This last Sunday night I had the honor of attending the ‘Angels in Paradise’ charity fundraiser, hosted by fashion designer Lavashe Couture to raise awareness and funds to support victims of child sexual abuse. Little did I know it would raise so much more.
Having only heard of the designer by name I was keen to meet Tito, and was equally intrigued as to the connection to the cause – after all; sexual abuse of any kind is quite personal. There was a part of me that felt liberated at the thought of aiding such an event, one I had not personally put myself out there to support in the past.
When I walked into the room, everyone was looking at me with confused fascination as I stood there, complete with my sparkling Mrs Australia signature crown and sash. Did they want a pageant girl there? Did they want an example of (what could have been perceived as) an objectification of women, given that there would be survivors in the room who may take offense to this? As it transpired, I walked into the room, personally greeted by Tito and his traditional Samoan performers, and instantly felt at home.
Soon after my husband and I were seated my fellow #sistersofthesash arrived and our table became complete with titleholders representative of (just about) every pageant in the country. United as one under the Dear Pageant Girl umbrella we shared the nights’ proceedings with Tito and a room bursting with 200 kind souls ready to make a difference.
During our entrée the speeches commenced… without sticking to the program of events, Tito started to talk of a lady whom he had been following for the past year. He spoke about how he admired her work, and charity and community involvement. My heart skipped a beat and I felt ever so humbled when he mentioned that lady was, in fact, me! He didn’t just ask me to stand up and identify myself to the room, rather to join him on stage to talk of my journey. As I stood up there was this feeling, this powerful reaction that invaded my mind & body. I looked down to check that my dress wasn’t snagged on anything (the joys of a delicate lace hemline) and meekly tottered to the stage with my mind made up. What Tito had unintentionally given me was a voice. By handing me the microphone it was the sign I had been waiting for. It was time to own it.
My unrehearsed speech started from the beginning… The usual introduction of my name, my Ambassadorship with Ovarian Cancer Australia and my reason for volunteering for them on behalf of my late Aunt. My beloved charity work with the Touch of Goodness Foundation as the Mrs Australia International 2014 titleholder and my work in combating self-esteem and body image issues amongst today’s youth by exposing the ‘inside scoop’ of the model industry via my online resource hub #ChicNation. There were a few chuckles when I spoke of my amazing husband, of course as a ‘Mrs’ titleholder, I am a married lassie and include him in my journey too
When I felt the formalities were out of the way, the time had come. After an awkward pause, more so for me to find the right words I took a deep breath, psychologically pulled the top off a grenade, and just held it. Time stood still for a brief moment. Just like I had said it thousand times before my closing line went something like…
…I would actually like to thank Tito for inviting me tonight, not because I am Kate Johnson; a model or a public figure. Not because I am Mrs Australia, or an ambassador for a charity. I would like to thank Tito for giving me the opportunity to share with you, publically for the first time in fifteen and a half long years, that I’m not a victim of child sexual abuse, but I am a victim of sexual assault. And today I stand here, with you, a survivor. I am able to share this with you for the first time publically in all that time because I am now, finally, in a safe place. And that safe place I owe to my husband. Whether he meant to or wanted to, he saved me… On behalf of the Touch of Goodness Foundation, International Pageants and my fellow Dear Pageant Girl title holders, thank you for giving me the confidence to share this with you. Let the journey continue…
This moment I shared with Tito is one I will cherish for a lifetime. No words needed to be exchanged. It was just a feeling understood by the heart. What I had done was release a secret I’d guarded for too long, and feeling like a boxing champion who’d K-O’ed their opponent fair and square I walked off the stage with my head held high. In years to come I won’t remember the time or date it happened, but I will remember that moment that made me feel like my own hero. I have always believed that if you can survive the ordeal you can survive the recovery. The people who shared their stories that night were a living testament to that.
There were few dry eyes by the end of the night but at no point was it uncomfortable. I can’t praise Tito enough; he found the right combination to get people talking about these issues, and interspersed with heart wrenching stories from survivors we celebrated the evening and his Samoan culture – with dance, music, song and more importantly, laughs!
If there is one thing to take away from the event, it’s that everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end. Remember that after every storm there is always a rainbow.
Event images courtesy Luke Potter
Emergency: dial 000 (Australia) or dial 911 (United States).
Counselling Line: 1800 737 732 (National Sexual Assault, Domestic & Family Violence)
You are NEVER alone. Here are some links to people who can be there for you:
~ Bravehearts Inc, Educate Empower Protect Our Kids
~ ASCA, Adults Surviving Child Abuse
~ Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria: Preventing violence, promoting respect
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