‘I can no longer stand in my silent strength’

Elizabeth Willenbrink

Letter to the Editor: 

It’s April and that means warm weather and outdoor festivals. One step closer to my career, one step closer to summer travels. But for me and my fellow survivors, April has much deeper meaning.

It is a month where we gather support for and from each other. It is a month where we stand in solidarity and bring awareness to issues of rape and sexual assault. 2017 has been a roller coaster. My advances forward in recovery have been amazing. But society’s steps backwards into a deeper, scarier rape culture have tempered the celebration of recovery.

My last rotation around the sun has given me Brock Turners, Casey Afflecks, and Donald Trumps. This year, I learned that my rapist is nothing more than a ‘phase;’ that my rapist can win an Oscar; that my rapist can be the leader of the free world. And even more terrifying? My rapist has the support of a complacent and stubborn society.

Granted, I never pressed charges on my rapist (60 percent of us don’t). But that is not this issue, is it? The issue is that the actions of activists and survivors cannot be heard over the blaring hum and ignorance of American Rape Culture. And even more toxic is this nation’s bystander culture.

My rapist is guilty, but so are the bystanders who knew, who saw, who said nothing. So what now? I have been thoroughly discouraged. So I am here, writing this letter, to ask all of you to hold me accountable. I can no longer stand in my silent strength. I must be vocal, outspoken, and unafraid of the vitriol that will come the way of a woman (or any person) who dares speak out against rape culture, locker-room talk, and toxic masculinity.

But I am just one person, and I do not represent the whole picture. Victims are male, female, trans, gender non-conforming. We are scientists, social workers, economists, artists. We all survived. And now we must take that commonality and become a voice so loud that no one can silence us.

Submitted by Elizabeth Willenbrink.