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Memoir from UNC grad tells her story of survival

<p>Rachael Brooks is the author of the "Beads: A Memoir about Falling Apart and Putting Yourself Back Together Again." The memoir discusses her experiences coping with sexual assault. Photo courtesy of Hannah Turner.&nbsp;</p>
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Rachael Brooks is the author of the "Beads: A Memoir about Falling Apart and Putting Yourself Back Together Again." The memoir discusses her experiences coping with sexual assault. Photo courtesy of Hannah Turner. 


 Editor's note: This story discusses sensitive topics such as sexual assault, and includes the account of a survivor.

UNC graduate Rachael Brooks is a sexual assault survivor who recently published a memoir about her experiences, titled “Beads: A Memoir about Falling Apart and Putting Yourself Back Together Again.”

Brooks’ memoir depicts her journey from rape victim to survivor after she was assaulted soon after graduating from UNC at 22 years old. She was inspired to write her memoir after the #MeToo movement took off in 2017, Brooks said. 

Brooks was assaulted after a night out drinking with her cousin Courtney Swett. After getting in a car, which she believed to be a cab, Brooks was raped. 

The name “Beads” came from an experience Brooks had on a trip to her family’s mountain house in Boone, North Carolina not long after the attack, Brooks said. 

While in the mountains, Brooks said she made beaded jewelry as a coping mechanism. It was only later, she said, that she started to think about the significance of the beads. As she began to write her memoir, she used the beads as a metaphor for her journey.

“Imagine that you’re wearing this necklace, and it’s ripped off, and the beads just scatter everywhere,” Brooks said. “Some will go under the dresser, and you’ll never find them again, some you’ll step on, and they’ll hurt your feet, some you’ll nervously pick up to re-strand your necklace. This is how I would describe my life at that time —  just scattered beads everywhere.”

In addition to the trauma she experienced from the assault itself, Brooks said her experiences with the social justice system after the assault brought a lot of additional trauma upon herself.

Brooks said she had trouble getting law enforcement to believe her when she told them of her assault, and her rape kit took one-and-a-half years to be processed.

“The backlog is such an issue,” Brooks said. “How could a rape kit just sit there for a year and a half and not be tested?”

In 2019, Governor Roy Cooper signed the Standing Up for Rape Victims (SURVIVOR) Act, which works to reduce the backlog of 15,000 untested rape kits sitting on shelves throughout North Carolina. Brooks said she thinks this is a great step in the right direction.

“Thinking about those victims that never received justice — it’s eye-opening to how big this issue is,” Brooks said. 

Brooks said she understands why many people choose not to report because it is such a difficult and long process.

Swett, a major source of support after the assault, said she believes Brooks' memoir will help other survivors with their experiences dealing with the police.

“The more people that come forward, the more it normalizes the fact that it does actually happen to people,” Swett said. “It’s not anything that people should be ashamed of.” 

Brooks’ advice to anyone going through any experience related to sexual violence is to start by telling just one person. Brooks said that her amazing support system was a major contributor to her ongoing recovery.

“You don’t have to tell the world, you don’t have to tell the police,” Brooks said. “A therapist, a close friend, a parent, just picking one person that you know you can trust.”

One person Brooks told was one of her best friends, Mary Katherine Esleeck.

“It was wild because we interned together that summer, and we were together like all of the time, but I actually wasn’t in town that weekend,” Esleeck said. “I couldn’t believe that it happened to her because we should have been together that night.”

Today, Brooks speaks frequently about being a survivor at InterAct of Wake County, an organization dedicated to ending domestic and sexual violence in Wake County, North Carolina. 

“The biggest thing for me that has been such a healing part of this journey is being able to help others and allowing others to see that whatever they went through could've been something that I went through too,” Brooks said. 

A major reason why Brooks decided to speak publicly about being a survivor of sexual assault was because she knew she would be helping others go through similar situations that she faced, Brooks said.

“My overall message is that you can have something that is so awful happen to you, but you can get to the other side of it,” Brooks said. “You can have the life that you wanted. You can be happy, you can come to peace.”

Brooks said that her story can resonate with college students, emphasizing that drinking and fraternity culture is not an excuse for sexual assault.

“My hope is that when college students read this, they will not feel alone,” Brooks said. 

arts@dailytarheel.com

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