I was encouraged, over and over, to start this blog as a way to be a role model and leader for women. Specifically, solo female travelers and female equestrians. The term ‘role model’ is not something I would have ever used to describe myself, nor would it have ever been something I would aspire to be for someone, anyone. My nomadic adventures have been incredible: in a heart breaking sense and in a healing one. But, at least for me, they aren’t ‘enough’ to write about. I could tell you about the seven days I spent with a radical Christian evangelist who lectured me about the rapture, Obama as the Antichrist, but also taught me about self-worth. The complexity of human nature that I’ve encountered while I’ve lived on the road – and even throughout my life in general – have been stories that have always captured and touched people.
I was watching Ashley Judd’s TED Talk the other day, on how abuse of women online has spiraled out of control and the allowance of it is just as much of a heinous crime as the abuse itself. The talk was excellent and I found myself relating so much to her in terms of the abuse I have received online – and offline. In particular, she boldly said she had been raped three times. Three times. Hearing that was like a dam had burst deep inside of me. The internalization of shame and secrecy that I had attached to my identity and carried around with me since first being molested as a child, raped repeatedly as a teenager, raped again at twenty, and brutally assaulted and stalked at twenty four – felt the sunlight on its face. I’ve done a lot of things for other people and the biggest of those, which I regret the most, is being silent about my story so that I wouldn’t make other people feel uncomfortable. Think about it for a second: there’s a lot of stigma, shame, and ridicule attached to the tag of being the girl who tried to speak out against sexual trauma. I say girl because that’s what I was at the time: a girl. That stigma, shame, and ridicule continued – amplified, even – when I became a woman. A woman, who is still trying to speak out about sexual trauma that happened to her repeatedly as a child, teenager, and now as an adult. Furthermore, the unspoken rule that if you’ve been sexually traumatized more than once, somehow, you deserved it. Somehow, you wanted it. Somehow, you are allowing this to happen to yourself.
I cannot imagine the bravery that Ashley had to muster to make that statement. For survivors of sexual trauma, repeated trauma is treated as an invalidation to your worth as a human being. As if there must be something inherently wrong with you. Over the years, I have observed the reaction of people that I once revered and respected share their views on women who are speaking their stories of sexual trauma. At this point, it is almost expected to be victim-blamed by a man. But it never ceases to be painful and shocking to be victim-blamed by another woman; which shows how deeply we have woven shame into the fabric of our perception of sexual trauma.
Everyone wants to hear the story of how the girl from Texas went to Wellington, FL to pursue her dreams of being a rider and ended up testifying against her trainer for committing millions of dollars worth of federal bankruptcy fraud, abuse, and connections to the cartel. That’s the crazy, juicy story that you’re probably still tagging along for, waiting to hear, and sorting out the rest of what I have to say. But I don’t want to tell that story for entertainment value. In fact, that’s only just a very, very small part of it. I want to tell that story – the whole story – to show just how hard, terrifying, and damaging it is to navigate a sexually charged and high-risk sport as a vulnerable young woman with big dreams and not a whole lot of legs to stand on. I want to tell that story and many others, for the girls and women like me who are suffering in silence. We can’t claim to be a progressive and proactive society whilst simultaneously damning and shunning the people that we need to step up the most.
I have been told more times than I can count that if I tried to speak up against sexual abuse – in and out of the horse industry – that I would essentially be blackballing my career. I would be disregarded as a professional. As I have worked many years in the horse industry, what has stood out the most is the level of hatred many professionals have for one another – sometimes very warranted, other times not. And yet, they’re selling thousands and even millions of dollars worth of horses and training services. But what I’ve noticed the most, is that the majority of these people who have committed grievous crimes and still been successful and revered in the industry – are men. So I say to you, as a woman and as a working professional in the horse industry, your insistence on tanking my career and dreams based on me speaking out against a very real issue that we have, does not scare me. You cannot continue to threaten me, not anymore. If anything, you have given me a greater platform to stand on.
I don’t want to be your role model. I don’t want to be your leader. But for the countless women who have survived sexual trauma and thus, incredible amounts of shame, torment, and bullying – I want to be your voice.