30/11/2016 1:48 AM IST | Updated 01/12/2016 11:11 PM IST

7 Survivors On What It Means To Have A Man Accused Of Sexual Assault In The White House

Cynthya Porter
From left to right: Cassie, Jennifer, Risa, Jacqueline, Megan, Alexis, and Sarah.

Sarah Ortega, a 20-year-old student at Winona State University (WSU) in Minnesota, is a survivor of sexual assault. And in the wake of a triggering presidential campaign, the healing process has become more difficult. 

“The hardest part of the election for many of us is the outright acceptance of sexual assault,” Ortega recently wrote in a powerful Facebook post. “This election was eerily similar to the rhetoric that was spewed at me when I reported my assault to police and campus authority. I don’t go a day without thinking how normalized rape has become in our culture and I can’t help but fear for the future.”

Now that Donald Trump, a man who’s been publicly accused of sexually assaulting over a dozen women, will be the next president of the United States, Ortega is ready to take action. 

For Ortega, that personal call to action meant creating a photo campaign featuring seven WSU students, including herself, who are all survivors of sexual assault. In the coming weeks, the images (shot by local photographer Cynthya Porter) will be turned into posters that will be hung around WSU’s campus. Each poster will feature a photo of a survivor and information about online resources for victims.

Ortega hopes that the campaign, which she created for her Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies minor, will foster conversations surrounding sexual assault on WSU’s campus. 

“According to a recent campus survey, 1 in 5 Winona State students are victims of gender-based violence,” Ortega told The Huffington Post. “The campaign is meant to showcase this statistic, to show people that these numbers are real.”

This election was eerily similar to the rhetoric that was spewed at me when I reported my assault to police and campus authority. Sarah Ortega

Ortega said she had always been an advocate for survivors, but she didn’t realize how insidious rape culture really is until she became a survivor herself.  

“In January I was raped. Despite reporting it to law enforcement immediately after, it took me months to accept what had happened to me,” she said. “I didn’t realize how internalized the stigma of being assaulted was until I was raped... I faced extreme retaliation after Title IX made the decision to expel my rapist from campus. Colleagues told me that I ruined my rapist’s life and that I would do anything for attention, negative or positive.” 

Now, Ortega hopes to use her voice to heal and help other survivors do the same. “The most frustrating thing I have faced through my healing process is the silence of people close to me,” she said. “Silence NEVER favors the victim... The first step in changing rape culture on Winona State’s campus is to simply talk about it. The conversation will be uncomfortable, but it must happen.” 

Scroll below to see the seven women featured in Ortega’s project. The Huffington Post reached out to each of the women and asked them what it means to have an accused sexual predator heading to the White House.

  • Risa
    Cynthya Porter
    "President-elect Donald Trump's victory represents the justification of sexism and institutionalized rape culture by millions of Americans. As a survivor, I am passionate about protecting human rights for all people, and I stand in solidarity with and fight for those negatively affected under the Trump administration."
  • Cassie
    Cynthya Porter
    "The results of this election and [Donald Trump's] entire campaign left me feeling devastated and betrayed. It hurts, and I spent most of the following days on an emotional rollercoaster of pain that took a toll on my mental health. It’s different for a survivor, and it’s hard to explain to others what it feels like. We try so hard to get to a place where we can become activists and disrupt rape culture, but when a presidential candidate is accused of rape and was still even being considered for president shows just how strong rape culture is in our society."
  • Jennifer
    Cynthya Porter
    "Having a sexual predator [elected to the highest] office has, at the very least, made me uncomfortable. I've become uncomfortable to a greater extent with the rape culture that we live in."
  • Jacqueline
    Cynthya Porter
    "Having an accused sexual predator as a president instills more fear in me than I ever thought I was ever capable of feeling. I feel that it may be perceived by some individuals as having the right to assault another person without any thought of the consequences because it is the kind of example our leader has set for us."
  • Sarah
    Cynthya Porter
    "While the physical pain [my rapist] inflicted on me was unforgivable, the true emotional toll was the silence of my colleagues, the silence of my family, and the silence of my friends."
  • Alexis
    Cynthya Porter
    "As a survivor, when I heard that Donald Trump won the election I felt that my country betrayed me. Electing an accused sexual predator to be the leader and image of our country means supporting rape culture. It means that there are a lot of people in this nation that don’t support victims and survivors of gender based violence, and that’s not OK."
  • Megan
    Cynthya Porter
    As a survivor of domestic abuse, seeing another woman’s abuser as the leader of our country is discouraging. I can see how Trump makes many survivors feel silenced. However, the election has motivated me to speak even louder to stand with fellow survivors of gender-based violence and never stop fighting for the prevention of these kinds of abuse.
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