COMMENTARY: The freedom and courage to tell our rape stories


My name is Sarah Super, and I’m a rape survivor. I want to give a trigger warning that I’m about to share some details about my rape.

In February 2015, my ex-boyfriend Alec Neal broke into my apartment in St. Paul, Minnesota, while I was on vacation. He hid in a closet and waited for hours until I arrived home, got ready for the following workday and went to sleep.

In the middle of the night, he woke me at knife point and raped me. When he ordered me to get dressed, I fled my apartment, screaming, until neighbors let me into their apartment and called the police.

The police brought me to United Hospital in downtown St. Paul to complete a forensic exam, a rape kit. While at the hospital, my rapist called me. Surrounded by my parents, a friend, the forensic nurse and two police officers, I put Alec on speaker phone and asked him if he had been in my apartment when I arrived home earlier that evening. He said, “Yes.”

So it was to my surprise that when I had the courage to go back to my apartment days later, I found in my closets several things Alec had brought to complete the crime he had planned: a roll of duct tape, a facemask and gloves, bottles of Nyquil, handwritten notes that described how he would cut me, kill me and butcher me, and bed sheets, perhaps to carry my body.

The police had not searched my closets. They had not questioned how a person could have been in my apartment for hours without my knowing. It was I, days later, who called them again to ask: Isn’t this evidence important?

But the system worked for me, as it almost never does for others. Alec was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

By having the freedom to tell my story, I have told it far and wide. And each time I do, I hear many others tell me theirs. So the kinds of stories in last Sunday’s Star Tribune (“Denied Justice: When rape is reported and nothing happens,” July 22) are familiar to me now. They are, in fact, the norm.

The way in which the so-called justice system responds to sexual violence communicates to survivors that we don’t matter. That people can rape us, abuse us and violate us, and get away with it 97 percent of the time.

The apathy that survivors see demonstrated by the criminal justice system resembles the apathy of the perpetrators during the assault itself.

Sexual violence is not a partisan issue. We need everyone involved. We need leaders who recognize and acknowledge that sexual violence happens here, that it is pervasive, that perpetrators can be people we know and trust, that no one is above the law, and that healing from trauma requires acknowledgment of what has happened and accountability for those who choose to commit this crime.

The stories of those we read about in the Star-Tribune story are similar to the hidden stories of our dear friends and family members. All of us have survivors in our lives who have endured the most horrific abuse from those who were supposed to love them, protect them or at the very least respect them. And most often their traumatic experiences have been met with inaction and injustice, silencing them, preventing them from telling their stories to be validated.

All of us play an essential role in showing survivors through our words and our actions that they matter. That their experiences matter. That their human rights matter. That justice matters.

Silence will always protect perpetrators and never victims. The role of our community now is to be outraged. To demand change. To believe survivors — especially when we know the perpetrators and especially when the perpetrators walk free. To voice our solidarity with survivors and not perpetrators.

We have so much work to do. I’m grateful to all of the survivors who have courageously shared their stories so that we might change for the better. Their experiences are not just stories for our own learning but real events that happened to real people.

Let us show these strong, courageous and inspiring individuals that they matter and that we care. And by doing so, we will show the same to all of the survivors who surround us.

Sarah Super of St. Paul, Minnesota, is founder of Break the Silence. Her column was published in the Star Tribune.