This story is published in partnership with SoJannelleTV, a magazine show about Filipinos in North America
Mae Flores was 18 years old the first time it happened.
She was still living at home with her family, and they had gone on a cruise to the Caribbean together. Shortly before midnight, Flores walked back to her room to change. She didn’t realize she had been followed by the time she was struck in the back of the head and sexually assaulted.
“Being 18, I immediately blamed myself. I didn’t have all the tools to process that, you go to shame and blame yourself. I must have been scandalous,” Flores, the Quezon City-born “Atlantis Down” actress, said in an interview with Filipino-American media pioneer Jannelle So Perkins for the latter’s So Jannelle TV show.
“I remember thinking, ‘You deserve this.’”
Flores didn’t speak up at the time.
She had a family, was married and divorced, and was living in Chicago. That’s when it happened again. She had met up with a friend, who offered to walk her to her car. She declined his offer, feeling independent and secure through her life experiences and the martial arts training she had undergone to protect her in case someone attacked her once again.
“And then the next thing I knew I was hit again on my back and was dragged to a nearby park in the dark and I feel like I blacked out and I woke up and I was cold,” said Flores. “I remember thinking, what just happened to me? It’s like my brain just shut down.”
Confused and in shock, all she could think about was getting home to her two children.
“I’m so grateful I had kids because I don’t think I would have survived that second time. I was starting to think, am I just prone to these kinds of attacks? You start to really think, what have I done?” said Flores.
The attackers in the two incidents have not yet been brought to justice, and a rape kit that was taken after the Chicago attack has not been a priority to test.
But Flores has not been silent about her experiences. Using her platform as an actress, Flores has been able to reach many who have undergone similar traumas. In 2017, she gave a TEDx Talk titled “I’m Still Here,” and speak at events organized by the United Nations.
“I said, I can continue feeling sorry for myself or I can move on with my life and finally use this as a message and listen carefully and change the trajectory of how my life’s gonna be. And so I said I’m gonna use whatever little influence I have and I’m gonna do something about this so this won’t happen to anybody else,” said Flores.
Before breaking her silence, she first had to speak with her children, which was a harrowing experience in itself. Having her children identify her with sexual violence was something hard to process, but Flores wanted to set an example for her children. She didn’t want them to ever feel like they were unable to communicate their own traumas.
“I didn’t want them to see their Filipino mom continuing the cycle of not sharing terrible experiences like this. Because if something happened to them, I would hate for them to say, ‘I didn’t know I could talk about it,’” said Flores. “I want them to have the empowerment, male or female, to come forward with whatever experience bothers them.”
Through her talks, Flores shares her experiences of empowerment and resilience. She says she would handle her own attacks differently if they happened now, particularly given the way dialogue around sexual violence has evolved in recent years. Still, she says everyone has to be able to handle their own experiences as they feel best.
“Timing is everything in catching someone. But I also encourage people to not put so much pressure on themselves, to feel like they have to do it now,” said Flores. “Everybody will do it in their own time.” – Jannelle So Productions | Rappler.com
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