In commemoration of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), our April 26th WEN is Now presenter Maureen Shaw will share her journey from overcoming sexual assault as a teen to becoming an outspoken activist, writer and mother—and how she found her voice.
Although a deeply personal story, the lessons she has learned and will impart can easily carry over into any woman’s life. Please note the sensitive nature of this discussion, and be assured privacy and compassion are of the utmost importance.
Below is an excerpt from Maureen’s essay, “Find Your Voice and Carry a Big Sign.” The full essay appears in Making Out Like A Virgin: Sex, Desire & Intimacy After Sexual Trauma.
At 15, I became a statistic.
In hindsight, the assault itself—committed by someone I trusted—was but a flyspeck on my life’s timeline. It was terrifying, but it was finite. Conversely, the prolonged emotional aftermath of the attack has shaped the trajectory of my life.
I did not speak a word of my rape for seven years. Seven long years. Like many victims, I blamed myself and internalized the trauma, which manifested itself in a litany of self-destructive behaviors. It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I spilled my secret to a supportive group of students in my women’s studies class. It was like a dam burst; once I spoke my truth, there was no going back.
Once I began sharing my story—initially among my inner circles and later, more widely as an activist and writer—I found my strength. I felt empowered each time I identified as a rape survivor because I had survived. I waded through some of the ugliest feelings I’ve experienced to date and I survived those too.
The more I spoke and wrote about my assault, the easier it was to revisit that dark chapter in my life. And the more I opened up, the more other survivors began to share their stories with me. Slowly, the event that had left me isolated throughout my adolescence transformed into a unifying experience that gave me a sense of community.
Now in my mid-30s, in a loving relationship and a mother of two, I’ve come a long way from the teenager who lived in fear and was well-versed in self-loathing, thanks to my empowering trifecta of self-disclosure, feminism, and a supportive partner. I’m proud of who I am today and love myself deeply not in spite of my rape, but because I triumphed over it. It has been a learning process about my own strengths and power, and an inspirational jumping-off point on many occasions. The value of speaking up can’t be overstated especially in the face of adversity. I encourage anyone suffering in silence to develop their voice with confidence. It helps to carry a big sign.
Maureen Shaw is an independent, multimedia journalist and writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of sherights, as well as a communications consultant.
Her writing has appeared widely online, including Mic, Quartz, The Atlantic, the Huffington Post, Rewire.News, Women Under Siege, FitPregnancy.com, Fem2.0, Jezebel, the New York Daily News and more. She has also contributed to OURS Magazine, an international cultural magazine, and her essay on triumphing in the aftermath of rape is featured in the book Making Out Like A Virgin: Sex, Desire and Intimacy After Sexual Trauma.
In addition to writing, Maureen has dedicated the better part of the past decade to volunteering and working with women’s rights NGOs and non-profits, including the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace & Security, and the National Organization for Women – NYC chapter (NOW-NYC).
Join YWCA Bergen County and Maureen Shaw for our April 26 WEN is Now: Finding Your Voice and Confidence. Register online today! Get more information about WEN is Now Memberships and upcoming monthly topics.