Last November, The Washington Post ran an op-ed by a 28-year-old student named Heather Mallick who began writing her account of a vicious rape attempt on a college campus a week earlier, following an unsuccessful attempt to stop it. She told the story of how she’d spent her first three weeks studying and starting a secret writing career as a journalist, yet she was still feeling sick from the attack, in the immediate aftermath of the experience. Her attackers had threatened to return if she told anyone, and when the next day, she’d tried to start typing yet another news story, the pain had leaked through to her hands and fingers. But when her rape attempt became clear to someone else, they told Mallick to stop typing.
Mallick is part of a new wave of survivors finding the confidence to speak up about sexual assault.
“I am glad that it is becoming more obvious that sexual violence is not a mystery,” Mallick told me recently. “As a survivor I am becoming more confident in my ability to call out and report violence that has happened to me. I want other survivors to feel encouraged to do the same.”
But in the midst of the #MeToo movement, Mallick found that the response to her story, at least when she reported it to the news media, was equivocal. She spoke publicly for the first time in 2017 to Black Journalist of America about the incident, but the response was far from positive. “She was especially assailed for initially writing an oblique story about it and didn’t receive a lot of personal support,” says Roland Martin, founder of BJNA, where Mallick is a guest editor of their “Homelife” newsletter.
In the face of such negativity, Mallick’s strategy was to approach her story differently. She avoided news organizations and focused her writing on her sexual assault at the University of Iowa: What it was like to have her mind literally re-broken that evening by two men who threatened to return and repeat the attack. She deleted all reference to it on social media when she was 24, and began writing blog posts and stories that highlighted her case and encouraged more people to reach out to her and report to her that they had experienced similar events.