Summit 2013 in Johannesburg as a Delegate Speaker in the Human Rights Plenary Session.