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THE BRAVEST THING I'VE EVER DONE: Survivor of Sexual Violence

woman with a smile wearing a scarf
Photo credit: Submitted by Erin Nanasi

The bravest thing I’ve ever done is stand alone outside Children’s Theatre, holding a sign. It was a cold spring day, and I had decided to out myself as a survivor of sexual violence at the hands of a teacher. I was one of eighteen survivors of Children’s Theatre who found the courage to sue, but on this cold spring day, it was just me. My sign identified my attacker, what he had done, and my age when he tried to rape me in his car. Fifteen. I was fifteen when he offered me a ride home after a late tech rehearsal. When he drove past my house and parked on Lake Harriet Drive. When he kissed me, and I said no I want to go home and he ripped and clawed at me.

I fought my way out of the car, falling onto the curb. I ran home. I didn’t tell anyone because at Children’s Theatre, you never told. We all knew but we never spoke it aloud. We knew John Clark Donahue was molesting and raping little boys. We knew Stephen Adamczak was assaulting girls, myself included. We knew about Jason McLean.

This was Children’s Theatre. We won a Tony award. Smithsonian magazine featured Children’s Theater in an issue. Joel Grey gushed about us on a talk show. You didn’t talk about the rape or the pedophilia or the grooming or the abuse. You focused on the art.

Decades later, as my husband drove my sign and I to Children’s Theatre, I could feel my anxiety rising. I thought I might throw up. But I got out of the car holding my poster board, and walked onto the public sidewalk. As the cold wind blew my hair away from my face, I simply stood, declaring my trauma for passing cars and pedestrians. And my anxiety was replaced by a sense of calm.

I protested every weekend outside Children’s Theatre. Sometimes others joined me, sometimes it was just my husband and myself. Our son joined us one Saturday. I organized a protest of one of Children’s Theatre’s big galas. The rich folks in their Mercedes and Range Rovers ignored us all.

Suing Children’s Theatre was not a healthy thing for me to do. Four years later, I am still not okay. But standing outside the building where I first learned what fear really is, holding a sign that shared my truth with strangers, that was healthy. That was amazing.

That was the bravest thing I’ve ever done.

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