emily weller: advocate, activist, rape survivor.

I grew up homeschooled in Woodstock, Georgia. Since I never attended public school, I experienced life differently compared to others I knew growing up. And I also became aware of what it meant to be a battered woman when I was younger because my grandmother escaped a bad marriage; she saved my father and my uncle from the abusive relationship back in the 1960’s. She was Catholic, and that wasn’t exactly a time when you could really leave your husband. After she left him, she got a job and lived in the projects in Connecticut. It’s because of her strength and her poise that she’s a huge inspiration to me. I’m not nearly as composed as she is, but her story was the first that I had heard of someone close to me being assaulted or being a victim of violence.

Even though I look up to her strength, I can’t say that she’s the biggest role model in my life. That’s my father. He’s a huge feminist, and he’s the one who’s always encouraged me to not settle, to always strive for my dreams, to work really hard, and to not worry about getting married. He’s super supportive. So even through the rocky times in my relationships with my parents, he’s been a strong, wonderful person. I think a lot of this is because he was raised by my grandmother.

It’s because of my grandmother that I became interested in domestic violence. I had a lot of time on my hands when I was younger, so I researched different professions like being a case worker for DFAC and other social services. I was in high school when I started volunteering at a homeless shelter in downtown Atlanta for a church down the street. We’d make dinner for the homeless, give them a blanket, and even play music for them. My father was also in charge of the special needs ministry at the church. It was a really important time for me to experience a totally different side of life, especially as a homeschooled, super sheltered, young woman in high school. Even though I had a very imaginative view on life, I knew there was darkness and evil in the world, and it was really humbling and fascinating for me to see it. In fact, my uncle is homeless. He’s a paranoid schizophrenic man and I saw him fall apart due to his circumstances. I’ve always felt really close to him in a way, even though I haven’t seen him in years. So when I started volunteering, I knew that this was where I belonged. I saw so many people, like some who wanted to be there, and others, like women, who were forced to be there.

It was during my time volunteering there that I met a girl who was probably a little younger than me, and she was probably 8 months pregnant in November. I remember this day perfectly. She was wearing a little pink tank top (she was definitely showing) and she had a little cardigan on. It was freezing outside and I wanted to give her some clothes and a blanket, but she was with two big black guys that pushed me away and told me “no, no, you can’t give her these things.” The director of the church told me, “Don’t push it. They were probably her pimps and we don’t want her to get trouble. Just offer her the clothes and hopefully they’ll take some on the way out. We don’t want her to get hurt or have them upset with us and miss the whole message.”

So after that, I started volunteering at a woman’s shelter down the street and it was even more heartbreaking and inspiring to me. I saw so many women from so many walks of life end up on the street for a variety of reasons. Here we would help them with their homework or play basketball with them or simply just talk with the girls. I’m eternally grateful to have been able to experience that.

I stopped volunteering when I went to college at Kennesaw State University, but I kept researching sex trafficking because I wanted to become a victim’s advocate. I went to college to major in criminal justice, and then I realized you didn’t have to become a lawyer to be a victim’s advocate or to really help. Even though I was busy with school, I was also minoring in women’s gender studies and that allowed me to research and dive into topics that I was more interested in. I started researching victim blaming, different types of gender stereotypes, and histories of genders and sexuality. I also became involved with events like “Take Back the Night” and we put on little events at KSU to help others feel more included, loved, and appreciated.

It was really important that I was involved in events like this because, in college, I was sexually assaulted and it changed my life entirely. It happened by one of my supervisors. He never got fired for it, but only when my life was threatened. It was after my sexual assault that I became the object of the very same slut shaming and victim blaming that I had become so fascinated with and cared so much about. I wanted to be an advocate for these people, and suddenly I found myself in that same position. I became lost in a sea of “we can’t help you.” I was trying to get a restraining order on campus or get him fired or file police reports, but they all just became dead ends. It was beyond disappointing. Of course you try to do what you can for yourself, like go through therapy, but that’s where you find so many women in similar situations… so many.

After it happened, I was in group therapy with a variety of different women, even those who were assaulted in the military. Even though they were totally different than I was, we became very close. They inspired me. Together, we encouraged each other to continue our path of healing.

Now, I can say that I’m very open about my rape. It occurred 5 years ago this October (2016). It was something very painful, but you grow from it… I obviously wouldn’t want anyone to ever go through it, but the healing you experience from overcoming something like that and truly accepting yourself and the journey is incomparable.

It happened during my freshman year at college. I had just quit my job at Publix and started working at Starbucks. I was working with a lot of older people who partied a little bit more than I did, and at the time I guess I was pretty sheltered, but not prude. I developed a crush on my supervisor there. He was older than me and I thought he was so cute even though he had a girlfriend and they lived together.

One day, I needed to go shopping for my friend’s wedding shower that she was having later. I went over to his house, even though I’d never been there before, with intentions to just hang out for a minute and from there he would come with me to the mall. When I went inside, we were just talking. But before I knew it, the doors were locked. I knew that I wasn’t going anywhere. It became clear to me what was going to happen.

I tried to fight him off for a while, and I fought him as best as I could. He had scratches. He was bleeding. He didn’t stop. I said no. During this time my mom had been calling my phone so much that eventually he made me go answer it. She told me I was late for the wedding shower, so I grabbed my clothes and raced out of there when I had the chance. That day was very memorable because it was not only my best friend’s wedding shower, but it was also the day that I was assaulted.

So it happened. And I was trying to understand it all myself… did I want to become a sexually free person, or did I want to be more prude? What could I handle? I told someone at work what happened, describing it as the closest thing to rape that I’d ever experienced. And he told me “No, that’s what it was. He raped you.” And I knew it. I had the evidence. I was hurt. I was upset. There’s a lot that of feelings that go into realizing that.

You go through it, and when you come out the other side, you don’t realize that what you are is a survivor.

After that, people started talking. The coworker who told me that it wasn’t consensual, that it was rape, was also a shift supervisor and he said he was going to make sure I didn’t work with my rapist. He called the manager to switch things around. He did what he could. When we brought in the manager she told me that, in situations like this, Starbucks does internal investigations. I was an idiot and I believed her, but in reality she just didn’t want to report it. So a week went by and she had no news for me. And then another week. And then another. During this time, she kept making me fill out reports, but there was nothing happening. And, before I knew it, she never did anything. I found out later, from another manager at a different Starbucks, that they don’t do internal investigations on rape. You call the police.

That’s what she should have done.

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