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APRIL - SEXUAL ABUSE AWARENESS MONTH by Gemini Stedl

Hello everyone, my name is Gemini. I’m a 30-year-old horse lover that is owned by a bay horse named Luna. Luna certainly has her stripes - both physically and mentally, but today I want to bring up what herd of zebras means to me.

When I first heard of Herd of Zebra’s, when Forest first started the company, I honestly wasn’t sure what it was all about. I have known Forest for a few years, and always knew her to be a strong individual. Hearing about what she struggled with was almost a form of relief - not because she struggled, but because I was not alone with the struggles that are hard to talk about. I understand the idea of being in physical or mental pain and not feeling like there is a soul out there that understands you, and just how hard it is to bring it up.

 My stripes were given to me at the age of 10 when I was sexually assaulted by my mother’s boyfriend. She did not know that it was happening, until I was finally brave enough to tell her one day after it had been going on for a few months. At the age of 10 I was forced to grow up. I was a child still, but I had to learn to start standing up for myself. Because of having to grow up fast I grew to be very independent, but I was also really holding a lot of things in. How does one talk about why you’re having a hard time, when it’s something like sexual abuse? So, I held it all in.
Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money, so I really couldn’t be around horses. Finally, after I turned 18, I was able to get more involved with them. The equestrian lifestyle quickly turned into my comfort zone, like it does for many others. I was able to buy my first horse when I was about 22, and I kept him for four years. I sold him in 2015, and then I bought the love of my life- Luna.

Having Luna has been my way to help see the world in a completely different way. She had an ovarian tumor that had been growing for many years, but her previous owner couldn’t figure out her issues. I kept on trying diagnosis after diagnosis to figure out what was going on, and finally we found a vet willing to listen and she was able to figure out that it was a tumor. That moment helped strengthened our bond, and from there my confidence soared.

In 2018 I made a conscience decision to finally uncover all the issues that I had buried from the abuse. It was a rough year involving a lot of firsts, including meeting with my abuser for the first time in almost 20 years. I felt like I earned those stripes when I met with him. I was able to take that power back that he had held over me for 20 years. I stood up to him and took control of my life. Since then my life has been evolving almost faster than I can keep up with, but it’s all been positive changes.

I would never say that the abuse was a good thing, but I know that despite it (let me rephrase that: because of it) I know I am a stronger woman than I think I would’ve been. It forced me to realize that being a damsel in distress wasn’t who I was supposed to be. I’ve worked so hard to become who I wanted to be, with horses helping me along the way. Then I decided in 2018 that I finally was ready to go back to college. It’s been a struggle for me but I know that once I get my degree in professional counseling, and be able to help others that have suffered from abuse, I know it will finally come full circle.
I write this to show that I am proud of the stripes I’ve earned, and have learned to not be ashamed of them. The stripes show who I am as a person, and that’s OK with me. April is sexual abuse awareness month, and I think it was important for me to share my story. I know how hard it is to hold the shame in, and not feel like you can talk about it. I hope by sharing my story that maybe it can help someone else, and see that having stripes just makes you the person that you are.

The Fox Cities Sexual Assault Crisis Center is located in central Wisconsin, and are a small advocacy center for survivors of sexual assault. They offer a 24/7 hotline number, along with trained volunteer advocates, support groups and trained counselors, all at no cost for survivors. They are a huge part of who I am today. They are a non-profit agency, supported by the United Way Fox Cities and many other community organizations and foundations. They also accept donations to help those that are in need of their services. Donations can be done through Paypal through their website.

https://www.sacc-foxcities.org/how-you-can-help/

If you do not live in Wisconsin, please take a peek at this site to see how you can help stop sexual abuse on a national level: https://nomore.org/campaigns/sexual-assault-awareness-month/ 

There are many other organizations that can use your support as well. One last thing I wanted to add, is please learn to recognize the many different signs of abuse, and talk to your friend, or family member if you suspect something isn't quite right. Also, if you're a victim, please reach out to someone. The choices are yours when it comes to deciding if you want to report or not. I can say that in my personal experience, true healing comes for acknowledging that it happened, and seeking help.  I truly believe that sexual abuse can be stopped if we can learn to educate people, and to make sure when someone comes forward, that we support them fully.  

Thanks for reading,
​Gemini