As a freshman at Iowa State University, that’s when Vanessa McNeal realized there were other survivors of sexual child abuse.
It was during a human sexuality class, when the professor said that she was a victim of sexual child abuse and put words to what Vanessa experienced as a child.
Fast forward to 2018 and it’s McNeal doing the speaking. She started McNeal Media in April of 2017 and works as a public speaker and documentarian, traveling the country speaking to survivors but also colleges, universities, businesses and nonprofit organizations, sharing her story.
“I had to know that I could create a better life for myself and that I didn’t have to be a reflection of what happened to me,” McNeal says. “My story isn’t rare but my outcome is. You can’t just sit and wait for people to invest in you. You have to show people that there’s an investment to be made and that you mean something.”
McNeal is part a series of stories this month focusing on the diversity in Iowa’s tech, startup and art communities.
Here’s her story:
In her first documentary “The Voiceless,” McNeal created an hour-long documentary that features the stories of male survivors of sexual violence. She said it was difficult at times to talk with survivors and have them open up with their stories.
But being able to relate helped.
“I’m a survivor of child abuse,” McNeal says. “Specifically neglect and then childhood sexual abuse. Then when I was 15 I was sexually assaulted in a college prep program that I was involved in.”
And because she thought nobody else had experienced childhood sexual abuse, she kept it to herself. Until that professor at Iowa State University…
“It planted a seed in me because I knew that I wasn’t the only one,” McNeal says. “People suffer in silence because they think it’s only happening to them, but she changed it for me. 15 years after it happened to me I was finally able to tell my family.”
McNeal says she’s spoken all across Iowa and as far as Massachuttes, Wisconsin and New Jersey.
But regardless of where she is, her preparation remains the same.
“I always prepare the night before,” McNeal says laughing. “If I do it earlier then I psych myself out. Even though I’m a national speaker, I’m just as nervous.”
Her talks can range from 15 minutes to an hour at colleges/universities, businesses and nonprofit organizations.
“I try to talk about finding purpose and meaning in their obstacles because that’s what I do each day,” McNeal says. “There are always people willing to help, but you can’t just sit and wait for people to invest in you. You have to show people that there’s an investment to be made and that you mean something.”
Her second documentary titled, “Gridshock” examines the current sex trafficking industry in Iowa.
“Because people don’t believe sex trafficking happens here,” McNeal says. “people are bought and sold, there are elementary, middle and high school kids going to school during the day and coming home and being sold by their parents or people in their neighborhood.
“But their life looks normal.”
McNeal said they are fundraising the project. As of Monday they have raised $29,000 of their $35,000 goal that must be met by Feb. 9.