Sexual Assault Survivor Collects and Spreads Messages of Support

Pass 49-year-old Ron Blake on the street and he's hard to miss. The Arizona-based activist will likely be stocked up with Sharpie markers and he'll be carrying a large poster board. Look closer, and you'll see it's filled with wishes of good luck, messages of encouragement, poetry and more. The board he'll be holding is one of almost 400 that he's filled to near completion on a quest for visibility and a trip to "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert".
"It's such a symbolic goal. I've spent now, about 6,000 hours to get on a TV show for five minutes," Blake said. "To me, it's not wasted time."
Blake spends anywhere from four to eight hours a day walking up to complete strangers and asking them to sign his poster boards in support of sexual assault survivors. So far, he's done this for more than 800 consecutive days, and he wants to give survivors an opportunity to share a piece of their own stories. Blake, who is openly gay, also wants to raise awareness about sexual assault in the LGBTQ community — especially among men, who may be unwilling to talk about their experiences because of stigma.
"They'll start opening up to me, and that was unexpected. A lot of psychologists said that the reason people have been opening up is because I've been vulnerable," Blake said. "Especially within the LGBT community, people are really opening up because people are not talking about this. When it comes to national media, it's not discussed a lot."
And, the statistics don't paint a positive picture for men in the LGBTQ community. The Human Rights Campaign found that 40 percent of gay men and 47 percent of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence other than rape, and 26 percent of gay men and 37 percent of bisexual men have experienced rape in some form.
And, unfortunately, Blake's drive to reach a national audience through TV stems from his personal experience of sexual assault. Almost six years ago, Blake was asleep in his loft. He had been feeling sick, so he had decided to call it an early night. Soon after, his front door opened. Three men came in.
"One of those guys was my domestic partner of many years. He let the guys in and he was drunk, and that was the most devastating part for me," Blake said. "All three of the guys participated. I was held down, I was sexually assaulted and it was horrific for me."
The police were called, but the moment they arrived, Blake was already beginning to question his account of the events.
"I did fight at some point to try to get away, I did run away to the balcony and, then, actually when the police got there, I went through the freeze portion of it. It's hard to process all that. I don't know if anybody in their right mind can really process what's going on and especially (from) three people that I knew," Blake said. "And just because they're drunk or on drugs, it doesn't matter to the victim or the survivor. You don't care, you know what's happening to you. That's what happened to me that night."
However, before Blake could even begin to speak about his situation with such calm and collected analyses, he would have to come to terms with the deep post-traumatic stress disorder with which he would be diagnosed.
It was so crippling that he said he felt like a "zombie." Blake said that not only did his partner not understand why the experience had caused him so much pain, he ended up leaving Blake, after he began showing symptoms of the assault — like social isolation and "incredible bursts of anger."
"He said that, 'You just really don't want to be around people anymore,' and, 'You're just always upset with the world," Blake said.
After the separation, Blake hit rock bottom and was contemplating suicide one night, when "The Late Show" came on.
"My TV was always on, and a lot of times I didn't even know it was on. I was staring straight through it and my mind was in a loop all the time," he said. "At some point I laughed. it was really the fact that I recognized that I laughed. That was what saved my life. I used to laugh, I saw pictures of myself laughing with friends, or a video of myself laughing, but when you don't recognize it, it's like it didn't exist."
The next day, Blake walked into a Staples store and he got the idea to use the positive energy the show had given him to give back, and made it his goal to be a guest.
"I said, 'I'm going to meet strangers every day, I'm going to start talking about this, I'm not going to hide this anymore, I'm going to share my story and I'm going to have a fighting chance, because if I don't talk about it's going to kill me,'" he said.
Since his journey's start, Blake has met over 23,000 people, done a TedX talk about his experience and even met open, LGBTQ public officials from Michigan.
"I met the mayor of Southfield, Michigan, Kenson Siver and (Rep.) Jeremy Moss. They were at a spring festival in central Pheonix," Blake said. "It was really cool."
Now, even though he hasn't made it on the show yet, Blake said that he will continue trying to spread the word about his project if he can. Having already displayed the poster boards in exhibitions around Arizona, he is considering having them displayed across the country — even in Grand Rapids' ArtPrize festival. But, at the end of every day Blake's campaigning, he has one main goal: get on the show to spread his message.
"I'll have people ask me, 'Do you really want to get on this show?' Yes. It's not the only goal, but it's a major goal for me," Blake said. "You have to ask people, 'Why is something important?' For me, this is my Mount Everest. To me, everyone has something that I would call a Mount Everest."