NLC Member Highlight: Kelly Johnson

Each month, RAINN features a member of its National Leadership Council (NLC). The NLC is a group of dedicated individuals who have shown their commitment to RAINN’s mission of supporting survivors and ending sexual violence. This month we checked in with philanthropist, Kelly Johnson.

Why are you passionate about ending sexual violence?

I was attacked by a stranger as I left for my job in the early morning. My mind shattered like a piece of glass. Even after I was out of immediate danger, those pieces didn’t coalesce for a long time. It took me about three years before I started to feel like one person again. But even now, seemingly innocuous triggers make the anxiety build, reminding me that there are still cracks and that there probably always will be.

How can we all be better supporters and advocates for survivors in our lives?

My grandparents grew up in a time where they were taught that there was only one proper reaction to someone trying to rape you. You fought to the death. If the rape happened and you were still alive to tell the tale, you hadn’t fought hard enough. You had allowed this to happen.

I don’t think this is something that is said so bluntly anymore, but it’s still part of our cultural memory. And a fairly recent part, at that. These habits, these beliefs are not easy to let go of. Particularly when they make our lives easier. And it is so much easier to tell someone they should have fought harder than it is to tackle the issue. We can all help. We’re all responsible to help.

On the big levels, we can fight for stronger legislation against rapists. We can stand by the victims of such attacks, treating them—not with sanction or pity—but with the humanity that rapists tried to strip from them. We can raise our children to view those around them, first and foremost as human beings, and not as objects to be used for their purposes and then discarded as trash.

Change is possible. Change without work, without serious, sometimes agonizing effort, is not. But the change is worth it. And the effort isn’t nearly as agonizing when it’s spread over all of us. We can do better than this. Together.

How has your passion for ending sexual violence influenced your art, advocacy, work, etc.?

My love of books and writing started in childhood. It’s something that I’ve always carried with me and that I leaned on heavily following the attack. In 2014, I realized that there was a way that I could connect my love of the written word with my need to work toward ending sexual violence, and the Writers for Hope Online Auction was born. Every year, professionals in the publishing world—authors, agents, editors—– come together to donate work critiques, consultations, signed books, and amazing experiences. 100% of the proceeds raised are donated directly to RAINN. I could never have imagined the response that I’ve received to this event. Donors now reach out to me, asking if they can be part of it. I recognize the names of some of the bidders because they come back every year. It’s incredible.

At a time when the majority of the news we see focuses on people being horrible to each other, this event basically serves as the annual reset of my world view. From that very first email I ever sent out about this event—not only were people agreeing to donate their time and resources, but they were actually thanking me for the opportunity. This continues to blow my mind every single year. People thanking me for giving them an avenue through which they could give of themselves. And then there are the bidders. When I get emails after the event from the folks who have won, they are always excited about the donations that they’re getting, but so many have also written that being able to be part of something that will help people means so much to them. They remind me, every year, that I am not alone in my fears and concerns. The problem may still be huge, but so is the group fighting it.