Speak Up: The Voices of Sexual Assault Awareness

With April being National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it’s time to recognize individuals who use their voices to stand up for victims of one of the world’s most underreported crimes.

With April being National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it’s time to recognize individuals who use their voices to stand up for victims of one of the world’s most underreported crimes

By: Jacey Brown

Through the past few years especially, the voices of sexual assault survivors have grown in volume. From the #MeToo movement to scandals in our most publicized groups of people, to accusations against the current president of the United States and 2020 candidates, sexual assault has become a much more discussed subject. In this process of hurt and confrontation, countless powerful voices have emerged; here are just a few to check out.

1. Tarana Burke 

Known as the mother of the #MeToo movement, civil rights activist Tarana Burke first used the now symbolic phrase on MySpace in 2006 to detail a personal experience of someone confiding in her. Years later, in the heat of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, actress Alyssa Milano shared the phrase, unknowingly setting off a firestorm. 

Burke has since continuously spoken about the movement, concentrating efforts on recognizing more women of color when discussing sexual assault policy. She was one of TIME magazine’s “Silence Breakers” in their 2017 Person of the Year issue. Now, she helps lead an organization called Girls for Gender Equality and remains an active voice in the world of activism.

“I don’t think that every single case of sexual harassment has to result in someone being fired; the consequences should vary,” Burke told The Guardian. “But we need a shift in culture so that every instance of sexual harassment is investigated and dealt with. That’s just basic common sense.”

2. Chanel Miller

In 2015, the media erupted when the controversial case of a Stanford student raping a woman went viral. Nobody knew the identity of the victim, but everyone knew the legacy of the abuser. After Buzzfeed published her victim impact statement, the case reached new highs of astonishment and controversy in readers all over the world.

The author of that victim impact statement, the one facing the world’s backlash and support, was Chanel Miller. She has only recently opened up about her experiences with the high-profile case in her book, “Know My Name.” Miller now spends her time surrounded by activism and art, providing inspiration to survivors everywhere.

The famous victim impact statement reads in part: “And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought every day for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you.

3. Rachael Denhollander

In Denhollander’s case, her legacy as a voice against sexual assault can be summed up in just seven words: “How much is a little girl worth?”

She was only a young teenager when she became one of the 265+ victims of USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Being the very first one to publicly accuse Nassar, she led an army of girls into a courtroom in 2018, where he was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison, according to CNN. 

Honored as another of TIME magazine’s “Silence Breakers,” Denhollander started as a lawyer and has since directed her attention to full-time advocacy. She has also published her own book, appropriately titled, “What is a Girl Worth?”

Speaking to The Guardian, Denhollander said, “We – and rightly so – talk about the hope of healing, because there is a lot of hope. But we don’t talk about the permanency of the damage.”

4. Elizabeth Smart

Almost everyone in Utah knows the story of the young teenager kidnapped by religious radicals right from Salt Lake City. Elizabeth Smart made headlines both state and nationwide, first with her disappearance and again with her dramatic rescue. In later released movies, as well as her book, “My Story,” Smart revealed gruesome details about the mental, physical and sexual abuse she experienced in the time the world only knew her as missing.

Smart is now married, living in Utah with her husband and three kids. She focuses her energy on activism and speaking at events across the nation; her social media platforms are a means of raising awareness for other missing children.

“I suddenly thought, ‘There’s so much more to my story than this list of abuses. I want people to understand what it’s really like,” Smart told Magzter. 

5. Terry Crews

Crews, an actor and former NFL player, was one of the first and loudest male voices of the #MeToo movement. In defense of the thousands of women being ridiculed for coming forward about their own abuse experiences, he did the unthinkable: admitted he was a victim himself. At the time, he only referenced his abuser as a “high-level Hollywood executive”; later, Adam Venit, indeed a high-level executive with William Morris Endeavor, resigned after he was revealed to be the accused.

As one of the males in TIME’s “Silence Breakers,” Crews has continued to be a voice of encouragement and activism in the #MeToo movement and in any discussion regarding sexual assault. He stars in shows like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and is a comedic online presence.

“It’s so important to understand that when people are telling the truth, it’s a way of setting free a whole nation of people who have been suffering,” Crews spoke at the Essence Festival in 2019.