Sue Marshall, who kept a secret for more than 30 years, broke her silence Tuesday night among strangers, finally saying it out loud: She had been repeatedly raped when she was 17 years old.
Her date took her to his home and he and three of his friends raped her, then dumped her on her family’s front yard. She took a shower and tried to wash the horror away.
Marshall was among a dozen women and one man who fought through tears and anger to tell their stories about sexual assaults, rapes, molestations by fathers, boyfriends, husbands, strangers, a first date, cellmates.
“I hid it for so long,” she said, encircled by those who came to support the victims. Some came with friends or family. But others relied on the support of fellow victims and sexual assault advocates for strength and compassion during the Break the Silence Day in Minneapolis.
Marshall buried the gang rape deep inside, eventually got married, had children and reveled in her grandchildren. But the trauma from her teenage years eventually erupted in flashbacks, anxiety and panic attacks, she said. And on Tuesday, she walked to the front of the room and became survivor Number 6, giving voice to what few will talk about openly.
Sarah Super, a rape survivor, organized the event via Facebook, not knowing who would come forward, if anyone. The post immediately drew 50 responses, mostly from people she knew. And then it ballooned to more than 200 people, including not only those who have kept sexual assaults secret, but also those who’ve remained silent when learning a victim’s story because they don’t know what to say or do.
Super wants to break the silence of sexual assaults in an effort to fight the stigma, the shame, the blame and retaliation that victims feel. “And then there are well-intentioned people who just don’t know what to say or do when they hear someone’s story,” she said. “When the community stays silent, you feel betrayed because you feel like people are supposed to care but their silence feels like apathy.”
Last month, Super held workshops in St. Paul and Minneapolis to give people ideas on how to respond to victims. And on Tuesday, in a softly lit room at the Ukrainian Events Center in northeast Minneapolis, victims were invited to put their names to the sterile statistics on sexual assaults.
“I think many people don’t think they know a sexual assault victim,” Super said. But statistics show one in five women have been sexually assaulted, she said.
Super was the first to take the microphone to talk about one night in February, after she had returned from a trip to Mexico. Her ex-boyfriend, Alec E. Neal, had been hiding in her closet for hours before he attacked her in her bed. As she ran to a neighbor’s apartment for help, he slashed her left hand with a knife. Neal fled in a car and was arrested after a 13-mile chase. He was sentenced last month to 12 years in prison and a lifetime registered as a sex offender after he pleaded guilty to rape.
Super has gone public with her name and her story. Victims don’t always realize that breaking the silence after a rape is an option, Super said. Once they do, others will follow, she said.
Twelve others stepped up to the microphone, some telling their stories, others merely proclaiming that they are survivors.
Jordan Stockberger said she was raped by a stranger last fall in her house. When her boyfriend found her, he then raped her, she said. Christina, survivor Number 9, wiped her eyes with a tissue and breathed deeply, struggling to get the words out. Her father had sexually assaulted her and others in her family. He claimed it was all a lie, and he was never brought to justice, she said.
“It was like being revictimized,” she said.
Rachael was 11 years old when a stranger in a pickup truck sexually assaulted her, and then when she was 16, a boy she knew raped her in a hot tub. Ben said he was incarcerated when he was sexually assaulted by three men while taking a shower.
“I spent six months not knowing if I could take a shower or go to sleep. … I’m supposed to be a tough guy,” he said, his voice cracking. “You all are an inspiration to me. We all know somebody.”
It was the strength of those voices and the support of those who listened that brought Emily McGhee to the front of the room.
“This is my first time talking about this,” she said. She was 9 years old when her foster brother assaulted her in her bed. “I laid there. I never told nobody. I blamed myself.”
When she was 14 and walking home alone at night, a stranger sexually assaulted her. “I felt nasty and disgusting,” she said.
And when she was 21 and a mother of three, she was raped by a man she knew.
“All these years, I thought it was something I did,” she said, her eyes cast down.
“But I’m breaking the silence today,” she said. “I’m taking my life back.”