Making Things Visible: Sarah Super

What do air pollution and rape have in common?

Both were the focus of conversation at “The Visibility Cloak” on Tuesday, April 19, 2016, Red Stag. What is invisible right in front of us, and what can we do about it?

With so many issues begging for attention — with the sometimes overwhelming weight of white supremacy, climate change and Flint-like public health choices blasting us with ways our society seems to be failing — how are we getting the stories out? Building coalitions? Remaining hopeful and focused on the tasks ahead?

Guests in the conversation included Shalini Gupta of Center for Earth, Energy and DemocracyKathleen Schuler of Healthy Legacy… and Sarah Super, founder of Break the Silence, which is creating forums and a memorial for victims of sexual assault.

The rape of land and women was the focus of a story I wrote for Minnesota Women’s Press in 2015, about the fracking industry in North Dakota and its link with sexual trafficking. This conversation took that concept a step further by merging some of our leaders on those issues in one discussion.

4885aBoth airborne toxins — indoor and out — and the incidence of rape in our community are much more common than we tend to think. The women leading the conversation explained why they think these issues are prevalent, why they tend to remain in the shadows, and how they are changing the paradigm. Find audio clips from that conversation here.

Sarah’s Story

I had the privilege of interviewing Sarah a few months ago when she was nominated as a Changemaker for the annual year-end issue of Minnesota Women’s Press (information below is excerpted from that article).

An ex-boyfriend raped Sarah at knifepoint in February 2015. She knows many rape victims are blamed because we understand so little about its prevalence — “Did she lead him on?” “Was it misunderstanding around consent?”

She was in her Summit Avenue apartment when he attacked her. He had broken into her apartment through a window and hid earlier in the evening while she was gone. Super had warned neighbors and friends of her fear of him. When she ran screaming from her apartment, a neighbor let her in.

At his sentencing in July, the judge rejected the defense that the rapist — a white man who grew up in Edina — was just a nice guy who snapped. The judge told Alec Neal, 31, he needed to look past his friends and supporters who said “that’s not who you are.”

“You can go on and pretend that this wasn’t you,” the judge told him in court, “but this was planned.”

Super, 26, said she is a victim of privilege because, “My case is exempt of all doubt — the blame and shame that can affect so many rape cases. And, with privilege comes responsibility.”

The tipping point for Super came a few months after the rape as she awaited the trial. The “weight of silence” hit her when she realized that as an unnamed victim, people who might otherwise support her did not know her story. “There is no lack of funding for cancer research because everyone knows someone who’s been affected by it. Our failure as a society to respond to the needs of sexual assault victims is partly because we don’t think we know a survivor,” Super says.

According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, published in 2014, nearly 2 million U.S. women are raped each year.

Super is using her background in trauma yoga and leadership to create a community network on behalf of sexual assault victims, including building a memorial to survivors in Minneapolis. She hosts events that give voice to survivors who have not felt comfortable going public — often because of the invalidating cloud of doubt, shame and blame that tends to follow rape cases.

Since making the culture of rape, especially by non-strangers, Visible, Super has heard from at least 100 assault survivors.

“Social change happens when the marginalized and oppressed tap into their immeasurable strength as a collective,” Super says. “The survivors who are breaking the silence know this strength and are acting with immense courage. These are the true leaders in our community — the ones who will allow other survivors to follow. The ones who will make change happen.”