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Tuesday, April 16
The Indiana Daily Student

opinion

GUEST COLUMN: The hero’s journey for male rape survivors

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Editor’s Note: This story includes mention of sexual violence and suicide. Resources are available here if you or someone you know has experienced sexual harassment or abuse. If you are struggling with suicide or your mental health, you are not alone. Resources are available here

Back in the 1990s, an IU humanities professor likely had no idea that her lecture about a literary theme that particular day would be used to save my life after graduation. That theme, called the hero’s journey, foreshadowed how I would eventually overcome an especially heinous rape.   

The hero’s journey, made famous by the author Joseph Campbell, is about having your everyday life disrupted by a call to action. Going out on an adventure to face your fears. Overcoming obstacles and challenges along the way. Coming back home transformed. Iconic movies like “Harry Potter,” “The Lion King” and “Star Wars” have utilized this powerful literary theme.  

I’m now living out the last part of that journey. Returning home to my alma mater to inspire other male survivors, from all generations, with a call to action to speak out and find healing during April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month.   

I’m sharing my story of transformation and success to be used as a guide for the men and boys of our extended cream and crimson family who have been through sexual trauma.   

I know the cold, inky depths of silence. I shut down and isolated from the world after it happened to me. Three men entered my downtown Phoenix loft one evening as I slept. I was held down, stripped naked, beaten and raped. I was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD and required surgery, counseling and extensive rehabilitation.   

There is an unwritten rule: Guys don’t talk about being raped or sexually abused, lest we appear weak. Thus ensued my excruciating silence for so long after experiencing this trauma. An unexpected moment of laughter I had from “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" stopped me from dying by suicide at 10:44 p.m. on Nov. 2, 2015.  

That eleventh hour spark of hope was the disruption and call to action, starting my hero’s journey. A call that got me to face my fears head on, to finally speak out about the sexual violence I experienced while working to reach my symbolic goal in New York City of being a guest on Colbert’s show.   

In a “Lord of the Rings” Frodo sort of way, I guess you might say that I left the Shire behind, setting out on an adventure to stare down those fears. To no longer isolate. To get out of my home each day. To meet random strangers. To learn to talk about the rape. To get support from those strangers for my dogged efforts to somehow reach my goal involving Stephen Colbert on the corner of 53rd and Broadway.   

This adventure has given me a purpose in life.   

I’ve proceeded out on this ongoing full-time odyssey all across the U.S. and Mexico every day for eight years. Meeting and engaging 32,156 complete strangers one by one, each of whom have written their stories of support for my efforts in 94 languages with 27 Sharpie marker colors on 495 giant foam boards. Creating a massive collective display of hope and triumph that’s already been shown in nine art exhibits.  

On my travels, I’ve encountered numerous obstacles and challenges, including being repeatedly threatened and harassed by the three rape perpetrators and their friends who have tried to keep me from speaking out. It wouldn’t be a hero’s journey without the bad guys.   

But I have not capitulated. I’ve found the courage to keep going, using my voice as the sword to slay the dragon and accomplish great things. This forever Willkie South 205 resident testified in front of a Senate Judiciary Committee, helping pass Arizona Senate Bill 1250, adding protections for rape survivors. I was invited to throw out the first pitch at an Arizona Diamondbacks game before 43,000 fans in 2018 to represent the moxie of sexual abuse victims.  

I gave a TEDx talk that Grand Canyon University students nominated me for and gave presentations at 27 colleges about my innovative means of PTSD recovery, which involved talking about my trauma and listening to thousands of stories like mine. The story of my hero’s journey was featured in an Emmy-nominated documentary, “The Blake Project,” produced by a team of Arizona State University students. That film has been shared at events to motivate victims to see what’s possible on the other side of silence.   

To all my brothers of IU who have experienced sexual assault or abuse, whether it be current or former students, faculty and staff: remember the profundity of Sir William Wallace’s enduring words spoken by Mel Gibson in the classic movie “Braveheart”:  

“Every man dies; not every man really lives.”   

Men and boys deserve a chance to really live. It starts with a call to action. Breaking through the chains of silence. Setting out upon your very own hero’s journey.  

A list of resources is available here if you or someone you know has experienced sexual harassment or abuse, and a list of resources is available here if you or someone you know is struggling with suicide or mental health. 

Ron Blake is a Phoenix-based artist and a 1994 MPA graduate of Indiana University. He's also served as the director of the American PTSD Association and is on the Speakers Bureau with the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. 

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