'Through Footsteps To Inspire, I want to leave more than physical footprints on the beaches I run on. I want to promote peace and end sexual violence. I want to inspire change and show the world that is possible to survive and thrive after a life trauma.'
I was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa but I'm also Australian and have spent many years living in French-speaking countries...confusing I know but one of the reasons why I feel like a global citizen. In 1999, while living in Paris as a foreign student, I was violently attacked, raped and left for dead. What followed was a long struggle through the French justice system that only came to an end 16 years later. I faced victim blaming, secondary trauma and was brutalized by a system that was meant to protect me. In 2014, I decided to speak out about my ordeal. What came next was extraordinary.
Sexual violence survivors from around the world began writing to me – women, men and children – many sharing their stories for the very first time. I was stunned. I had no idea that sharing my story would inspire so many survivors to break their silence. Somehow I had to keep using my story to help others.
But how could I take this uncomfortable issue of rape, and make it comfortable to talk about? Through sport.
Sport unites us. It creates movements and transform lives. Sports is empowering and can be an essential part of the healing process. More and more, the world is starting to value the importance of using sport to tackle social issues. In 2000, during his address at the first Laureus Sports Awards, Nelson Mandela proclaimed that ‘Sport has the power to change the world’.
So on 18 July 2016, the anniversary of my rape and Mandela Day, I set out on an expedition to run 16 kilometres of beach in every country of the world with the vision to peacefully end sexual violence. It’s called Footsteps To Inspire.
I had no idea what to expect when I started out. No one else in the world has created this kind of movement before.
Nothing about Footsteps To Inspire is easy. Everyday I hear stories of horror, and sometimes stories of hope. What keeps me going is the knowledge that I’m changing lives. And the most remarkable outcome of all, people want to talk about sexual violence. Hundreds of women, men and children have joined me for a Footsteps To Inspire run and many have asked if it can become an annual event.
I don't just run in a country. The purpose of Footsteps To Inspire is to influence change and make our world a safer place. In each country, I connect with local communities, organisations, government services and survivors to share my story and discuss what the issues, complexities, difficulties and hopes are in their country. I want to use this knowledge to support the global community in finding solutions to a problem that affects 1 in 4 women, 1 in 6 men and millions of children every year.
People often ask me how I can do this? Don’t I just want to put my story behind me and forget about it.
I can’t. It is part of who I am now. I don’t see this as negative.
I get to choose how I let my trauma impact my life. Either we see it as a lifetime of suffering or I move through it and it becomes something else. It becomes something that makes me stronger. It becomes something that I can now use to help heal the world.
Footsteps To Inspire is leaving a lasting impact and my efforts have started receiving wide spread recognition. I‘ve been invited twice to speak at TEDx. Elle Magazine nominated me as one of fifty incredible women shaping the continent of Africa I am also an Ambassador for Peace for the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism (IIPT).
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