June 10, 2017

NEW YORK (AP) Layshia Clarendon knew it was time to speak up about being sexually assaulted when she was younger.

The Atlanta Dream guard penned an essay in April as part of sexual assault awareness month. In the five weeks since, she has been overwhelmed by the positive response and support from her teammates and friends.

But equally important, Clarendon has been hearing from people about how she gave them courage to speak of their own assaults.

''I got a lot of individual messages saying they never talked about it themselves and now feel more comfortable,'' Clarendon said. ''We don't talk about it in society and that's a shame. That was a good thing for me to let people know to create conversation.''

Nearly 67 percent of sexual assaults go unreported according to RAINN - the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, which has been in business for 20 years.

''Anytime you have someone who is willing to come forward and willing to talk about what happened is helpful,'' said RAINN's vice president of victim services Brian Pinero. ''We do see an increase in people contact us in April (duing awareness month) and it carries over.''

Clarendon had kept quiet for years about being assaulted and first told her girlfriend a week before the essay appeared on Mic.com. The two will be married this November.

''It's something that I should not have felt I had to carry alone,'' Clarendon said. ''I spoke up because I wanted people to know that it can happen to anyone. It's never your fault and you're not alone.''

She admitted getting chills the first time she read the essay back, including the opening sentence - ''I am a sexual assault survivor.''

''Here we go, it was meant to be,'' she said. ''The more I said it, the more I became more comfortable. The victims aren't the ones who should feel uncomfortable. It should be the perpetrators and the assaulters who feel ashamed.''

Clarendon says it's easy to put on a happy face on social media and no one would ever know anything was wrong. But that doesn't help start conversations or potentially help other people.

''You should never carry the shame by yourself,'' she said.

Before starring in the WNBA, Clarendon helped lead Cal to its first Final Four. Bears coach Lindsay Gottlieb was sad when she heard her former player's story.

''I had no idea,'' she said. ''You hurt for someone you care about having gone through something and still goes through that's horrific. At the same time that's mixed with pride that Layshia's able to use her platform to turn something terrifying into something that could help others.''

This isn't the first time that Clarendon has used her voice for social awareness. She also penned an essay in 2015 on the Players' Tribune about her sexuality and how that mixed with her religious beliefs.

''It's amazing. Layshia's one of those people that I really admire because she does the great things with the stories she tells,'' said New York Liberty guard Shavonte Zellous, who played with Clarendon in Indiana. ''For someone to give their own personal experience is huge. Not many want to tell what happened in their past. For her to speak her mind, gives people hope to say hey if they can do it, why can't we?''

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