Dispelling the myths about sexual assault (w/video)
A moment came when Becky Fein realized she needed to step up and do what she has asked others to do in front of the camera.
Three years into a project filming video profiles of people who have suffered, survived and triumphed over sexual assault, the Monte Rio native told her own story.
And in that process, she confronted a decision she made when years ago a hostel employee slipped into the room where she was staying and assaulted her. Facing absolute terror, she grabbed a condom and demanded he use it.
'My first draft didn't have that detail,' Fein said. 'Then I realized it needed to be in my story. It represented a myth that needs to be busted.'
Fein's Power Voices Project aims to shatter myths about sexual assault, including who it involves and what forms it takes. Just as important to 28-year-old Fein, an adjunct teacher with Santa Rosa Junior College's health education department, was to change perceptions of the 'victims' by showcasing the resiliency of people who have endured rape, abuse, molestation, intimate-partner violence and the wide array of experiences that fall under the term sexual assault.
Since 2011, Fein has created six short video profiles and conducted interviews for her seventh video profile last week. A psychologist, a teacher, a project manager and others tell their stories in front of a camera, using their own names, talking about some of the hardest experiences in their lives.
The mere act of talking publicly about being sexually assaulted is an act of defiance against the stigma that often accompanies these crimes, Fein said.
Sexual assault is among the most prevalent crimes, and it disproportionately effects women. National surveys suggest as many as one in five women have experienced rape or attempted rape.
But perpetrators rarely see a day in court.
Fein said she didn't file charges against her assailant because it took her a while to accept that she had been raped. She continued her journey soon after, while still processing what had happened at the hostel.
Out of every 100 rapes or sexual assaults, only about 35 were reported to law enforcement in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's national criminal victimization survey. While that number has gone up nearly 19 percent since 2004, it still means perpetrators faced no criminal consequences in about 65 percent of assaults.
'Unless those of us who have gone through it are able to take a deep breath and speak out, it will go on being unnoticed,' Stephanie Hamilton-Oravetz said.
Hamilton-Oravetz, 57, is a Santa Rosa psychologist and photographer who chanced upon one of Fein's Powerful Voices videos online. She said she was stunned to hear someone speak so boldly about her experience and describe some of the same worries about how she might be viewed by others.
Why didn't you fight back? Why did the abuse last so long? Why didn't you tell someone? Why didn't you stop this from happening?
All of these questions apply to the self-doubt that for four decades prevented Hamilton-Oravetz from talking about the brutal sexual abuse she suffered as a child.
So she surprised herself when, after watching one of the Powerful Voices videos, she started writing an email to Fein and hit send even before she finished typing a sentence.
'My unconscious was saying, 'Really, you are ready,' and I sent this panicky, half-finished email,' Hamilton-Oravetz said.
Her video interview was posted online in October, about four months after that email.
In the video, the camera zooms in on a photograph of Hamilton-Oravetz as a sweet, doe-eyed 5-year-old child holding a koala. She says in the film, 'When I look at it I think, this is the last time I was clean.'
Hamilton-Oravetz said the photograph was taken just before her father began sexually abusing her. The abuse continued until age 16. Her father killed himself two years later, she said. She left Australia after being accepted to Stanford University.
She told very few people about her abuse until last year.
An amateur photographer who has shown her work in local galleries, Hamilton-Oravetz last year embarked on a collaborative project with Petaluma photographer Gary Kaplan, addressing her abuse with photos that recreate some of the most painful, intrusive images of her abuse to help exorcise them from her mind.
The result is subtle, intimate pictures that show the loneliness and terror of her experience. In one, she is wrapped in a towel with her head pressed against a wall. In another, her wrists show red marks where they had been bound. (See them by clicking here.)
In the film, Hamilton-Oravetz said, 'For the first time I could see ... this wasn't what I wanted, this wasn't what I wanted, this wasn't what I asked for, this was not my responsibility. It was so clear.'