It takes an immense amount of courage to be both a victim of rape and a voice against it. The modern world, for all its efforts, still have a shaky understanding of rape, and how to respond to it.
On April 26, 2016, a young girl named Alaina Leary decided, as difficult as it was, to share her rape story to the widest audience possible - the internet. She hopes she can reach out to other victims, who are trapped in their silence and fear, and assure them they are not alone.
She was 18. It was the middle of her first spring break when she visited her friend at a nearby college. They were going to spend the night having a small party with her friend's dormmates.
So there. The party started. It was a typical haphazard teenage party - people were everywhere, and so was alcohol. Alaina wasn't drinking, but she did recall meeting some new people, and thinking everyone was "kind and friendly".
Here is when it starts to hit the fan. At around 10 or 11pm, her vision began to blur, and so did her thoughts. She felt drunk even though she didn't have a drop of alcohol. At one point, she recalled standing in a small bathroom down the hall from the dorm room, staring in the mirror, with no recollection of how she got there.
Later, she was led into a dorm room by a female partygoer and raped.
For months she repressed what had happened to her, pretending it was all a dream.
She believed that rape "was the worst thing anyone could survive, if it was survivable at all." Alaina thinks this is because her mom - who had passed away a few years earlier - had also been raped. She would hear her mother crying at night, living with the trauma alone, because close friends and relatives hadn't believed her when she decided to confide in them.
The year following her assault consisted of Alaine trying to become a different person entirely. She transferred colleges, changed majors, and gave up writing - an art that she had loved ever since she was a child.
But choosing to ignore the existence of pain does not make the pain go away. Alaina was about to give up on finding a way to deal with the trauma, when she chanced upon a flyer on her school campus for rape, sexual abuse, and sexual assault support group.
When she first met the groups advisors, she trembled as she shared her story.
For the remainder of the semester, once per week, Alaina spent some time in a room with several other survivors, all women. One of the other survivors, she recounts, was queer, like her. They shared stories, and were encouraged to deal with their pain by channeling it into writing and art.
It was in this group that Alaina first wrote about her story, and shared it.
At the end of the semester, she changed her major back to writing. In her first English course, she wrote a poen about being a sexual assault survivor. The next year, she read it aloud in front of her class. And after that class, several other students approached her and shared how meaningful her work was too them - they, too, were survivors, and felt alone.
She acknowledges that writing about her story is difficult. It forces her to revisit the pain and trauma of being a rape victim. Nevertheless, she continues to write about it, because doing it makes her feel freer and stronger.
Sometimes she thinks of her mother, and how maybe, if she were still with her, they'd share their stories and be survivors together. Together, they'd learn to heal.
Alaina is proud of the change she took - the control she is exercising over her narrative. She is proud of her choice to share her story, because it helps her live, and she hopes it will help others find the strength to live too.
Now, she understands that finding strength is possible.