Dear Sexual Violence Survivors:
After years of being too scared to write to all of you, now I am hoping the world will share this letter so it can actually find each and every one of you. The decision to reveal my truth this week on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s site for her new book, “Option B,” was not an easy one.
Editor's Note: Lauren Brill is a member of the News 5 Cleveland sports team. She produces the regular feature "Out of Bounds."
I feared my career would be negatively impacted or that people would judge me unfairly. Even more distressing, I worried I’d torment my parents, as I would no longer be able to shield them from the horror I endured. However, the people I have interviewed throughout my career as a sports reporter gave--and continue to give--me courage, as they’ve made me understand the value of raw honesty.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center one out of every five women will be raped at some point in their lives. The Department of Justice definition of rape includes various forms of sexual penetration without consent. Rape is not exclusive to women, as men and transgender are affected as well.
Unfortunately, just like you, I’ve experienced sexual violence. However, today I am officially done being a victim and I am trying to be more than just a survivor. I want to be a fighter and share with you the wisdom I’ve gained and the support you’ve needed.
At 16 years old, I couldn't even process the reality that I was drugged and sexually abused by two boys I did not know. For nine years, I did not tell anyone. It was easier to blame myself for accepting one drink than it was to fault them for drugging and attacking me.
Lauren as a high school student.
It wasn’t only the sexual component of the assault that was so traumatizing but also that for a moment in time my own body didn’t belong to me. I was strong and athletic, yet in the most desperate moment of my life, my muscles betrayed me.
I could barely move or speak, as I felt completely powerless. I tried my best to say the words, “No!” and, “Stop!,” but my voice was much louder inside my own head where I prayed and pleaded, “Please, God, don’t let this be how I lose my virginity.” Thankfully, I fell off the bed as one of my attackers attempted, but I believe failed, to advance from violating me with his hands and fingers to his genitals. When I hit the floor, both boys ran out of the room in a panic.
Despite starting off at a healthy weight, I lost 30 pounds in one year, becoming too weak to play soccer, the sport I loved, at the collegiate level. Often I found myself on edge, always worrying about who lurked around the corner. At times, I felt alone in my own anxiety but I eventually realized I had plenty of company.
Sadly, sexual assault has become practically a dismal rite of passage for women in our society, but according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) per the Department of Justice two out of every three sexual assaults go unreported.
I want you to know I am what another survivor looks like. I am what another survivor sounds like.
I was an honor student and a star athlete with two highly involved parents and great friends. But when those boys violated me, my background and my resume were completely irrelevant. My attack was not my fault and you are not to blame for your assault either, as no one is immune to sexual violence or responsible for someone else's predatory behavior.
Lauren covers the 2016 NBA Finals.
Today, more than a decade after that fateful night, there is little chance that I will ever find out who hurt me. That is a very tough reality for me to accept, but I’ve had to move on. I was lucky enough to discover my passion for storytelling, which subconsciously catalyzed my recovery. The stories I have told about others, coupled with writing about my own journey, have given me hope, happiness and healing.
Now, I feel confident and encouraged, which has bestowed upon me an unshakeable sense of responsibility to be a leader for those of you still trapped inside your own silence. I want you to know, you, too, can survive. You can be happy. You can realize all of your dreams. Find a passion that is so strong it forces you to overcome everything that you fear and any trauma symptoms that affect you. When you’re ready, express your truth through a means that suits you, whether it be writing, music, art, conventional therapy or any other method that makes sense to you.
Lauren Brill interviews Cardale Jones of the Buffalo Bills.
I have told so many stories about athletes who have faced incredible challenges and have gone on to achieve unimaginable successes. Through them, I've learned that truth can have many different effects on both the people receiving it and those revealing it. Truth can be freedom. Truth can be change. Truth can be inspiration.
My wish is that sharing my past impacts you in a way that helps heal your spirit, brings some peace to your life and emboldens you to reveal your own experiences. If so, my honesty will serve a purpose that far outweighs my fears, as together our truths will become our power.
With love and hope,
Lauren Arielle Brill
MORE: Read Lauren's News 5 Bio