Repeatedly raped by an uncle when a child, Jaron Benjamin copes by telling his story.
Benjamin spoke to 154 students, staff and faculty in the Student Union Galaxy Room as part of Date Rape Awareness week Aug. 30 – Sept. 3.
The UNT senior serves as the coordinator for UNT-based Men Against Violence (MAV). His speech, entitled “Every Two Seconds,” presents facts about rape and issues related to rape.
The 22-year-old tells audiences he was struggling through life two years ago.
Benjamin said he suffered from alcoholism and thoughts of suicide because he hid what had happened to him as a child.
After the attacks, Benjamin said he was still in shock.
During a rugby game days after one attack, Benjamin said he cried uncontrollably when another player punched him in the stomach. He said he was made to feel that crying was wrong, so he continued to hide his emotions. Benjamin said he didn’t know who to talk to and felt lost.
Benjamin said the anguish of keeping the secret led him to drink excessively in his late teens and early twenties.
Friends and relatives saw that he had a problem and advised him to seek help, leading him to a MAV meeting, Benjamin said.
“The meeting was a joke to me, at first,” he said.
He said he couldn’t take the message of sharing emotions and being open seriously. Six months later, he’d hit a wall from drinking, and suicidal thoughts convinced him to go back.
On his birthday that year, he said he spoke as a presenter at a MAV meeting about violence, still reluctant to admit the abuse he had suffered.
“I had come a long way, but I still wasn’t honest to anyone about the fact that I’d been raped,” Benjamin said. He added that he intended to lie about his examples and refer to the victim as a “friend.”
Yet one group member continued to needle Benjamin about his perspective until he relented.
Benjamin said admitting the truth freed him from self-destructive thoughts. Before that day he had been failing to maintain his sobriety, but on April 8, 2002, he realized that he didn’t need to drink.
“Everything came full circle that day,” Benjamin said. “I was so sure that I wouldn’t pick up another drink that I started working in a bar. I knew I’d be fine.”
Benjamin’s speech was the latest addition to Date Rape Awareness week, according to Kristi Westmoreland, Health Education Coordinator.
“It’s so important and so good to have this added perspective,” Westmoreland said. “Rape’s not an act of sex. It’s an act of violence … and it’s not just directed towards women or gay men.”
Since he has accepted what happened to him, Benjamin has made almost 200 speeches for students, companies and sex offenders on probation.
Benjamin said he will always work to end rape.
“It’s the most intimate crime you can (commit),” Benjamin said. “A lot of people, who have written about the issue have said it’s comparable to murder.”
Benjamin said he works to help people know how to talk to survivors, as well.
According to Benjamin, it’s important to be supportive of someone when they reveal that they’ve been raped. Telling a person they imagined the incident, the rape never happened, or they were at fault can be very dangerous, Benjamin said.
“Keep in mind, I hadn’t been molested in eight years,” Benjamin said. “But I was still ready to take my life three times in one day.”
Benjamin said honesty helps other survivors, as well.
His honesty allowed both Benjamin’s mother and brother to share their rape-survivor stories with others.
“People who are recovering don’t have an obligation to get involved,” Benjamin said. “But the best thing is to get involved with an activist organization, where you can talk to someone, or talk about it with a rape crisis counselor.”
Date Rape Awareness week had more than 500 attendants at its functions that included an awareness booth, panel discussion and a self-defense class.
His invitation reflects the desire to confront assumptions and stigmas related to date rape and highlight cultural beliefs, which lead to rape, Westmoreland said.
More information about MAV can be found at www.menagainstviolence.com.