WARNING: This article contains descriptions pertaining to sexual assault.
Caleb Byers, a 26-year-old graduate student studying social work at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), was sexually assaulted on June 7, 2012.
Now, with the goal of providing resources and education for survivors of domestic and sexual violence and the general public, Byers shares his story through his website wearenotpowerless.com.
“It’s important for me to share my story because even though it has it affected me in a thousand other ways that I never dreamed of, I want to prove to the world—and partially myself—that I am not defined as a human being by one terrible hour of my life,” Byers said.
Byers was 19-years-old when he was assaulted by an older male coworker.
“He filled a father role for me which was what I was looking for at that time. He invited me over to his place,” Byers said. “I went over there at least a dozen times before my assault and every time I went over there, alcohol was always involved.”
Byers is unsure if his assaulter drugged him or had made his drink stronger than usual, but he was “very intoxicated at the time.”
“I remember just lying on the couch and like staring at the ceiling and I was just looking down on myself,” Byers said. “It was the weirdest thing ever—that’s dissociation.”
Eventually, Byers said he had the idea to say he had to use the bathroom, grabbed his clothes and ran. Byers’ twin brother Lukas was the first he told about the assault.
“When I got back to Lukas and I’s apartment, he was watching Star Wars Attack of the Clones,” Byers said. “He looked at me and he knew something was wrong. I remember just standing there staring at him, and trying to find the words to say and the courage to say them. I finally told him and he just went into shock and he just started laughing.”
Byers decided not to report his assault at the time, he said in part because he feared he wouldn’t be believed. It was about a year and a half later when Byers pressed charges, the results were not what he was hoping for.
“Five months went by, I didn’t hear anything, and then finally my therapist had told me that the county attorney had talked to her,” Byers said. “They said we’re not going through with the charges, there’s not enough evidence.”
In the months that followed, Byers considered making a video publicly sharing his experience. On November 2014 he did. The response was unexpectedly overwhelming.
“I had thousands of views in two hours, all these people I hadn’t talked to in five or six years we’re like ‘hey, let me tell you my story.’” Byers said. “That was kind of the catalyst for making my website.”
Wearenotpowerless.com was founded that December, two years and seven months after the assault. Today, the site is represented in 42 states and 13 countries.
“My website, and public speaking experiences are my way of changing our society to make it more accepting, helpful and kind for other survivors to come forward and share their story, to help them realize that they aren’t alone,” Byers said. “That’s what I want my lasting impact on both our society and the world to be.”
One of Byer’s most recent public speaking experiences was at the Victim Justice Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa on Sept. 12.
Byers said he stared out at 225 faces and said, “you’re the faces of the system that failed me.”
“Even though the criminal justice system when it comes to sexual violence—and domestic violence for that matter—even though it’s broken, there are still people who believe you and who want to help you, but that help is not always what you may want it to be,” Byers said. “They’re doing what they can within the realms of what they’re allowed to do.”