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Sarah Super is helping survivors 'Break the Silence' of rape

Sarah Super barely survived her assault. Now she's trying to help others get through their own.

Sarah Super barely survived her assault. Now she's trying to help others get through their own.

Sarah Super has a great name and a terrible story.

One night last February, Super returned from vacation to what she thought was her empty Minneapolis apartment. She unpacked bags, took a shower, packed the next day's lunch, and went to sleep.

As she slept, her ex-boyfriend, Alec Neal, crept out of Super's linen closet, where he'd been hiding the whole time. Neal woke Super around 11:30 p.m., putting a knife to her throat. Then he raped and cut her. 

Neal told Super to get dressed. She took this to mean they would be leaving the apartment, assuming she'd never be coming back. 

But Super escaped through a door in her closet and made it to safety. Later, she found duct tape, gloves, and a note penned by Neal stating his plans to cut her from "head to toe." 

Neal was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Kayla Little, 24, told only a few people her story of sexual assault before telling a roomful of strangers last November.

Kayla Little, 24, told only a few people her story of sexual assault before telling a roomful of strangers last November.

Super, meanwhile, slowly started to tell friends and loved ones her story. Some didn't know how to respond. Others, though perhaps well-intentioned, said things Super just found hurtful.

But some took Super's terrifying story as an invitation to tell their own. 

The experience inspired Super to contact the Star Tribune and tell of her experience, putting a name and face to a crime that's often committed but rarely discussed. Once the story came out, Super was flooded with new contacts, as more victims came forward to recount their own sexual assaults. 

The experience of survivors of assault has been compared to soldiers back from war. Both suffer post-traumatic stress. Except there was no forum, no support group, for these people to share their experiences and find strength in each other. So Super made one up.

The third "Break the Silence" event organized by Super will be held tonight at 6 p.m. at 301 on Main in Minneapolis. (Attendance is free, and in lieu of tickets, supporters are encouraged to make a donation to a rape survivors' monument planned for Boom Island Park in Minneapolis. Details here.) Super expects it to be their biggest yet. She admits she didn't know what to expect when her new group held its first public event back in August. 

"I had absolutely no idea who would ever participate in something like this," Super says.

About 150 people showed up, most of them strangers. Thirteen came forward to say they'd been assaulted.

Another "Break the Silence" in November drew more respondents, among them Kayla Little. As a child, Little, 24, was assaulted for years by a babysitter. Later, the man started involving his son in the act.

Little had told only a few people. Some family members doubted her story.

But it affected her relationships deeply. As she started dating — first boys and later, women — Little found that she was instantly clingy, wanting someone to protect her. From what, she could not tell them. 

Telling the details of her abuse to a roomful of strangers was "nerve-wracking." 

"I cried a lot," Little recalls. "But then, as other survivors spoke, it was really cathartic. Everyone was so supportive."

Since that night in November, Little, an English and women's studies major at Hamline University, feels like she can tell her story to anyone.

Sarah Super — the distinctive surname is shortened from a longer Polish original, she explains — says the goal of the "Break the Silence" movement is to help change the perception of rape. Whether they know it or not, people live and work with survivors — and perpetrators. The majority of rapes are not reported to police, and an estimated 2 percent of perpetrators face jail time.

"We know and, sometimes, love someone who's done something horrible," Super says. "They don't seem so scary at the workplace, or at the gym."

The point of holding these events is to give survivors something they once had taken away from them: a choice. They can share their story or just listen to others, knowing they are not alone.

In the long version, Super's tale is not so terrible after all. It is a story of success.