Honouring my promise to Amanda Dufresne
On Wednesday, October 3, sometime after 14:30 hours in South Africa, Amanda Dufresne stood up to give her speech to commence the Human Rights plenary session on gender equality and the challenge of translating rhetoric into reality. None of us were truly prepared for what she had to say – but we were so glad she was there and I don’t believe we will ever forget what she said. Here is her story, word for word. I made a promise to share it and today, I deliver on my promise to Amanda.
“Ten years ago, I was training for my first half marathon when I was attacked, beaten, and raped. I narrowly escaped with my life by rolling myself over a small cliff and running half-clothed to safety. That was the easy part.
I spent the next three years undergoing intense counselling and brain therapy from the damages caused by the attack. I was an insomniac for two years. My grades suffered, for the first time in my life. Because of the psychological trauma, I wasn’t able to run for nine years; I’ll come back to that part later. I even attempted suicide, just to try to end the pain. Rape is the most brutal of crimes; it attacks the body, the mind, and the soul. It is a clear violation of basic human rights.
My older sister flew out to attend my appointments with doctors and detectives. My parents ensured I had the best care to heal me. And when insurance wouldn’t pay, my dad cashed out retirement accounts to pay for my treatments. My mom drove me an hour each way to brain therapy multiple times a week. My younger sister was my biggest fan. I’m so lucky to have the family I have to help me get through this. Not everyone has this.
Lately, you hear about rape in the media a lot: Not one, but two separate incidents involving five-year-old girls in India - raped and murdered. A 14-year-old in the US and a 16-year-old in Canada were raped, had their attacks published online, and committed suicide. A student in Brazil riding a bus home - gang raped. Rape is happening every day in every one of our countries. We are all disgusted and shocked when we hear these stories. Yet we don't talk about rape. By not doing so, we silently condone it.
Rape is a silent epidemic. Statistics internationally are very hard to come by, because women don’t report their rapes. In fact, in some countries, you can be jailed for reporting rape, and most countries, you and your family are shamed into silence. In the United States recently, statistics show up to one in 5 women will be raped in their lifetime. I can confidently say every one of you in this room knows someone who has survived rape. And some of you in here are survivors of rape.
We are a gathering of leaders from over 180 nations. We must start the conversation about rape. Just the word 'rape' is uncomfortable. It doesn't seem polite. But we must talk about rape. I want the conversation to start today. This is an international epidemic, and rape is being used as a weapon against women.
We need to talk to young boys about respecting girls’ minds, bodies, and souls; to treat them as equals. We need to teach them violence against women is NEVER okay. They need to know rape is the most horrendous of crimes and destroys women's lives. If we don’t talk about this, boys won’t report it or try to stop it.
We need to talk to our young women about respecting themselves. That if they or someone they know is raped, it is NOT okay. They must come forward to get the help they need, and end this disgusting cycle of violence. When we start talking about rape, we can give women the resources they need to recover and thrive again.
We must talk about rape.
Two months ago, I celebrated ten years of survival from my rape. I celebrated by running the half marathon I had been training for when I was attacked. At the beginning of the speech I told you running had become impossible for me. I'd run for a minute, and get physically ill because I thought I was about to be attacked. But one minute at a time, one mile at a time, with a lot of help from family and friends, I finished 13.1 miles. And I wanted to help other women too, so I raised over $19,000 for the non-profit Speaking Out about Rape. The money will enable more women get the help they need to recover.
I was so lucky I survived. I was so lucky to have access to the resources I needed to recover. Not many women have that. Because the resources are not available. Because they can’t talk about it. Because we don't talk about rape.
I started the conversation today: I was raped. I said that awful word, 'rape' 27 times. I challenge you to talk about rape once today, once when you get back home. And keep talking about it. We must make this world safer for our women and young girls. We must talk about rape."
I promised Amanda, I would not just share her amazing speech and the YouTube video from One Young World 2013; I promised I would say the word “rape”. We don’t say it enough. Her generation doesn’t say it and the sooner we start calling the evil by its name, the sooner we can start addressing it – properly, especially for Generation Y.
Go to Google and type in words “rape – Kenya” and one of the first stories you will see is that of the outrage we had as Kenyans last week when we found out about the shocking verdict given to gang-rapists of a 16-year-old school girl.
Yes, while some were having a comedy break with silly pictures, the more sane part of Kenya was focused on real issues. In fact, the BBC carried the same story with the words “Kenyans are demanding justice after three men accused of brutally gang-raping a 16-year-old school girl and dumping her body in a latrine were ordered to cut grass as punishment.”
Away from Google, I looked through my inbox on Facebook and found outrage on the same and also a very hard hitting statement from a lady who goes by the name Cate Muthoni Joe, who was furious and frightened about the slow progress of both the police and justice system on the rape of a three-year-old called Baby Paloma.
Here’s my take - until this new generation with the ability to spread news faster than any newspaper or radio station starts to talk about rape and take the conversation seriously – stories like that of the Kenyan school girl, of Baby Paloma and that of Amanda, will continue to be “whatever” stories and they are not and they should not.
To the magistrate or judge who saw it fit to sentence those gang rapists to gardening, please look up Senator Claire McCaskill’s conversation on this very matter. The Senator said something truly profound: “...it's time we stopped treating sexual assault like a human resources problem and started prosecuting it for what it is: criminal behavior”.
I have honoured my promise to Amanda Dufrese not just for Amanda, but for my daughter, my sisters and for all of us. Find her on Facebook and twitter and YouTube and don’t just share the story, say the word – Rape. We must make this world safer for our women and young girls. We must talk about rape. In case for you this serves as just another story, allow me to quote what Cate Muthoni said in her final inbox message on Baby Paloma “...if this goes untold, you and I might as well put signs on our daughters' backs that say 'rape me, no-one will care.' Over to you.