National Alliance to End Sexual Violence
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“Childhood sexual assault is a women’s issue, and a public health issue. I learned that reality by living it.”

Michelle Lugalia, who recently earned her masters degree in public health from Harvard University, is committed to the idea that sexual violence is a women’s issue, and something more. “One of the things I learned during my studies is that rape really a major public health issue – it has such an effect on the wellness of women and girls over the course of their lives. As a childhood sexual violence survivor, I learned that in the most painful way possible, by living it.”

Michelle’s was eight years old when a much older cousin assaulted her during an extended family gathering. “ I was confused and overwhelmed – and not sure what to do. I was so young; I had no language to call on to resist or speak out. I was very close to my family, and I still am. I remember thinking, how could I tell my father what had happened? I knew he would be so upset, and I did not want to hurt him or draw any attention to myself. As time passed, my shame and anxiety about what happened grew, and the less I felt I was capable of telling. The silence led to more silence.”

Years later, as an undergraduate student, Michelle shared her story publicly at SpeakOUT, a campus anti-rape program. “Telling my story out loud has been a helpful way of getting it out from where I had hidden it in shame. When I heard my own voice saying ‘I was raped,’ I finally new it was real. And I knew I could begin to heal. It’s always a part of me, though. I think of the sexual abuse I lived through as a sort of background music, in the sense that I live my life, but the reality of it is always present for me, like an underlying hum.”