Samentha Moore was 18 when she was first sexually assaulted. Yes, “first,” as in it happened again — twice — for a total of three attacks when she was in college. Moore’s experience deviated from statistics in that she didn’t know any of her attackers (three of four rapes are committed by someone known to the victim) but adhered to common sexual assault patterns in that none of them were brought to justice (research shows that out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free.) Are you infuriated yet? You should be.
I first connected with Moore last spring while working on a series about rape for SheKnows‘ sister website StyleCaster. Her story, like every other sexual assault victim’s, triggered fury and empathy in me, but what stood out about her is that she’s a single mom and says her daughter has been a major part of her path to healing.
In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I caught up with Moore — who’s now 32 working at a social change agency in Washington, D.C. — to talk about her story, changing the conversation around survivors and how motherhood and dance have brought joy to her life in the wake of assault.
SheKnows: Can you share a bit about how your assaults happened?
Samentha Moore: I was living on my college campus, but came home on the weekends, where I worked at a dry-cleaning company. As a student, it was a great job because it was never truly busy and I was able to get work done. That also meant it didn’t take much for customers to notice that I was the only one in the building and that the security cameras were fake. There, I was attacked twice: First, I was sexually assaulted in June, and then I was raped the following January. Finally, the following December I was raped on my college campus.
Looking back on the assaults at my workplace, I wish I was empowered more to listen to my gut and insist more when I questioned the company’s safety and security. When I first asked, I was made to feel like I was being unreasonable. It took me a long time to stop blaming myself for not pushing more on the topic.
SK: What happened after the assaults?
SM: My immediate reaction was to feel extremely tired and detached. I couldn’t sleep, eat, stop crying or reliving the attacks. It was very hard. The world keeps spinning, even when it feels like it shouldn’t, and it’s very difficult to even do small daily tasks while dealing with the emotions that come with such a vulnerable crime.
After the first two assaults, I asked for help. The first time, the police found the man and said because he had no priors, they gave him a “slap on the wrist” and told him not to do it again. The second guy fled on foot and the police didn’t find him. The detective was a woman so I figured she’d be more understanding, but instead she told me my case wasn’t “big enough,” and that she was dismissing it.
By the third assault I was so hurt and had no trust. It took me about a week to say something because my boyfriend at the time was the only one who knew, and finally called the police against my initial instincts.
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SK: Can you tell me about the challenges of recovering, emotionally?
SM: I fell into deep depression, debilitating anxiety, and insomnia after my assaults, and I sought therapy. It was during that process that I learned I was going to have to fight for my sanity and peace of mind. I didn’t have much support, and was even admonished for going to therapy and taking medication to help my PTSD. It took some time to find the right therapist, but when I did, it was such a helpful tool in my healing.
One thing I had to learn was my triggers — any sight, sound, smell or even emotion — had the ability to make the day hard. I’m very sensitive to and of others, and am extremely cautious of my surroundings and safety. On the positive side, I’ve become empathetic and I have allowed that to help me help others in need.
SK: How did people react when you told them about the assault? What helped, and what didn’t?
SM: The biggest surprise to me was how people showed no patience and had no problem telling me that the subject made them uncomfortable. It’s shocking how quickly people will run away from a topic they feel no immediate connection to. This is a subject that needs to be talked about more so that we can start making changes.
A victim and survivor should never feel like they have to persuade those close to them to believe and care for them. I always tell survivors that a major part of healing is pruning those out of your life who don’t take your care seriously. Waking up every day is hard enough, and spending any type of emotional energy on those who don’t listen to your needs is more damaging than it is good.
What I appreciate most is when friends ask about my experiences. It shows me that they understand that healing is a process that will always be in motion. Keeping all of those ever-evolving emotions in is exhausting. I have a few close people who have been integral in my healing because they ask the tough questions. Sometimes you don’t even know how you feel about certain aspects until you’re in a conversation. And you know what? You don’t have to answer every question asked. You can politely decline. And as time progresses, the questions will change. Being raped doesn’t define me, but it’s a large part of who I am today, and that needs to be recognized and respected.
SK: How has becoming a mother changed your perspective on assault? How will you talk to your daughter about it?
SM: My beautiful daughter, Ava, is the reason I am the woman I am today. She’s my daily miracle and blessing and encourages me to be the best version of myself that I can be. She’s the smartest girl I know and brings light to anyone she meets since the moment she was born!
She also brings a lens to my life that makes me realize how important it is for her to know the truth about my experiences, so I don’t shy away from telling her. She’s only 6, so she knows that I help people that have been disrespected and hurt because that is what happened to me. She knows I help people who are sad and need a friend to walk with them. As she gets older, our conversations will evolve as her understanding and maturity deepens. It won’t be easy, but that’s why it’s important to make it a part of how we naturally communicate. She knows her personal boundaries physically, mentally and emotionally, and we discuss these things in detail so she is equipped to protect herself. She’s also empowered to use her voice and speak up.
Telling her about my experiences, I’m less concerned about her being afraid of what can happen to her and more interested in helper her being aware and listening to her gut. I think it’s vital that we talk to our kids about these specific issues because it isn’t enough to hope and pray that they won’t ever have to experience this, and not talking about it isn’t insurance that they won’t. Unfortunately, sexual assault is an epidemic in today’s society. It’s our duty to raise our sons and daughters with the knowledge of exactly what’s happening, to know that everyone deserves respect, but most of all, to know their own worth and that no matter what happens in life, that worth will never change.
SK: How did dancing help your recovery?
SM: After being assaulted, I hated my body. I figured if I hid under the radar, even gained weight, I’d be less of a “target.” I danced every day for years, and I ended up quitting. Then one day, I danced, and it was the most free I felt since being assaulted. I felt like with every move I was releasing hurt, anger, fear and pain and regaining my new sense of self and confidence. I was able to do something beautiful with the body that I felt was not. I now dance every day, even if it is around my house. Some people express themselves with writing or singing; my voice is dance. I really focused on choreography of lyrical dance and found that I was able to truly heal myself and tell my story, a story of pain, healing and triumph.
Dance also allowed me to catapult into advocating for fellow victims and survivors. Every time I’d finish performing somewhere, people would come up and ask me how I dance with so much passion. It was an easy answer for me and I was honest with them about my journey. I had a lot of victims and survivors then open up and reveal to me their story, some for the first time, simply because I was open about mine. I’ve never looked back and have been advocating and traveling to speak and raise awareness of rape and sexual assault ever since.
SK: Tell me about your advocacy work for sexual assault survivors.
SM: Advocacy work has become my passion. I visit university campuses and talk to sororities and fraternities about consent and respect, a truly powerful dialogue. I travel to conferences, churches and seminars to share my testimony. But truly, every step I take every day is advocacy for me — I cannot separate it; it’s my mission in life. I survived a hell that, when described in detail, many cannot stomach. I lived through it, and lived through it for a reason, I will use my last breath to speak up for and to those that are suffering. You don’t have to suffer alone, I am walking with you!
I truly believe that once you survive something like this, there is really nothing that can stop you. I’ve taken my focus of advocating and apply it to every aspect of my life. If God kept me through those nightmares, then I know I am here for a reason and I will always be working to be heard.
Follow Samentha Moore on Instagram.