A visual journalist committed to telling the stories of others won't shy away from the truth about herself.

No matter how hard I try to grasp her, the girl I knew, the 13-year-old girl I once was, is gone. One event stole her away from me, and it has taken me years to come to terms with the crime that erased her.

I am a visual journalist. I need to tell stories, and I long to uncover the truths about the variety of lives I encounter. I’ve spent time with an impoverished family in a dangerous neighborhood of Syracuse, followed Assemblyman Sam Roberts on his road to re-election, and I am currently documenting the love and devotion an elderly man has for his dying wife. These stories taught me how powerful human emotions are. As a journalist, I will not back down—even when the subject is myself.

"My story was the hardest one I have ever had to tell."

My story was the hardest one I have ever had to tell. My role as a journalist is to never stop asking why. However asking those questions of oneself is difficult and illuminating. It allows you to better understand your subjects, your stories and how complicated, personal and painful life can be. It also teaches the power that can be gained through telling a story that hurts. When a journalist tells her own story, it creates a reserve of compassion and an understanding that prepares them for assignments that require people to talk about loss and pain.

I decided to share my story because few women do. One in four women in America are the victims of sexual assault, and many suffer in silence. An estimated 54 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police, and 97 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail. When the topic of rape earns airtime, it frequently is featured against an international backdrop of war crimes and atrocities. We appear blind to own domestic epidemic, and that blindness most surely contributes to the silence that surrounds this national issue.

Beyond the lack of media attention regarding this crime, the social stigma attached to rape and sexual assault tell women they are better off keeping their story to themselves. If a woman or girl can find the strength to tell, she must answer questions about her role: What were you wearing? Where were you? Did you know him? Were you drinking? What time was it?

Blaming victims is a frequent reaction to the crime of rape, which is why so many women feel ashamed after this violation and refuse to report the crime. In fact, many survivors who live to tell their story compare the interrogations and the criminal proceedings that follow to a second violation.

That is not the only aftermath of rape. Survivors must battle a range of emotional and psychological issues. One of the most common is depression. Other effects range from flashbacks, substance abuse, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and many more.

The one surprising truth is the power and liberation that comes with telling a story of survival. I have started to reconcile my own emotions and now see a way beyond this event. My passion for storytelling is growing with my abilities to create visual narratives. And, hopefully others who hear my story will feel empowered to start their own discussion.

For more information on rape and sexual assault, please visit RAINN. If you need someone to talk to, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-HOPE.

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