Much has changed since I last posted or rather not enough has changed. I didn’t race at all last year. Instead, I went to several high-profile conferences to speak about my personal experience as a survivor of sexual violence. At first glance, it was a huge success, I been praised for my courage and victims from all over the world thank me for giving them hope, and then I went into a deep depression and suffered a nervous breakdown. I keep thinking why I seem to make a breakthrough and then go on to experience a paralyzing setback, and the answer is that maybe I haven’t learned what I am supposed to learn about this part of my life. Let me take you back to what happen after I set the world record for the longest triathlon.
I set out to break a Guinness world record to get attention about sexual violence and human trafficking thinking the problem lied on the reluctance of talking about rape and human trafficking but the problem was not the lack of communication but rather how we communicate about this issue.
After I had spoken for the first time about my experience, there was no shortage of interviews or people that wanted to hear more about my story, to the point that feeling encouraged I shared parts that I never intended of sharing because the pain and trauma were simply more that I could handle. I kept sharing and denying my pain because I thought this was my duty to help. The more I shared, the more it seemed to open up people to discuss this issue it didn’t matter if I was left in pieces every time. Something that I notice was that while I was on stage, people listen and seemed to pay attention but after I step down from the stage is where the resistance continued. As a society, we like the idea of doing something about it but lack the desire of actually changing our behavior to make a real difference, for lack of better words I had become a symbol of an ideal, not an actual agent of changed, a prop of this cause if you must know. It took me a while to figure out that while we like the idea of being part of a movement, we lack the desire to take the steps necessary to carry the movement forward into action. Maybe social media has a lot to do with it; sharing information and letting the world know where you stand is a vital step forward but not enough if you aren’t willing to take it to the next level. Like checking labels and making sure you are not consuming products that use force labor, denying people of jobs that are dignifying, and having zero tolerance for any behavior that promotes objectification and violence towards women and children.
I also notice a trend to praise people or organizations that cater to victims of sexual violence and human trafficking, the white savior syndrome, usually a white male that witness an injustice and decided to do something about it. Doesn’t sound that bad right? The problem doesn’t lie on the desire to help; the problem lies that we spend more time and resources and maintaining these heroes that we do supporting victims.
I spoke at an event recently, I stood on stage for 15 minutes trying to educate wealthy supporters about human trafficking, and why they should care, the president of that organization took the stage after me and spoke for a full hour about the horrors he had seen and heard. I could hear the thunderous applause after the director was done speaking. While my broken bones and terrifying memories of suffering at the hand of so many drew sympathy from the crowd, it was the director the real hero in this story. I got a jacket and a water bottle with their logo and got sent home to struggle to feed two kids as a single parent and while he collected a percentage of the total amount raised that night as part of his salary. Now you see the problem? I went home and listened to some of my survivor friends and realize it wasn’t an isolated event, every single one of us is highly sought after on stage but struggled in real life finding opportunities. I would like the conversation around sexual violence to be different from now on, fewer questions about how many men have raped me and more questions regarding what can we do today to support and empower victims.
Right now I am not training or racing as much as I would like to, as we speak, every part of me would love to be immersed in training or hide at a 100-mile race but being still and feeling my discomfort is the best I can do to advocate for other victims.
We need to look at advocating for victims of sexual violence, and human trafficking beyond a sad story you hear on the news and more like a systematic problem society is facing.