When she was sexually assaulted, Amber Amour, 27, turned to social media for support. Here, she tells Marie Claire why she chose to #BREAKFREE from Shame.
'The first time I experienced sexual violence, I was 12 years old, so confronting rape has been a life-long thing for me. Then, when I was 24, I started my campaign - 'Stop Rape. Educate' - in September 2014, after I was sexually assaulted by my roommate in New York, and I just didn't appreciate the way the police handled the situation. I'll never forget calling 911 and reporting my assault - only for eight male officers to turn up at my door. I was like, 'OK, I said the rapist wasn't here, so I don't need eight of you, and at least send one woman, please?' I don't think they realised how traumatic it is for a survivor.
But then it got worse. One of the officers asked me if I was 'sure' that my rapist had known I meant no. 'Maybe he thought you meant yes,' he said. I remember looking down at his wedding ring and thinking, 'if your wife says no, do you keep on going? Do you disregard that?'. Then, after all that, they ended up dismissing the court case anyway.
I felt that if I wanted to get justice, I needed to take things into my own hands. So I started doing chalk art - writing messages about rape culture and respecting women - all over the streets of NYC. It was therapeutic for me, and eventually it took off, so I developed a social media following of women and men who felt the same way that I did. We all believed that we needed to speak out and eliminate the shame that surrounds sexual assault. I starting organising events, talks and art therapy sessions in New York. After eight or nine months, I asked my followers - I think I had about 5000 of them at the time - where they wanted me to take my campaign, they voted for Australia, South Africa, England, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. So I planned a 'Stop Rape. Educate' World Tour.
Things didn't work out as planned. The tour had been going brilliantly, and I was halfway through when I reached Cape Town. I'd been staying at a hostel called ‘Carnival Court’, but it's a noisy, jam-packed place, so I moved out and just went back to hang out at the bar instead. I was actually looking for a friend, when I went up to the third floor - and a local South African man followed me. To cut a long story short, we ended up in the bathroom and that’s where he assaulted me. I don’t even know how to explain it. It was just completely unexpected.
I immediately knew that I couldn't keep what had happened a secret. Here I was, telling survivors every single day that they should speak up... I knew I had to practise what I preached. So the first thing I did was take a picture and write a post, describing what had happened.
It was almost an intuitive thing. I was still in the bathroom - in the crime scene. I don't even think I'd stood up. I just typed and typed.
I told the story truthfully - I wanted to convey the message that no matter what a person does, they do not deserve rape, they did not ask for it, they did not put themselves in a situation. There were definitely details I could have left out - there were definitely details I wanted to leave out - but I knew that if I wanted to create a culture of consent, I had to tell the whole story, exactly the way it happened.
But that's not to say it was easy. Not everyone got the message. Some of my followers were totally supportive, but a lot of people weren't. I think I'd expected some negativity, but I didn’t realise how badly it would affect me - I thought I could handle it, but I couldn't. After a few days, I gave in and took a break from social media. My head was all over the place.
It's been six weeks now, and I’m still in Cape Town and back online. I’m still trying to deal with the police, and I'm still trying to move on. My posts from the rape are still on Facebook and Instagram. As far as coping goes, it’s sort of helped that I’ve survived rape before, because I know I can survive this. But at the same time, it doesn’t make it easier. So I just have to stay focused, otherwise it's really easy to slip into depression and just relive the whole thing, over and over again.
I've always taught people that healing is an active thing - you can’t just ignore it and hope that it will go away - you have to actively work towards it. So when I’m doing that, I feel great. Sometimes you’re going to have emotions come up and that’s a part of the process. I confront them and then I’m fine. But when I’m not focusing on healing, that’s when I don’t feel good, because the thoughts and the flashbacks take over. So I try to do yoga and meditation - art therapy is one of the biggest things that really helps me recover.
It would be easy to give up, but if I've learned anything, it's that this cause is too important. It affects too many people for me to walk away. So I’m starting a new campaign called ‘Creating Consent Culture.’ I’ve been instagramming about it already, because the solution to gender based violence and rape culture is creating a culture of consent where we actually treat each other like human beings, where we actually ask each other how we’re feeling, and we ask before we touch or kiss, or go further. My goal is to make it mainstream by the end of 2016. The more we collaborate, the more we cooperate and the more we lift each other up, the further we’ll get.
Opening up about rape or sexual assault isn't as scary as you think. By telling my mum about my first experience of sexual assault, I learned that she had experienced it too. That's the thing - there are so many more survivors out there than you would imagine, and chances are, the person you’re telling may have a similar story or might know someone else who has one. One of my exes even contacted me to tell me that they were assaulted when they were younger, and they didn’t even tell me when we were dating.
That's why speaking up is one of the best ways to fight back. No man out there wants the reputation of being a rapist. And when we start telling each other about what has happened to us - be it face-to-face, over the phone or on social media - it creates a sense of shame. But this time, it's placed on those who are actually at fault. And that's the way it should be.'
Find out more about Marie Claire's #BREAKFREE from Shame campaign.
READ AMBER'S INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT OF HER ASSAULT BELOW:
It was only a few minutes ago but sometimes these things happen so fast it's hard to remember all the details.... I've been sick for the past 2 days and today was my first day out. I went back to my old hostel to leave a note for a friend, Nick. There was another guy there, Shakir, who was desperately trying to get with me. I kissed him once but he seemed drunk so I told him it was bad timing, I had already met someone. Before heading out, I went upstairs to say hi to one more friend, Clyde from the states. Shakir followed me upstairs and said he was going to take a shower. He invited me to join. I said yes because the water at my current hostel is pretty cold and after 2 days of being sick, I just really wanted a hot shower. As soon as I got in the bathroom, he forced me to my knees. I said "stop!" but he just got more violent. He lifted me up and put his penis in my vagina. I asked him to stop, again, as I began to cry. When he shoved it in my ass, that's when I passed out. I woke up a few minutes later and saw him trying to creep out the door. When he saw that I was awake, he came back to finish me off in the shower. I have all those fucked up feelings that we get after rape...shame, disgust, suffering. I'm here, alone, and any DNA has been wiped away in the shower. The South African police will just roll their eyes when I walk in. Feeling sicker than ever now. Needless today, I'm going to disappear for a bit. Just need to enjoy the freaking sun and call my friends and family in the states. Love you guys. Thank you for always being there for me. All the more reason to continue @stoprapeeducate but not today. Today, I need rest. #StopRapeEducate
These are the Angel Cards I drew last night. 🔮 Headed to the hospital now. Keep praying for me, everyone. Dealing with cops is tough and the rape kit is the last thing I want-- tools and metal instruments and combs all up in my private parts.... But this is what I stand for. I tell you guys to speak up every single day and I know that I need to practice what I preach. It is so incredibly hard, tho, but having you all here for me makes all the difference. I know that this may not go anywhere and I know that I may face ridicule by the police but I will take a shot at "justice" anyway. What I tell the survivors who reach out to me is that justice, true justice, can only come from within. Justice is inner peace. I'm still getting there but whether he serves time or not, I know what I need to do to heal. Today is just Day 1. Thanks to my amazing new friend @hyomie for coming with me to the hospital. And many thanks to the dozens of messages I've received. You all are so amazing. I'll try and respond to each one as soon as I can. ⭐️ #StopRapeEducate
My view of the rape kit. Thank you all for being so loving & supportive during this time. Your messages pushed me to take action and to stand up for myself and for all rape survivors. For those who wish to BLAME ME or any other survivor out there, I want you to know that you are the very reason that I am so brutally honest. I could have hidden details. I could have kept some info to myself, but NO. You need to know the truth and to see the reality of the situation. No matter what a person does, it is not an invitation for rape. It doesn't matter if I kissed him. It doesn't matter if he was drunk. It doesn't matter if I said yes to a shower. I never said he could get violent with me. I never said he could make me bleed. I never said he could rape me. But still, that's how the scene went down. I don't need to explain myself but if you're wondering WHY I took a shower with him, it was written in the text, I'd been sick with food poisoning for 2 days and needed to sweat it out. My current place of residence has only cold water (third world problems are real!) and it seemed like a miracle to be offered a hot shower. That's not what he was there for though, because as soon as he got a chance, he threw me to the ground and had his way. Dealing with rape is hard enough but the aftermath is often even more traumatic but I did this for you and I did this for me. The US Embassy and the South African police are super supportive and he may be arrested as soon as this week. Thank you for the love. And for the victim blamers, I send love, peace, and enlightenment to you so that you may be a beacon of light for us, too.