*** Trigger Warning: This message contains descriptions of assault****
By Julie Henry
“and when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive.”
— Audre Lorde, A Litany for Survival
There has been a lot of specific conversation surrounding sexual assault within our community recently, and now I’m coming forward with my own voice to talk about my experience. This message is for survivors and those who want to support survivors. It is you I have in my heart as I write.
My name is Julie and I was sexually assaulted by Rod Coronado.
This assault didn’t happen in a dark alley. He didn’t grab me by the hair and shove me into a closet and put his hand over my mouth (that would be easier to comprehend, easier to forgive myself). It happened within the campaign Wolf Patrol, while organizing in the field. Rod was my friend. I thought we had established a great working relationship. I thought he respected me as a comrade, that we got shit done together. He was my friend. That’s what makes this so incomprehensible.
He was my friend.
Before Wolf Patrol, I had been in a nearly two-year relationship with someone I loved very much. I struggled so hard to be able to be intimate with him, even going to multiple counselors. My PTSD and trauma surrounding past sexual violence affected my relationship with someone I LOVED. Even with him, who was so encouraging, supportive, and did everything he could to let me know he wasn’t going to hurt me, that he cared about me, my trauma affected us everyday. Eventually it played a big role in our relationship coming to an end. That was the last time I remember what it was like to feel sexually safe.
So once Rod had made his intentions of wanting to pursue something with me known, I disclosed to him that I was a survivor. I’m not sure if I told him that I struggled with PTSD, but I told him the specifics of my triggers, what I needed to feel safe in an intimate relationship, and what my boundaries were. There’s no way to misunderstand “I’m triggered by sex”, “I have a lot of trauma around sex, so just don’t right now.”
But as the campaign continued, my boundaries became less and less respected and his touching became more….for his own gratification. There were nights I would wake up to my body being touched and fondled. There was no more checking in, but it was all on me to push him off and tell him no. I could tell he was becoming increasingly more irritated with me. My anxiety didn’t go unnoticed by one of the other Wolf Patrol members. And when she asked me what was going on, I confided in her. It got so bad that finally I took him aside and told him it had to stop. I told him what it was doing to me emotionally. Shortly after, his entire demeanor towards me changed. I should have realized then what was going on.
Then a few nights later, it happened: my most triggering boundary, where all my trauma surrounds, was violated. I hid in the bathroom for almost two hours in utter disbelief. I was shocked and confused. The next morning, when I finally worked up the courage to confront him about it—to ask him why he did that to me—his reaction was silencing, dismissive, and gaslighting. He told me I was being irrational, emotional, and disrespectful, that what I was telling him was “impossible” and he wasn’t going to talk to me until I calmed down. But then twelve hours later, he came back to me with his own version. He told me that I had wanted it. That he would never do anything I didn’t want.
So that was it. I had asked for it. His response was to tell me what I was feeling (because he said so) and that was that.
When I confided in two Wolf Patrol team members, the response I got from them wasn’t what I was looking for or needed. I began to wonder if maybe it really was my fault, that somehow I really did ask for it. I was devastated. I was heartbroken. I was shut down. So I kept quiet. In the environment I was in, my safety and well-being depended on me keeping my mouth shut.
And I stayed silent for months. I told myself I would never speak about what happened, that there was no point asking for accountability from someone who refused to even acknowledge what he did to me—even when I confronted him about it. I was ashamed I allowed it to happen. The thought of disclosing what happened was too terrifying. I didn’t want to be re-traumatized and I certainly didn’t feel like dealing with the scrutiny, victim-blaming, criticism.
But looking back, I never had any hope of having my own agency inside the campaign. I was there to fulfill a very specific role Rod had for me. No one deserves what happened to me. I know if I had never spoken out, it would happen to someone else. This didn’t start with me, and it certainly won’t end with me either. I know I will never heal from this by silently letting it happen to someone else.
And so here is my story. I am sharing this publicly thru my own voice for the first time to encourage others to speak up. Survivors—I want you to understand that you DID NOT ask for, or deserve what happened. DO NOT listen to criticism over how you handled the situation. You did what you had to survive the territory. You did what you had to do just to make it thru each day that followed. Do not listen to anyone who criticizes you for staying silent, or speaking out. Do not listen to anyone who feels compelled to judge how you should or should not have handled your situation. You are doing exactly what you need to do: survive. You are stronger than you think, and YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
And allies—I want to be careful to not speak on behalf of other survivors, but to make it clear I am speaking only from my own experience. Breaking the silence can be, in many ways, just as scary as “those moments.” It can feel like handing over the narrative for your peers to tear apart and scrutinize as they see fit. You no longer have control over what happens or what is said about you. That’s why it’s easy to convince yourself to stay silent. There’s power and control in what is secret. Once you speak up, it’s out of your hands. Power is effectively gone……again. It’s even more scary if your abuser is a well-known character in the community. You are well-aware that backlash may be brutal and cruel. Your very integrity as a human being may be torn to shreds by supporters of the perpetrator who refuse to believe that their friend could possibly do such a thing. Doors slam in your face, and opportunities that are associated with friends of your abuser are lost. The consequences of telling far exceed the benefits of keeping it to yourself.
For all these reasons, you don’t reach out. For your own safety you begin to operate under the assumption that most people won’t believe you. Silence from friends = they must be against you. Trust was what made you vulnerable to be assaulted. So again trust = bad. Isolation feels safer.
If you know and want to support someone who has opened up about being assaulted, here are some steps you can take: gently reach out and let them know you care, because we will probably be too afraid to reach out to you. Tell them you believe them because they may assume that most people do not. Those words are more powerful than you can ever know. Ask them what they want, and let them know it’s totally ok if they don’t know yet. If there is some kind of process happening around the incident, let them know what’s going on. Don’t make them have to ask. Reestablishing trust is about opening up communication. If you can no longer be there for someone, be honest about it, but help them find someone else they can trust. Never leave them hanging after the world has already upended for them. I can tell you from experience, this WILL cause more damage than what’s already been done. Simply put, just communicate. The most important resource a survivor can have is friendship.
Some of the worst things you can say (not including the obvious victim-blaming) are “That’s between you and him” or “I have too much drama to deal with this,” “I’ve never seen him behave that way,” “I’m just hearing so many different stories,” “Weren’t you in a relationship?” etc. If this is how you feel, then I will put you in the non-support category. It is preferable to hear silence than these condescending and very non-beneficial statements.
We are a community that likes to talk about smashing patriarchy. Here’s a real opportunity to actually deal with our shit. This is a real situation, not hypothetical. It’s not acceptable that assault is this prevalent in our movement. And it’s not acceptable that we still don’t have real ways of dealing with it when it occurs. It’s time to change that now. How many more people have to be hurt? How many more people have to be hurt by one person?
It’s time to take a stand and stop allowing our movement to be a platform for perpetrators. There’s enough danger and trauma out in the world that we’re trying to fight against that we shouldn’t have to be afraid of each other here. Let’s either stop talking about smashing patriarchy and prioritizing keeping people safe, or actually do it.
So speak up everybody. Speak up. You do not have to live in fear and silence. You deserve to have your voice heard. And your voice is beautiful.