“I was in my early twenties. I was student at UF. I was asleep in my apartment. A man broke in. Armed with a knife, he blind folded, gagged me, and tied me up, and raped me.”
Although an event from over 30 years ago, the memory is strong for Gainesville resident Gretchen Casey. The incident plays a role in the inspiration behind the UnShame campaign that addresses the injustice in shaming survivors and victims of sexual assault. We are raising money to pay for the launch of an online platform for rape victims world wide to have accesss to resources, encouragement and support.
Gretchen believes a major reason people do not seek help is because they are experiencing shame. If the first person you disclose to is a friend or family member and they respond in a way that inflicts shame or implies even the slightest amount of blame, then why would you expect or trust a stranger or organization to treat you any differently?
Gretchen says it’s not always what you’re saying, but the tone and timing of how a person asks a question or responds. This can be applied to questions like, “Did you report it? Did you get a rape exam? How much did you have to drink? Why did you go there in the first place?”
Gretchen says it’s the right of every victim to feel whatever he or she feels. Certain feelings are natural and can’t be immediately undone. Numbness, shock, disbelief, confusion, fear, sadness, lack of control, anxiety and betrayal are all natural emotions. But shame is the one emotion that we can really do something about. It’s a feeling that can sometimes be stopped before it even begins.
“Did you lock your door? What were you wearing? Had you had anything to drink that night?”
Although no one ever asked these questions of Gretchen, she’s considers herself lucky. These types of questions are common and often said without a second thought because as humans we try to make sense of why bad things happen. She said the meaning we attach to events in many ways characterizes how we think about them. When we hear about violent crime, we want to feel as if we can prevent or control that from happening to us. But when a victim starts to wonder if they could have prevented an attack, they begin to hold themselves responsible - at some level.
Karma: Good intent and good deed contribute to good karma and future happiness, while bad intent and bad deed contribute to bad karma and future suffering.
Looking back, Gretchen wanted to know why she was targeted, why this had happened. She dwelled on karma, questioning what she could have done to bring this upon herself. After an arrest was made it was revealed that her attacker had a history of sexual offenses and that he was indiscriminant in selecting his victims.
It was the counseling she received from a Rape Crisis Center that ultimately helped her accept that no one was responsible for this man’s actions other than himself. Being able to reframe what happened, re-establishing control in her life, and accepting the range and intensity of her emotions, is what ultimately helped her recover.
“If I had not gotten help it could have been easy for me to believe that because this vile, brutal, humiliating happened to me, now I am vile and disgusting. Somehow, what he did to me made me like him: broken.“
The Unshame website will address shame by teaching victim/survivors to neither over nor under- react to the feelings they experience.
The UnShame Story
Although estimates vary, reports suggest that only 25 percent of people who report sexual assault seek counseling after the event. In addition, research on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) has linked multiple health outcomes back to untreated traumatic experiences. Long-term untreated trauma and related anxiety cause disruption in not only brain development, but daily cycles of waking, resting, sleeping, eating socializing, exercising, playing and working. Common increased risks among persons with high ACE scores were alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, suicide attempts, smoking, poor self-rated health, high numbers of sexual intercourse partners, increased sexually transmitted diseases, and increase in physical inactivity and severe obesity.
In the past few years, Gretchen has felt the need to answer the question, “how do we change that?”
Erase The Shame
The main message of UnShame is that there is nothing shameful in being a victim of sexual assault. No one is responsible for an attack other than the attacker. UnShame can teach people to live beyond a perpetrator’s actions.
The UnShame application will serve several purposes. Some people get temporarily stuck. They limit how they see themselves, or how they believe others see them, as someone who didn’t prevent the assault. UnShame.org will feed empowering messages to help victims see themselves from a different perspective. Friends, family and other visitors to the site will be able to submit messages of inspiration, comfort and encouragement to feature in this feed. Also artists and other inspired viewers will be able to share work inspired by the UnShame message.
But in order for words to have meaning and merit they have to be tied to an experience. Victims and survivors who have worked through their shame will be able to submit their testimony to support, inspire and empower others who may be working through a similar situation. The testimonies combined with supporters’ encouragement are what will make UnShame’s message resonate with its followers.
UnShame will also allow people to submit questions about how to cope with different types and stages of shame. Gretchen will answer inquiries in the feed to help anyone who may also be struggling.
“Normally, I would tell anyone experiencing shame to call me,” said Gretchen, “but what if I could answer one, and help hundreds who are struggling with the same concern? That is the beauty of an online platform.”
Gretchen said she is not trying to replace crisis centers and victim services. Rather she is trying to reach the ones who have never called a rape crisis hotline. She is trying to catch the attention of someone who may otherwise never set foot in a counseling office. She wants to give victim survivors-in-hiding the opportunity to acknowledge what happened to them and realize that life continues.
In addition, she hopes it encourages friends and family members of survivors to express themselves.
“What if after a victim shared on Unshame, a friend commented and said, ‘I never knew. I think you’re courageous. I think you’re amazing. I think that takes a lot of guts to say. I’m sorry that I wasn’t there to support to you when this first happened.’ Do you know what that could do for people?”
Gretchen said, “It brings people to their knees to know that the world is filled with good people and not just people that will take advantage of you.”
She also hopes that UnShame will provide the opportunity for retribution for friends and family members who may regret their initial response or reaction toward a victim.
“There is power in the words ‘This is what I wish I had said, this is how I wish I had handled it,’” she said.
But Gretchen’s dreams for UnShame do not end there. She thinks about other countries and other cultures where victim shaming is much more prominent. She thinks about countries were rape is a common practice and not viewed as a crime. She thinks about societies that use rape as a weapon or method of torture. Her hopes are that UnShame will provide something that would otherwise not be available to people in those areas.
Gretchen said that for those who want to come out, UnShame is a channel of expression. And for those who are not ready it could be the door to freedom.
“Ultimately what we want to do is teach people not to depend on justice to facilitate their recovery. The accountability and reparation by an offender doesn’t happen for everybody. Instead, we want to help people begin to look at where they do have control, which is what they are doing now, in this day, in this moment. The merciful thing about life is that it keeps giving you second chances,” she said.
“Tomorrow is a new day. What can I do well today that is NOT decided by what happened to me in the past? We want people to address it and move beyond it. Live beyond it. Live well beyond it.”
"Out of the huts of history's shame, I rise;
Up from a past that's rooted in pain, I rise ."
- Maya Angelou
UNSHAME is an ongoing message movement which provides a platform or opportunity for inspired and sensitive people to post messages that erase the shame that often occurs after sexual violence.
UNSHAME is dedicated to the belief that there is no disgrace in being a survivor of sexual violence. We want people around the world to recognize the damage shame does to women, men, and children who have experienced sexual victimization. We want all humans to understand the scale of this problem and the harsh realities of sexual violence and the devastation that follows as a victim is continually degraded by shaming words and behavior. UNSHAME will also connect people with resources, services and blogs to help victims and survivors.
Our objective at UNSHAME is to “shift” the shame that victims encounter to empathy, resilience, and recovery.
You can help eliminate the unjust stigma of shame by first….
1. Donating to our web application fund
2. Sharing our message on Facebook and Twitter
3. Submitting a testimonial or letter of support for the participators of our future site
Shame that is connected to rape victims gets its power from unjustly placing responsibility for an entire event or course of action on the victim. Help us put an end to this misplaced and hurtful stigma impacting children, women and men in each of our communities.
Let's stop shaming victims.
**Please Note: All funds raised for this project will go strictly to the build, launch and promotion of this web application service. UnShame is a volunteer inspired campaign. UnShame is not making any profit whatsoever from this campaign.
My name is Kelli and I work for Liquid Creative Studio in downtown Gainesville.
I built this Go Fund Me for Gretchen Casey and the UnShame team because we are trying to help them in their quest to defeat victim shaming.
This team of committed victim advocates needs help establishing an online presence and recruiting support to launch the UnShame Campaign and web application.
If you cannot help financially, please share this campaign with your friends and family and help us get the word out!
Thank you for your participation. You may have just helped someone move forward in their healing journey.
A year ago unshame was created by a few good people who decided to address the shame that too often accompanies the trauma of sexual assault. By creating a web presence and messages of hope, inspiration and support, our aim is to shift the shame that is too often directed at, or internalized by survivors of sexual violence. We realize that shame is one of the initial factors that will impact a person’s decision to disclose, report, or seek support in the days, weeks, and years following a sexual assault.
This year we look forward to growing this campaign by forging new conversations and helping more people to see and believe that there is no shame in being a sexual assault survivor. We want the world to know that something done to you, without your consent, may be many things--painful, terrifying, disruptive, ugly, humiliating—but you, as a victim survivor do not have to feel a moment or a lifetime of shame for another person’s behavior or choices that were directed at you.
So how do we believe we can bring attention to the real impact of sexual assault—the numbers of boys and girls, men and women who have experienced rape? We are borrowing from the lessons we have observed from the decade long work of breast cancer awareness, which has profoundly changed the way we view and respond to a breast cancer diagnosis: Acknowledge it. Treat it and the people it impacts into a visible issue that deserves respect, attention, research, and support. We are excited to welcome your participation in the Me too campaign during National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, in April. We invite you to use a toolkit (unshame is in the process of developing )in YOUR community as a resource for gaining support for the good work of rape crisis centers and spreading the message that we can end the shame that sexual assault survivors experience.
Here’s to enduring partnerships,
Unshame Creative Strategist & Founder
Whew! I've been busy! Yesterday, I was in Tampa, presenting a workshop on Restorative Justice and showed my film "Somewhere Beyond" at the 30th National Conference on Preventing Crime in the Black Community. What a great, well-attended conference! I met so many dedicated speakers, attendees and what an energized group of young folks destined to make a difference! Today, I just finished with a couple of talented UF students who are making a short documentary about our Unshame Campaign! A lot of work and more yet to do. Feeling lucky indeed! Thank you all for helping to make this a bit more real every day!
#blessed, #appreciatinglife, #erasetheshame, #leaders, #cantdothisalone, #workinghard, #makeithappen, #inspired, #victimadvocates, #stopviolenceagainstwomen
Thank you so much to those who attended the opening reception of the Survivors of Violence Art Exhibit at the Hipp last Friday. This is a beautiful ongoing show that features artwork sponsored by The Gainesville Commission on the Status of Women. I met some wonderful, engaging new friends and reconnected with some folks I hadn't seen in awhile. Thank you GCOSW for letting me be a part of this important exhibit! The show continues through May 23rd, so stop on by! This art will truly move you!
People wrote messages of support for our website, took selfies in our mirror of inspiration, and pledged to help erase the shame with "hand-made" unshame logos!
You are so right about shame being a key to a lot of issue especially reporting rape. I believe fear as well is combined with that. A deep sense of fear. Karma is not real but we claim to those ideas as if our reality makes more sense with it.. Bad things happen to us all whether we are doing mostly good or mostly bad. And a lot of bad people have riches and wealth beyond imagination and they use their resources for even more bad things. Praise God that you are doing this. Keep it up. Galatians 6:9 says don't grow weary in doing good. Jesus loves you and know that He has proved it by dying on that cross for your sins. We are born again people no longer attached to thte sin and shame.
Rasheeda... And anyone else who is interested in the campaign please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know your interests and ideas. We have several areas where volunteers can help make this grow.
Gretchen I am so happy to find a person that feels very passionate about the feeling of so many people that is effected by this abuse. I will like to be a part of your team .Thank you.