As women, I believe one of the most challenging stories to tell is our own. We boldly champion the adversities of others by fearlessly speaking up for the needs of our community. We take on policy issues headfirst; we volunteer our time, and we delicately share the stories of others because we are relentless defenders of truth. However, with our own story, we often fail to be bold, fearless and relentless advocates of our own truth. We fail to embrace our voice.
I was raped fifteen years ago and used advocacy as part of my journey toward healing and recovery. For over a decade, I have spent countless hours furthering issues and organizations, which lift the voices of women and children. I’ve worked on Capitol Hill and can vividly remember policy discussions surrounding the Violence Against Women Act. I’ve volunteered with female-focused organizations like Girl Scouts of the USA and the Miss America Scholarship Program. I’ve supported organizations like RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) by whispering my story to advocates and survivors who needed a compassionate perspective or a shoulder to cry. Nevertheless, no matter how many times I shared the details of my story, my voice never rose beyond a steady whisper.
#MeToo. I remember seeing the first #MeToo post on my social media timeline. It took my breath away. Like many survivors, I knew the statistics surrounding sexual violence. I knew one out of every six American women would be the victim of an attempted or completed rape. I understood that nine out of every ten victims of rape were female. However, seeing and reading what seemed to be a never-ending stream of #MeToo posts from some of my closest friends served as a clear and resounding wake-up call. I exhaled, posted #MeToo, and from that moment on knew I could no longer whisper. I needed to own my story and embrace my voice.
This month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the theme is Embracing Your Voice. As a survivor, I whispered my story because I worried that talking about sexual violence was too controversial. I worried that my story would (once again) be examined with a doubtful eye. So I volunteered, I advocated, and I whispered.
No more. How we talk about sexual violence matters. It matters. The things we say, and how we share them, send a message about our beliefs and values. If I can speak boldly for the Girl Scout who deserves the chance to lead, I can also speak up for the young girl whose innocence was forever changed on a cold November night.
As survivors, our stories must be heard. Let’s embrace our voice by helping supporters talk about sexual violence. Let’s change our laws by lobbying for issues like advocate privilege and requiring age-appropriate sexual abuse and violence prevention training. Let’s move our voices from a whisper to a roar.
When we stand up for truth, we send a powerful message that the energy around this movement will not fade. Together, we will be believed, we need to be bold, and we must be brave. To change the world, we must embrace our voice.
Sophia Fifner has over ten years of experience working in both the private and public sectors as a development and communications professional. Sophia holds a B.A. in Organizational Communication from Miami University and a M.S. in Marketing and Communications from Franklin University. She is an alumna of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs’ NEW Leadership program and Miami University’s Inside Washington program. In her spare time, she enjoys pageants, politics and philanthropy. As an advocate for women and girls, she aims to serve as a bold change agent for issues regarding sexual assault and civic engagement. Connect with her on social media: LinkedIn @sophiafifner; Instagram @sophiafifner; Twitter @sophiafifner