Healing by ‘Breaking the Silence’

A group of local women have created safe spaces for survivors of sexual assault to discuss their experiences.

Attendees of Wednesday's Break the Silence event place messages of encouragement into bags for individuals who shared their personal stories of assault. Organized by Sarah Super, a rape survivor, Break the Silence events shed light on the realities of sexual assault and aim to empower victims.

Maddy Fox

Attendees of Wednesday’s Break the Silence event place messages of encouragement into bags for individuals who shared their personal stories of assault. Organized by Sarah Super, a rape survivor, Break the Silence events shed light on the realities of sexual assault and aim to empower victims.

Tiffany Lukk

A year ago this month, an ex-boyfriend raped Sarah Super at knifepoint in her own home.
 
 
Talking about the assault helped her heal from it, she said. And the more she shared her story, the more willing others have been to do the same.
 
 
To encourage others to come forward and share their own experiences of sexual assault, Super founded Break the Silence Day. Last week, she hosted an event where 28 survivors shared their stories.
 
 
“You are strong. You are courageous. You are inspiring,” audience members recited after each story was told.
 
 
Survivors often react with feelings of guilt and shame, which can make discussing the incident difficult, according to the University of Minnesota’s Aurora Center.
 
 
“It is extremely important for survivors to be able to talk about the assault, their feelings about it and how it has changed their life,” according to Aurora Center educational materials.
 
 
Super said about a dozen people showed up to the first Break the Silence event last August. About 60 attended Wednesday’s event.
 
 
Sarah Cooke, an event volunteer, said she didn’t report her assault because she felt ashamed. In November, she came forward with her own story of sexual assault as a college student at a Break the Silence event.
 
 
She said expectations for the event were “blown out of the water.”
 
 
“Hearing every story, one after another, it felt like it gave me more strength. And I was able to sort of hone in on my voice,” Cooke said. 
 
 
Survivors lit candles and placed them in a circle. Audience members were also given notecards to write anonymous notes to speakers.
 
 
Although most of the speakers were college-aged, women of all ages spoke.
 
 
At the University, 23.5 percent of female and 5.2 percent of male undergraduates report being victims of sexual assault or misconduct while enrolled at the University, according to an Association of American Universities survey released last year.
 
 
Sexual assault survivor and University kinesiology senior Anna Metzler said speaking at the event helped move her healing forward in a way that time and therapy have been unable to do.
 
 
“Being surrounded by allies and survivors who validate and support your experiences is refreshing,” she said. 
 
 
Super’s group hopes to raise about $50,000 in order to construct a memorial to honor the battles that sexual violence survivors fight in the privacy of their own homes. The memorial would be the first of its kind in the country, she said.
 
 
Super said she plans to hold another Break the Silence event in August.
 
 
“In the end, [I want] our community to respond much differently to sexual violence,” she said. “That we start to take a much more active role in supporting survivors and honoring survivors and standing with survivors and not perpetrators.”