Knowledge is power, the proverb goes. For Anna, it’s been a force that’s propelled her, even through the darkest of waters. But as a girl of 18 with relatively few years of wisdom to draw on, the summer evening she was raped left her uncertain of everything she thought she knew.
The seemingly remorseful young man who assaulted her – someone she’d been casually dating – wasn’t who she understood a rapist to be. She had an idea what rape was and that wasn't it. She was left in shock and disbelief and denial. "I thought 'maybe this isn't rape'…even though I knew it was," Anna recalls. "I had an issue accepting that what happened was real." Further confusing her was the fact she continued to date him. "My own response bothered me almost more than the rape," she says.
It took her a week to tell anyone, but saying the words to one friend, then another, were the first major steps toward healing. Her studious nature still intact, Anna mostly just wanted to forget about it. She headed back to university and immersed herself in her academics. She soon latched on to examining social systems and culture, viewing things through a critical thinking lens. "I found myself forming a much deeper understanding of how justice worked in my own life." She also began meeting many grassroots activists who were a positive force in recognizing struggles going on in communities everywhere, and in providing an ever-empowering perspective on solutions.
"I learned adversity and struggle were no longer shames and weaknesses," says Anna. "I had a lot of people around me wanting to create change." She realized her own experiences were key to further pursuing the social justice she was always so passionate about. Eventually, Anna turned her passion into a career as a counselor. "It gives me a lived, personal and profound understanding," she says.
With the relative empowerment that comes with living a life of authenticity, Anna is buoyed in sharing her narrative. It’s opened up vital conversations about judgment, shame, regret and a host of other topics, including consent. "What I realize in telling my story is people who didn't realize they had been victimized acknowledge they might have been. It's important for people to identify their consent and what that is for them.
"It's tragic that so many of us haven’t had this reflection. It is so important."