Meeting a SurvivorIt was an unusually beautiful Sunday morning in Nebraska. For once the winds were calm and the temperature was mild. I was driving to meet a young woman who I had never met before, to record a story she had never told before.
I was a senior in college and it had been one year since I was raped. I was so lonely going through that so I started researching and finding other victims' stories online. Reading their stories validated everything I was feeling. I realized that connecting with other survivors was the only way I would heal. But I hated that the stories I read online were largely anonymous. I had been ashamed for an entire year and I was done with it.
I decided that I was going to find other survivors like me, that weren't ashamed and share their stories with the world. We were going to give this crime a face and a voice. I wasn't sure how to do that, but I made a go of it anyway. The University of Nebraska-Omaha's Women Center helped immeasurably. They put me in touch with people like this young woman I was driving to meet.
When I pulled up to Alyssa's driveway I had a video camera, a tripod and a fellow reporter with me. Alyssa welcomed us inside her home where three of her friends were sitting on the couch for moral support. I set Alyssa in a chair of her own and framed her in the viewfinder. As soon as I hit record, Alyssa saw the red light and started talking. When she was a child, her brother's friend would corner her into the bedroom closet during games like hide and seek and touch her. It happened nearly every Sunday afternoon and she was too scared to tell her parents.
She kept talking even though her voice was cracking and the tears made her blue eyes shine even brighter. "I've grown a lot from that experience and this is the first time I've ever told that story before," she said in closing. "And I want everyone out there to know, that if something happens to you, it's not your fault, and don't hold it inside and keep thinking that you can't tell anyone."
I turned off the camera and everyone enveloped her in a giant group hug. Her relief was palpable.
She had finally told her story and a roomful of people cared and loved her. Nobody was judging her, we respected her bravery and honesty. That experience gave Alyssa the strength to finally tell her parents. It gave me a direction for all my future work in photojournalism.
I am still working to shatter the silence surrounding sexual assault and rape. My current project is a book called "Survivor Stories." It is a series of portraits and first person accounts of surviving sexual violence. But the focus isn't on the horrific details, but focuses on how a person makes the transition from victim to survivor. It's about hope in the face of tragedy.
Alyssa is in this book. We met again, this time alone and I interviewed her. Then we had a portrait session with more traditional Nebraskan weather: cold windy and rainy.
But we still shared a big hug at the end of it.
by Teresa Prince
Omaha, Neb., USA