Kost: What Sexual Assault Awareness Week means to me

While working on the It’s On Us project, I came across a quote by Alice Walker: “Healing begins where the wound was made.” I think that quote is a perfect way to explain why I felt called to do this project.

My name is Jonah Kost, and I am a survivor of sexual assault. It has taken me a long time to be able to say that out loud. When I first got the idea for Sexual Assault Awareness Week on campus, I could count on one hand the number of people who had known about what I had gone through. Now, through this week of awareness and through this article, I’ve found the strength within myself to speak up.

Nothing can prepare you for what it’s like to live with the trauma of sexual assault. Even now, it affects many aspects of my life. When you feel silenced, you build up walls over time. It took me facing my demons head on to be able to start knocking down some of those walls. I felt stuck in a body I didn’t own. I didn’t know where I was heading.

By working on this project, I’ve learned to take back what’s mine.

When you live in fear and shame for so long, it can be incredibly difficult to open up. You’re scared of all of the questions. For LGBTQ+ survivors, there can also be an added layer of shame. When you don’t feel comfortable with who you are or are in an environment where you don’t feel heard, it’s quite literally impossible to say anything. Being a male survivor also adds another layer of difficulty when it comes to opening up, since the stigma around male sexual assault is so large. These are compounded issues and are different for all people of different backgrounds. We need to start advocating for all survivors and start acknowledging their stories. We need to be heard.

Before this project, I was not aware of how much of an issue sexual assault is on our campus. I’ve heard stories from so many students about things they have experienced here, and it upsets me to the core. Students feel silenced, and that is unacceptable. We need to listen to survivors and do our part in eliminating sexual assault in our community. That’s what It’s On Us is about. It’s on each of us to become educated on combating violence at Augustana and beyond, especially for those who don’t feel comfortable sharing their stories.

Something I am most proud of was how this project became something bigger than just a week of awareness. Now, we are having discussions about how sexual assault is treated at Augustana. I am so grateful that so many survivors were brave enough to share their stories. Knowing that this project was just the start to real change on our campus is incredible. We have shown that our voices are strong and that we won’t go unnoticed. We start with awareness, and then move on to change. Grace Ahles, a sophomore that I have had the pleasure of meeting through this project, said it best. “We don’t owe anyone activism or support. The people who are speaking out about this are doing so in hopes of giving courage, trust and love where we ourselves did not receive it.”

Even though it may sound like I’m in this amazing place, I will still continue to live with the pain. I know it won’t go away, and I’m still on my journey. I just try to not to let it control me as much anymore. Opening up makes it easier.

It’s a personal journey for each survivor. I didn’t know if I would ever find the strength to say something. Survivors don’t owe advocacy, but through this project, I have a clearer picture of what I feel called to do. I won’t be silenced any longer. I’m not just a victim anymore; I’m a fighter.

Taylor Swift, in one of my favorite songs, “Clean,” said “when I was drowning, that’s when I could finally breathe.” When I confronted my deepest pain, I was able to find the most peace. That’s what Sexual Assault Awareness Week means to me.