For nearly 20 years, Daniela Contreras had not publicly talked about surviving sexual abuse as a teenager — until now.
“One day, I reached my limit. I was sick of being robbed of my salary… and of the abuse,” Contreras told NBC News.
Contreras is one of four survivors coming forward under the campaign slogan “We hear you. We see you. We believe you.”
The series of public service announcements highlights the testimonies of sexual violence survivors such as Contreras, actor and activist Terry Crews, young domestic violence survivor Emily Waters and an anonymous survivor.
Contreras, 35, left Mexico when she was a little girl and relocated to New York, where she was raised by a single mother. She remembers growing up in a culture that often perpetuates conservative gender role ideas and hyper masculinity, and was taught to always obey the "patrón,” or the boss.
At 16, Contreras got her first job as a nanny and that first employer was the man who would sexually abuse her, she recalled.
“I couldn’t believe that a man would go after a little girl. That a man would take advantage because he knew I wouldn’t say a word, because I couldn’t speak the language, because he knew I needed the money, because he felt like he had the power, and that’s why I kept quiet,” said Contreras as she opened up about her story as part of a new campaign from the ‘me too.’ movement launched on Monday.
For most of the time Contreras remained silent, she was an undocumented domestic worker — one of the many reasons that discouraged her from coming forward for so long.
The #MeToo movement, after it went viral with the hashtag, intentionally decided to shine a light on the stories of survivors that seemed to have been overlooked over the past year and a half, explained Tarana Burke, founder of the 'me too.' movement.
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Burke told NBC News that the new campaign marks a new moment for the 13-year-long movement — “showing the nuances of the sexual abuse experience” and shifting the national conversation from focusing on the perpetrators to focusing on the survivors.
“This is an opportunity to wrestle back the narrative,” said Burke. “This is a movement for survivors.”
These are the survivors
Terry Crews, known for his role as Terry Jeffords on NBC’s Brooklyn Nine Nine, is the most high profile survivor taking part in the campaign.
About two years ago, Crews accused a Hollywood executive of sexually assaulting him. He also testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights last year.
“As a black man in America… you only have a few shots at success,” said Crews at the hearing in response to Sen. Feinstein’s question, asking why he didn’t push the executive away. “I have seen many, many young black men who are provoked into violence and they were imprisoned or they were killed. And they’re not here. My wife for years prepared me. She said… if you ever have anyone trying to push you into any kind of situation, don’t do it.”
Although the stories of many celebrities have been highlighted throughout the ‘me too.’ movement, Burke said that even within that community survivors have been marginalized due to people “saying they have no space in the movement.”
Burke added that there are not enough conversations around child and men abuse. That is why she decided to include the story of an anonymous survivor who confronts his abuser, his father, as an adult.
When it comes to immigrant women like Contreras, they are twice more likely to experience sexual violence than the general population, according to data from the Tahirih Justice Center. One out of five affected immigrant women cite immigration consequences as a reason for staying with their abuser or not accusing them.
“People don’t understand that these are people,” said Burke about how the national immigration conversation has framed immigrants. “Immigrants oftentimes don’t get the access to resources to defend themselves.”
In general, women of color experience skyrocketing rates of sexual and domestic violence and face more difficulties when they try to access resources, according to the National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS).
The survey found that Native American/Alaskan Indian women and men report higher rates of intimate partner violence than do women and men from other minority backgrounds.
Their data also shows that at least 41 percent of all respondents of the Asian and Pacific Islander Institute on the Domestic Violence survey reported experiencing physical and/or sexual abuse during their lifetimes.
Over 23 percent of Hispanic/Latino females experience rape, harassment, physical and/or psychological abuse at the hands of their intimate partners.
Nearly 30 percent of African American females are victimized by intimate partner violence in their lifetime. Emily Waters, whose story is featured in the PSA campaign, is one of these women.
Burke said that her journey speaks to those who have survived intimate partner violence.
“We want the conversation to be about the path of redemption for survivors,” said Burke, who hopes that the new campaign “speaks to survivors who feel like they have no space” and “fuels empathy” among non-survivors.
“My worst nightmare is that my daughter goes through what I went through, and not only that — but that she remains silent,” said Contreras. “There are many of us [survivors]. We’re women. We’re men. We’ll rise up and feel the support. That’s when this [movement] will go beyond the hashtag.”
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