Survivor Stories

The Voices and Faces Project speaks truth to the often outdated, damaging and limiting notions society has of the sexually violated by giving voice and face to rape survivors. Here are their stories.

Photography by Patricia Evans & Text by Anne Ream, The Voices and Faces Project.

Michelle Lugalia, Illinois

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.”