By Jozie Donaghey
The author recognizes that all gender identities, not just women, are affected by sexual violence, with LGBT people disproportionately affected. The author is writing from her perspective as a cis woman. Content advisory: sexual violence, rape
Hello, my name is Jozie Donaghey. I am the photo editor for Ethos Magazine, an independent student-run publication at the University of Oregon. I am a Eugene local, a Girl Scout of 15 years and an artist. I am also a sexual violence survivor.
I never wanted to be a “victim” of sexual violence. Honestly, I never wanted to be a sexual violence “survivor,” either. But having experienced one assault and one rape before entering high school, being a survivor was a part of my identity from an early age. I just didn’t know it at the time.
In fact, it wasn’t until 2018, when I went to my first Take Back the Night, an international event to raise awareness for sexual violence, that I learned I had been a rape survivor since I was 14 years old.
I attended the Take Back the Night event at the UO as a photographer my freshman year of college, looking to build my portfolio. But during the open mic part of the event where survivors shared their experiences with sexual violence, a women told a rape story that sounded exactly like something I’d gone through; when I was in eighth grade, my “mature” high school boyfriend stuck his hand down my pants and vaginally raped me with his fingers on a group date at the Putters Family Entertainment Center in Eugene.
Back then, I hadn’t known it was rape because the rape I was used to hearing about was done by predators in dark alleys or frat bros in locked bedrooms at parties. I didn’t think boyfriends could rape their girlfriends, much less in a public place with witnesses. But hearing this survivor’s story made me realize what happened to me was rape.
Learning I was raped was devastating, but it allowed me to realize that what I was experiencing — chronic nightmares, trust issues, constant fear for my safety — wasn’t normal, but signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Learning I was raped allowed me to seek help and go to therapy. Learning I was raped allowed me to understand how to treat and recognize my trauma.
The woman who shared her rape story at Take Back the Night gave me a gift. She normalized my experience and put a name to it. This allowed me to move forward and for the first time in six years. I felt in control of my life.
When I learned Take Back the Night wasn’t happening in person this year due to COVID-19, I wanted to create a way for survivors to still share their testimonies publicly. That’s why, last term, I started a project with Ethos where survivors of sexual violence in the UO community could write for the magazine about their experiences. I hoped these stories would empower participants and help survivors who read the stories start to heal in the same way I started to heal when I went to Take Back the Night.
Now we are expanding the project from the original five pieces we have published and are accepting submissions from sexual and domestic violence survivors from all of Lane County through April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, until the end of May for the online version of our project. Survivors have complete control of the content they share and the type of piece they submit, and will have anonymity options. We can provide writing assistance if needed, and survivors are free to pull out of the project at any time.
When survivors of sexual and domestic violence stand together and refuse to be silent, we have power. When we share our stories, we take back so much for ourselves: our stories, our autonomy and our power. And by taking those back we create space for other survivors to come forward as well.
Not only have survivors who’ve participated in the project so far felt empowered by the experience, they enjoyed getting to know other survivors in the process. So we also created a survivor support network for everyone in the project through a private Facebook group, providing a community of support, understanding and camaraderie for those involved.
I know first hand how difficult sharing our stories can be, but we are not alone. Sexual violence affects everyone, regardless of gender, race or sexuality. According to a campus climate survey done in 2015 and 2019 by the Association of American Universities, one in three undergraduate women, one in 16 undergraduate men and nearly 40 percent of LGBT students experience sexual violence before graduating. That’s just in college, not before, after or including those who didn’t even enroll, with students of color being disproportionately affected.
But you’ve probably heard these numbers. People know the statistics, yet the numbers don’t change. My hope with this project was to put actual people and testimony behind those statistics to show survivors they are not alone and make it difficult for people to ignore the pervasive issue of sexual violence.
Every day, more people become sexual and domestic violence survivors. It’s clear that hearing the statistics doesn’t prompt change; the numbers alone are no longer enough. People need to hear from survivors directly if we want to make a difference.
I refuse to hide in the shadows of sexual violence. I refuse to be silent, forgotten or pushed to the side. I refuse to allow society to forget and I refuse to do nothing. I implore you to join us in making change and taking back what is ours.
For more information about Ethos Magazine and the Taking Back Our Stories project, email Photo@EthosMagonline.com or submit an interest survey at tinyurl.com/EthosTBOS.
For more information about virtual Take Back the Night events in Eugene, visit the UO Women’s Center website at Blogs.UOregon.edu/women.
Eugene Weekly will support Ethos Magazine’s work by featuring some of the stories on our website.