Feedback on her essay in The Players’ Tribune has been overwhelmingly supportive, and it’s pushed her to do even more to help abuse victims.
“It needs to be talked about,” Stewart told The Associated Press in an interview over the weekend. “It’s not something that should be hush-hush. I’m not saying everyone needs to share their story, but people need to understand this stuff happens.”
The Seattle Storm star has partnered with RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) to raise awareness. Stewart wore shoes Friday night in the Storm’s game against Chicago featuring the organization’s phone number. The sneakers were auctioned off after the game to raise money, and she also met with members of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center. The latter was an emotional experience for Stewart.
“They just thanked me and hugged me. It really just put it in a bigger spotlight than it had been in,” Stewart said. “It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but something I wanted to do. Partnering with RAINN as a place for people to have an outlet to talk to people was the right thing to do. I can’t respond to everybody, but this is a place you can go to talk to people.”
Writing that essay was also helpful for Stewart.
“It was kind of therapeutic,” she said. “It was another weight lifted off my chest. Not to say it was any burden to me because people who were immediate to me knew about the situation. I handled it how I should have. Now everyone knows my story.”
Stewart wrote in the essay that she was first molested at a relative’s house in upstate New York when she was 9 years old by a man who abused her for two years. She eventually told her parents, who called police. She says the man was arrested and confessed.
Her essay was titled “Me Too,” a nod to the social media movement against sexual harassment and assault. Stewart said she chose to tell her story when she was playing overseas in China in October — away from the American press — so she could focus on playing basketball. She hasn’t done many interviews regarding her story, and she’s relieved at the positive response it received on social media.
“I was nervous about releasing it,” she said. “You get all these types of backlash for things you stand for. I didn’t know how people were going to react. Everyone was supporting me, everyone was thanking me. People could resonate with my story. Nobody said anything rude.”
Stewart said her father told her that what happened to her is not a “dirty little secret” and that when she was comfortable telling her story, it might save someone’s life.
“That’s the biggest message. Not to say if you went through something like I went through you’re going to be an amazing basketball player, but if you go through something like that you don’t have to have a bad life. It’s not going to take you off life’s track unless you let it.”