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Commentary: April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

On Jan. 1, 2015, my life forever changed. I awoke with no clothes on, with a bed sheet wrapped around me downstairs in my friend's house. I had been unconscious for 15 hours after attending a New Year's Eve party. That night I was raped, and this is my story.

I never believed that rape would happen to me. I had a group of friends that I had known for many years. They were guys that I had fun with, guys that I trusted and became guys that took advantage of me when I couldn't defend myself. I showed up at the party wearing jeans, a camisole and a cardigan. Nothing I wore suggested that I wanted to be raped. I quickly learned that rape was an issue about power and control, and it didn't matter what I was wearing that night.

As I went into the party, my friends and I took shots of vodka to celebrate our way into the New Year. At one point, I came into the kitchen and was offered a shot of vodka that was already prepared. Without thinking, I took it not knowing that minutes later I was going to lose my memory for 15 hours. During those 15 hours I was raped and four other individuals had taken pictures and videos of me.

The next afternoon when I awoke with a single bed sheet wrapped around me I knew something was wrong. Within the next two days, I would be in extreme pain. When I was walking, I reached a point where I began to limp and I avoided using the restroom due to the pain that I was in. Finally, I was told about what happened that night. From there, I did all the things I believed a victim should do. I went to the hospital to have a rape kit performed. I reported it to my local law enforcement, and I turned to those in my life who I believed were some of my biggest supporters only to find out I was facing a much larger issue than just my sexual assault.

I was fighting the rape culture and individual beliefs that this happened to me because I brought it upon myself. A month after reporting my assault, my perpetrator was not charged, and my friends and family turned their backs on me. I had to learn how to begin this unwanted journey on my own. A journey that consists of triggers, flashbacks, feelings of distrust, nights of tears and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is the night that changed my life, but gave me my passion for helping other victims of sexual violence. While you may never know who I am, I am your mother, sister, wife, friend, the girl you met in class or the kid you sit with on the bus. You may never know it, but you could have been the one to step in, say no and put a stop to it. You could be the one to save a life from being so terribly violated in a way I will never have the words to explain.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and I wanted to share my story with you so you know you are not alone and this does happen.

If you are a victim or know someone who is, Support Within Reach is here to help.

Support survivors this month. Support Within Reach is hosting three events in April:

• National Crime Victims' Rights Week beginning at 7 p.m. Friday, April 13 at Paul and Babe. Children and families welcome.

• Take Back the Night beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 19 at the John Glas Fieldhouse, Bemidji State University.

• Annual fundraiser featuring the Acoust Hicks at Fozzies Smokin BBQ, beginning with a silent auction at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 21. The band will start at 8 p.m.

For more information, contact Support Within Reach at 218-444-9524 or visit our Facebook page (