When LSU alumna Brooklen Farley chose to tell her story of sexual assault via Twitter, she had no idea what her post and hashtag would turn into. Soon after she and fellow LSU alumna McCaala Nelson shared their stories, many others took to Twitter to post similar experiences at LSU under the hashtag “#ShowYourself.”
Farley said she originally tweeted about an individual at LSU and her experience with him without naming the individual in her tweet. She described him as a “highly protected individual in the Black community at LSU.”
“LSU has a pandemic of its own, and that’s sexual assault,” Farley said. “It’s a breeding ground in so many places and I don’t have a problem saying that.”
After her post, Farley said she felt an overwhelming push to name the individual.
Farley received direct messages from women who accurately guessed the individual she alluded to in her tweet. When she exposed the name the next day, Farley said she received many messages from girls who were assaulted by him as well.
On June 9, Farley posted her story to Twitter with the caption “I am a survivor. #ShowYourself.” The post describes the assault she experienced, names the former LSU student who assaulted her and describes Farley’s realizations after the assault.
“I felt like my story was invalid because I asked for sex or because I waited so long to say something, but that’s just the lie we tell ourselves to get through the days and try to forget about it,” Farley’s post read. “Protect women, not their abusers.”
Farley said she was a “nervous wreck” before posting her story on Twitter. Before sharing, she vowed to herself not to tell her story so she would not “ruffle any feathers,” and she suppressed much of the trauma in order to move forward.
“We had to dig up so much trauma to even come forward,” Farley said. “But it was more important for us to stand with each other in that moment.”
LSU alumna McCaala Nelson posted her story the same day as Farley after speaking with her about being assaulted.
“I cannot call on others to tell their stories without having the courage to tell my own,” Nelson’s caption read. “Thank you so much to every woman who has found the strength to use their voices because it has helped me to find my own. #ShowYourself.”
Nelson said when she was ready to tell her story, her mentor recommended using a hashtag with the post. Farley describes it as sort of a “double entendre,” meaning that it allows women to show themselves as strong and powerful, but also calls their assaulters to show themselves.
“When I posted my story, it had everything to do with me and nothing to do with anybody else,” Nelson said. “It was what I needed.”
Nelson was assaulted in May 2019 and did not tell her story publicly until this month.
“I sat on that for a year and I created this world of peace around it,” Nelson said, “And I was happy living in that peace where it had been kind of pushed to the back of my mind.”
Nelson said her choice to tell her story was never about her assaulter, but instead it was about telling her story. She said it was for her peace and liberation.
“It’s just really hard, it’s so hard,” Nelson said. “I did not expect this to be what it is, like there’s no rulebook for what comes next. There’s no rulebook for when you speak, there’s no rulebook for how people will move afterward.”
Nelson said sharing her story publicly brought her back to the night she was assaulted and the months shortly after.
“It wasn’t until I wrote my story out and read it myself that I realized that I was actually abused-- this wasn’t just a sexual assault-- this was layers of abuse over years,” Nelson said.
She said it was difficult to confront those memories again. She described the time after posting her story as “upheaval.”
“I don’t think people realize that when you tell a story that is that old and that you’ve come to make peace with, you get thrown right back into where you were when it happened,” Nelson said.
After she posted her story, Nelson said people began to treat her like she was fragile, and Farley agreed.
“Nobody is giving me the room to be myself anymore,” Nelson said. “It’s hard because it’s not new to you but it’s new to you in this way. And it’s new to a lot of other people and so everybody just feels the need to protect you now because they couldn’t do it then.”
Following the posts, many others took to Twitter to share their stories of sexual assault or harassment using the same hashtag.
“I didn’t expect there to be a movement,” Nelson said. “I did not expect there to be people wanting to hear me talk, I didn’t expect my life to change in the way that it has because I’m going to be real honest with y’all, it’s been real hard.”
Like Nelson and Farley’s incidents, Farley said many of the women who shared their stories also were assaulted or raped on campus. She said women messaged her saying that her story gave them the courage to tell their own story or helped them realize that they were assaulted in a similar way.
Farley says a lot of girls on campus don’t want to speak publicly about their assaulters because they either have in the past and were isolated or gaslighted, or they feel like no one would believe them.
“I want to redefine what it means to be someone who goes through sexual assault and really amplify how common it is,” Farley said. “We are not battered women.”
Farley said many of the women who were assaulted on campus went to LSUPD, but nothing happened after reporting it.
“I don’t think LSU has done s---,” Farley said. “My interview is in some vault and nothing happened.”
Farley said the semester after she was assaulted, she was placed in a class with her assaulter despite reporting the incident.
“We hope that LSU and the necessary authorities take their charge because now it’s up to y’all,” Farley said. “Something needs to happen.”
Media relations director Ernie Ballard said the University cannot publicly discuss the specifics of any individual cases, but the LSU Police Department treats all sexual assault cases that are reported with the utmost urgency.