‘I Refuse to Let Someone Have my Power’: Women Share Stories of Survival After Sexual Assault - NBC Chicago

‘I Refuse to Let Someone Have my Power’: Women Share Stories of Survival After Sexual Assault

After more than a year of working with women to share their stories, NBCChicago.com’s Survivors' Project aims to give a voice to stories of sexual misconduct in the Chicago area

Every 98 seconds someone in America is sexually assaulted.

The statistic from RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) gives shocking context to the #MeToo movement that went viral following the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault allegations in Hollywood. Since then, a growing number of high-profile men have been accused of sexual harassment and assault, and women around the world have shared their stories, giving voice to the collective silence around sexual misconduct. 

#MeToo was more than an outlet for their stories. It was a sea change. 

Our goal, too, is to give a voice to those stories. 

“I was brutally attacked,” Venesa Brakes said. “For 11 hours, I was held hostage.” 

“I remember saying, ‘No, please stop, no please stop,’” Emagin Tanashuk said. “I sounded like a broken record in my head.” 

“I was screaming and fighting for my life,” Kelley Kitley said. 

The NBCChicago.com Survivors' Project took root last year when Marion Brooks was approached by several women who wanted to tell her their stories. 

Marion has met many survivors since she started covering sexual violence in 2011. In this case, these women didn’t want their identities hidden or voices altered for secrecy. They wanted to share their stories with not just Marion, but the public. 

Their hope was to help other “victims” become “survivors.”

Venesa is one of the women who found power in sharing her story. She is part of the inspiration for this project. Venesa was sexually assaulted in April 2014 by a person she did not know personally, but knew “of.” He held her hostage and repeatedly attacked her sexually and brutally beat her. 

“I had a broken nose, my face was distorted. He did despicable things to my body,” she said. “For 11 hours he told me he was going to kill me. … What he was trying to do was to break me down. He was trying to make me submissive to him.” 

Police arrested Venesa’s perpetrator. He was charged with several counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated battery. He pleaded guilty to a lesser crimes and is still in prison.

Emagin Tanashuk and Kelley Kitley also came forward. 

Emagin was assaulted on campus at Northwestern University by an alumnus. He pulled her into a bathroom stall and assaulted her. The next morning, she told her roommates. 

“I knew that something was wrong, and I knew I wasn’t OK with what happened. But I didn’t know that it was sexual assault; at least it didn’t click.” 

According to RAINN, sexual assaults can happen anywhere, though they most often occur at or near a person’s home. Although RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) found only 8 percent of sexual assaults happen on school property, sexual violence is the most common form of crime on campuses. 

Emagin’s attacker was eventually charged and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. She said dealing with the justice system was difficult, but she is glad she reported what happened to her. “I just didn’t want it to go unheard,” she said. “Hopefully my story will help another person.”

Kelley was walking home from work, and as soon as she turned off of a main street, she said, “there was somebody who came after me through the alley. … I was screaming and fighting for my life.” 

She managed to break free and find a public place, but that isn’t where it ended. 

“As soon as the police came, they walked into the bar and started talking to me and asked me what happened,” she said. “And I asked them if they could take me to a hospital because I knew I wanted to make sure that I was OK. And they told me that they weren’t a taxi cab.” 

Kelley’s attacker was never found.

In 2016 Illinois passed a law requiring sensitivity training for first responders dealing with victims of sexual assault. 

Sexual violence comes in many forms and can affect anyone, no matter a person’s gender or age or socio-economic status. According to RAINN, one in six American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. And one in 10 rape victims is a man or boy.

These three brave women said they have found healing in sharing—and hope their journeys will help others.

Email Marion to share your story

“Helping others is helping myself,” Venesa said. “I refuse to let someone have my power. I refuse to let someone control me.”

“For a lot of survivors, it is not so much that it feels good to articulate an experience,” explains Kaethe Morris Hoffer of Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation said. It’s when survivors are being treated with dignity and believe they are “regaining a sense of control, ownership” that healing takes place.

“I have been able to heal from telling my story and connecting with other women who had similar experiences,” Kelley said.

Part of healing for all of our survivors has been some form of therapy. Dr. Maria Nanos of Porchlight Counseling calls that critical. “We have to not only focus on awareness and prevention, but also on treatment,” Nanos said. “People need to recover. They need to heal.”

Along with our survivors’ personal accounts we added statistics for context. We also provided links to supplemental resources like sexual assault hotlines and counseling services.

Resources for Survivors


Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) describes itself as the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. It also operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE and online.rain.org. En Espanol: rain.org/es


Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA) is a non-profit organization of sexual assault crisis centers. It has 30 centers across the state, each of which operates a 24-hour hotline to provide services including counseling education and advocacy. 


Rape Victim Advocates (RVA) is an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to the healing and empowerment of sexual assault survivors through non-judgmental crisis intervention counseling, individual and group trauma therapy, and medical and legal advocacy in the greater Chicago metropolitan area. RVA Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline: 1-888-293-2080


Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) works in prevention, policy reform, community engagement and legal services to combat sexual exploitation in all forms, including sexual assault and the commercial sex trade. 


Porchlight Counseling is a program under the Center for Law and Social Work (CLSW.org), which provides free counseling for sexual assault survivors of sexual assault on college campuses. It also provides a helpline number 773-750-7077.


The Voices and Faces Project describes its mission as one “to create a national network of survivors willing to stand up and speak out about sexual violence.” It also sponsors writers workshops to help survivors tell their stories and find support.


C4 counseling services helps people overcome mental health problems and disorders and the trauma of sexual assault and abuse. We provide services at four locations in Chicago. We also offer advocacy for people with mental health problems.


Pillars Community Health provides many community services including “legal advocacy, crisis intervention and other services for victims of sexual violence." Pillars' 24-hour sexual assault hotline: 708-482-9600

“MY Self”

This book was written by Kelley Kitley who tells her story of survival after being assaulted in Chicago after walking home from work. It can be purchased here.