Every 73 seconds a woman in the United States is raped – that’s more than 400,000 women a year – and less than 1/3 of those assaults are reported. The secret that those survivors carry is wrapped in such fear and shame, it holds the power to destroy lives. As a survivor, I’ve learned that the ability to share your story and express your truth not only has the power to set you free and help others to do the same, it has the power to save lives.
My name is Greta McClain and I am a two-time survivor of sexual assault who has created an oganization, Silent No Longer TN, that provides suvivors of sexual violence with the opportunity to find both support and healing through art. I’m working to change the conversation about sexual assualt and invite others to see things from new perspectives thereby making it possible for more people to relate and understand the effects of such violence at every level.
The first time I was sexually assaulted was in college, the second occurred in a parking lot and it was that experience that almost ended my life. As a former Tennessee police officer who’d spent 12 years on the force, I’d worked with survivors of sexual violence and encouraged them to talk about what had happened. Yet, when it happened to me, I believed that I should have been able to defend myself against my attacker. I simply refused to believe that a former officer could be raped. That thought left me feeling such shame, I told no one what had happened.
My secret became a doorway to depression and finally, when it became too much to hold, I decided to commit suicide. Angry and frustrated that God would not allow me to die in my sleep, I took matters into my own hands and penned goodbye letters. As I struggled to find the right words and finish my final letter, I took a break. I found myself on Facebook, not remembering picking up my phone or logging in. I started to see #metoo everywhere. God’s answer to my plea was a hashtag that led me to the stories of sexual violence many women had experienced, including friends whose stories I’d never known, and suddenly I realized that I was not alone. In that moment, I knew I wasn’t going anywhere, there was more of my story to be written, more of my life to be lived.
A couple of weeks later, I reached out to the head of the Women’s March Tennessee. I have no idea why I did it. I just wrote the story of what happened and the moment I pressed send I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what did I do?’ She messaged me back and said, “Thank you for trusting me with this.” She went on to explain that there was going to be a conference part of the March and asked if I would be interested in co-facilitating the metoo caucus. I freaked out, but I agreed. It ended up being one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was the first time I stood in front of people and told my story publicly to people who’d been through it or were advocates. That’s when I was like, ok I can do this – and it was hard, I was a little anxious but I didn’t have flashbacks. I told myself, if I work at this, I can do this. I saw how important storytelling was but not everyone wants to stand up in front of a conference room to do it. That’s when Silent No Longer TN was born.
Our grassroots organization of sexual assault victims, survivors and allies is dedicated to helping those in their committees who have also been affected by sexual violence. Knowing the therapeutic benefits of art-making, we offer unique opportunities for empowerment and expression through collage, poetry, songwriting, drawing, painting and more. The Pollination Project has helped us in creating a portable public installation that provides survivors with the opportunity to share their story.
We are not only creating a space for healing, we’re working to change the narrative in how people view sexual assault. One of the projects we are working on is H.E.A.L.: Healing, Empowerment, Action and Liberation, a documentary that will follow 3-4 survivors as they share their stories and their craft. The hope is to erode the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding sexual assault. So often, I’ve heard, “Well, if the story was true, why’d she wait so long to share,” or “If it really happened, she would have reported it.” When you look at the FBI statistics on sexual assault , the number doesn’t seem that high but that’s only because so few people report it. Survivors are often terrified that they won’t be believed, despite the fact that roughly 96% of all reported sexual assaults are considered credible.
I want to make people understand that rape doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care about how much you make, where you live, or the color of your skin – it can happen to anyone male or female and everyone should be concerned for that reason. Sexual violence impacts all of our lives regardless of whether or not people have personally experienced it.
Rape is a burden on our healthcare systems, on public safety. For example, if you have someone who is suicidal due to a sexual assault, the police and paramedics are called. That can potentially means that ambulance, paramedics team and those police officers are going to be dealing with that person, maybe for hours. What happens to the person who has a heart attack or a stroke who needs help? People don’t think of that. The epidemic of sexual violence has economic costs too. A company loses over $70,000 in productivity when someone has been assaulted. When that person can’t bring themselves into work, it has a cost and that presents a burden on the community as a whole. If companies are losing money that means there’s less money in taxes going to the city or county. That could mean less jobs, which could mean less people who are picking up trash or fixing power lines. It could mean no money to fix potholes or the sewer system. That too is a public health concern. One thing affects the other and it impacts everything. It’s all intertwined. Dr. Martin Luther King said it best, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
As I look to the future, we are looking to create peer support groups with 2 facilitators so that if anyone becomes triggered in a session, they have the support they need. In western Tennessee, there is only one dedicated sexual support group outside of Memphis so Silent No Longer TN is looking to bring support services and opportunities for self-expression to that area. Our long-term vision includes building programs that provide people with employable skills. For example, teaching unhoused women, an incredibly vulnerable population, to restore or repurpose old furniture. Another is opening a school in collaboration with another organization to offer certification for therapy dog trainers and offering public speaking and storytelling workshops for clients are just some of the ways we are working to reduce sexual violence and help women, men, the LGBTQ+ community, Indigenous women, bisexual women, and transgender people to find a safe space that supports their expression, healing and growth.
Silent No Longer TN is now a 501c3 and with the help of volunteers and an exceptional Board of Directors and Executive Committee, we are hosting events to raise funds and help more survivors as well as raise consciousness. On October 15th, we will celebrate the 5th Anniversary of the Me Too hashtag by hosting, Voices Behind the Hashtag, an afternoon of poetry, painting, drawing, and mixed media art to honor and recognize the resilience, strength and courage of survivors of sexual violence. https://silentnolongertn.org/
The Generous Hearts online auction will run from October 24th through November 7th and will raise money to expand programming as well as fund the HEAL documentary. There will be amazing items up for bid such as: artwork, home decor, jewelry from brands such as Kendra Scott, and some fabulous trips, including a trip to Paris, an All-Inclusive Island resort and the Super Bowl. To learn more, visit https://www.betterunite.com/SilentNoLongerTN-generoushearts
To those who have experienced violence or who are afraid to tell their story, I offer these words:
It wasn’t your fault. The only person to blame is the perpetrator. Although you may feel alone, you aren’t. There’s many of us out there who want to help you. There is no shame in asking for help. There are people who will just sit with you, listen and not judge. And if you don’t know where to turn for someone like that – you can reach out to us at Silent No Longer TN (https://silentnolongertn.org/) We are happy to research and find someone who can provide those services for you.
This is the PBS American Anthems episode Greta participated in July 2022.
This is a video about the impact of Silent No Longer TN.