The response to sexual harassment claims against Hollywood Mogul Harvey Weinstein has led to millions of women posting the simple yet powerful phrase “me too.”
One of the biggest frustrations surrounding the Weinstein scandal is that no one spoke up for decades. It was just swept under the carpet, but not anymore.
Sexual harassment and assault are not easy topics to talk about and the story I’m about to tell may not be something you want children in the room to hear.
As a journalist, I've covered many stories about sexual assault but there's one I will never forget -- couldn't forget it if I tried.
It's a story about a girl who I believe is nothing short of inspirational.
At just 4 years old, her father died and she was sent to stay with her aunt and uncle. She remembers being excited to get on a plane and spend the summer in Colorado playing with her cousins -- she really looked up to those two older boys. She couldn't wait for the fun they would have, but there was nothing fun, for her, in the basement of their house.
You see, that's where her 16-year-old cousin first took her to touch her. He made her do things in exchange for candy he kept high on a shelf that she was too little to reach. She doesn't remember how many times it happened but to this day her stomach turns when she smells a musty room.
When she finally returned home to her mother at the end of summer, she stayed silent. Obeying her promise to him to tell no one.
Luckily, it wasn't long before her cousin confessed. He came forward that year and told his family what he had done to her and other children.
But what the girl didn't know at the time was that she was not alone in this life. Her mother was abused, too, and her grandmother before that.
In her family, sexual abuse was an epidemic, a culture where the young women - children - were preyed upon. It happened at a time in society when families just swept the ugly stuff under the rug. Each victim believed that they must've done something wrong and therefore it would only happen to them. So, it continued for generations. The effects of abuse manifested in many forms for each woman: depression, sexual promiscuity, drug abuse and the inability to communicate with others.
But this is a story of inspiration and here's why this woman inspires me: she ultimately refused to let her past define her.
The woman I know still struggles with confidence, panic and sadness -- but today she refuses to stay silent. Every time I see her I try to build her up. I tell her she's smart and worthy and wonderful. And then I walk away from the mirror and I start my day.
You see the girl I’m talking about is me. This is the first time I've told my story on television. In fact, it was just a few weeks ago that I told the story publicly for the first time to a gathering of abuse survivors.
So, why now? Because I think it's time to wipe away the glossy exterior. Anyone can be affected by childhood sexual abuse. Even the lady who brings you the news and wishes you good morning with a smile on her face.
The need for healing continues years and years after the abuse has happened. If it weren't for my mother and grandmother who built me up, my husband and family who love me, and my therapist who helped me face my trauma and move forward with my life, I wouldn't be where I am today.
What happened to me was awful, but most importantly it does not define who I am and it has taught me that no one can take away the essential part of myself. It has not just made me a survivor but a fighter.
We can all keep fighting against sexual harassment and abuse. Whether it's a simple post with two powerful words or by speaking publicly.
Please don't be afraid to talk about it. Let's shine a bright light on the dark and musty basements. Let's let the ones who have suffered know that they are not alone and that while much has been lost -- pride, strength and soul have not been taken.
You can help by speaking out and by helping others find their voice.
Thank you so much for letting me take down the veil and share my story. Now, I want to hear you story. Please let us know how you have been affected and persevered in the face of sexual assault. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.