This campaign has stirred up so many emotions for me this past week. I’ve had conversations with friends, discussed this with clients, lost sleep on it, slept on it, read others’ blog posts and followed those who have said #MeToo. The numbers are astounding.

Society needs to not only allow victims to speak up – we also need to listen. And here is why.

I experienced sexual assault as a teenager. In a town of 1,100 people where this sort of thing “just doesn’t happen”, I lost many friends and heard the whispers of “did it really happen”.
I went to the police. They didn’t believe me and refused to press charges.
I had to get a restraining order on the man who assaulted me in order to feel safe.
To say that I-and those closest to me-went through Hell is an understatement.

Luckily, I have an amazing family and an incredible group of friends who supported me through it all. I learned a lot about life. I learned a lot about MY life.

I am, quite honestly, stronger today because of what I went through.
I have courage. I have strength. I have learned the importance of believing in others.
I tried to use my voice. It wasn’t enough then. Hopefully it is enough now.

I have Forgiveness for the man who raped me.

Now a Life and Leadership Coach, I share my stories for others to learn from. I climb mountains and paddle deep into the ocean without fear. I guide women/men through adversity on Coaching and Hiking Retreats throughout the United States. I speak out for Human Empowerment and I believe in the Goodness of Mankind. I carry my red heels to every Summit and put them on as a Testament that despite all of which has happened, “I Love the Woman and Mom that I Have Become.”

I am, quite honestly, stronger today because of what I went through.
What haunts me isn’t that it happened. What haunts me is that had others listened and had the police believed me, he could have been stopped from trying to do it again.
I tried to use my voice. It wasn’t enough then. Hopefully it is enough now.

Please read below an excerpt from my writing. This is what it felt like for me, from a young woman’s perspective:

“Going to the police station to file the initial charges was incredibly intimidating. Trembling, I had to look the policemen in the eyes, these total strangers, and tell them what had happened. Saying out loud that I had been raped felt so degrading. Throughout the investigation, I felt this fearful vulnerability as I knew that they were rejecting my words and questioning my honesty. Imprinted upon my memory is their steely, judging gaze. Explaining what had happened with every painstaking detail, I relived that night over and over again. In the end, I was not believed. The investigators concluded that my case held insufficient evidence to warrant charges being pressed. My case was dropped. My faith in others was waning-who could I trust?

My mom insisted that I face my greatest fears in order to come out of my shadows of shame. She exclaimed, “We are going to walk down Main Street together. You are going to hold your head high. I will walk beside you.” In the late afternoon and into the evening, Mom would walk beside me. Step after step, she offered words of encouragement: “Smile with confidence and don’t let others’ judgments define you.” Slowly I became used to our mother-daughter jaunts. Slowly people would approach me to say hi. The strength of my mother’s unconditional love and fortitude at that time was the place I recharged my own wavering courage. My mom forged the path of healing through those walks. I never imagined the impact that the simple act of walking would have on my life. Those walks provided a far greater impact on my ability to face my anxiety at that time, as well as preparing me for the life I lead today as a Coach and Wilderness Guide. The first stages of my resilience training was placing one foot in front of the other while continuing to believe in myself.

Yet even through it all, I began to have this unresolved feeling in the pit of my stomach, “If others and the authorities didn’t believe me, did any of this really happen?” Sadly, due to society, I began to question my own mind. I begged for God to send me a message from above. I needed to know that I was not going crazy.

I needed affirmation to not doubt my own judgement. I waited a long time for that affirmation, and it came at a price.

A few years later, when I was a college student working a typical day at my waitressing job, I served a couple who struck up a conversation with me. After a few glasses of red wine, the woman quietly inquired, “Do you know …(?)…?” I desperately wanted to flee. My knees locked and froze as I cautiously responded, “Yes, why?” It was my perpetrator.

Needless to say and without going into painful detail, he tried on her what he had done to me. Immediately I knew this was the affirmation that I needed to fully move on in my life. As painful as the exchange was with this woman, it was something that we both, coincidentally, needed to hear. We were not alone. This did happen to us-it did not have to be that way. We believed each other.”

This is the first time I have shared my story in writing and spoken publicly of any of this. I can only hope that-this time-it is not in vain.

I am, quite honestly, stronger today because of what I went through. But let me make it clear: I would not wish this sh#t on anyone. Not even my perpetrator.
I tried to use my voice. It wasn’t enough then. Hopefully it is enough now.

My plea, my biggest plea to all of you is simply this: LISTEN.
If someone tells you something, do not push their words aside or dismiss their experience.
Be empathetic. Have the courage yourself to hold space for the other person.

Support and love one another. You may never know who’s world you are shifting in the process.

In the words of Maya Angelou, “When you know better … you do better.”

Peeps … we know better. Please, let’s all do better.