Personal Experience Turns Survivor into Activist

amanda_mintz_1055 According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, roughly 20 to 30 percent of women experience sexual violence in their lifetime. Nearly two-thirds of assaults go unreported, due in part to the stigma surrounding rape. In light of these unnerving statistics, Ross School senior Amanda Mintz has devoted her Senior Project to raising awareness about sexual assault through education.

Amanda founded In My Shoes, a nonprofit organization that provides education and resources to help people recognize and report assault, as well as aid survivors in healing from their trauma. The idea was born from her own sexual assault at the age of 15.

“Coming out with the part of my life that I’ve kept hidden for so long was difficult,” Amanda said. “I was very scared of the backlash I might receive, but our community has been so welcoming and loving. The positive feedback I’ve gotten has made it empowering for me; it’s made the process of healing that much more meaningful.”

Volunteering at The Retreat, an East Hampton–based organization that provides support for victims of domestic violence, was helpful in her recovery. Being embedded in a community of survivors whose self-empowerment and courage strengthened Amanda’s desire to start In My Shoes.

“It’s been inspiring to see Amanda want to bring awareness to a topic that has historically been glossed over, if not ignored all together,” said Kerrie Tinsley-Stribling, who taught Amanda in a course titled “Empowering Women Through Self-Expression” and serves as Amanda’s Senior Project mentor. “She hasn’t looked at any part of her project as an obstacle in the negative sense; she views each challenge as an opportunity to demonstrate her personal strength.”

Because fear and shame are the two most common reasons victims do not report their attacks, empowering victims and encouraging widespread vigilance are keys to reversing rape culture, as well as integral to the mission of In My Shoes.

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In addition to a website that includes a wealth of statistics and resources for helping those affected by sexual violence, Amanda has created an “event-in-a-box,” a tool educators can use to raise awareness of the topic using age-appropriate and easy-to-understand language. The kits are currently available to schools by request, and Amanda’s hope is that someday all schools will be equipped with them.

To tell the stories of rape survivors, Amanda is producing a short documentary focused on the experiences of four rape survivors, which will be screened during Senior Project Exhibition Week. Additionally, In My Shoes supporters can purchase pairs of shoelaces—symbolizing survivors’ work to tie their lives back together following assault—decorated by Amanda and other survivors.

Earlier this month, Amanda hosted two public screenings of the 2015 documentary The Hunting Ground, which covers the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. Each event was followed by a panel discussion comprising survivors, parents of survivors, and mental health professionals.

“Rape is such a controversial issue because it’s not really talked about,” Amanda said. “Experiencing and surviving rape is not something that should be feared; survivors should be respected and understood. Education is the only way that will happen.”

Though she started In My Shoes for her Senior Project, Amanda expects that the foundation will survive long beyond exhibition night. “I don't think Amanda realizes the magnitude of incredible work she is doing,” said Kerrie. “Her passion for this subject gives me hope that young women will realize their worth and the incredible amount of strength they have as a united force to instill social change.”