Her plight to raise money for child victims of sexual abuse has put Alison Lee and her past in the public eye.
Now all of the 15-year-old's peers in Coaldale know she is a survivor of childhood sexual assault, and in response the community has opened up to her. Some have opened their wallets, others their minds, and some have unsealed the silence that surrounded their own past abuse.
It's a lot for a 15-year-old to take, but Lee said she wouldn't go back and keep her story to herself.
"I don't regret it at all," she said.
"Me coming out that it happened to me has really helped a lot of people."
By selling Christmas light bulbs to decorate a downtown evergreen, Alison raised about $8,700 in the past month for Little Warriors, an Edmonton-based charity. The money will go toward building a "Be Brave Ranch" where child sexual assault survivors can go to heal. Alison also met the charity's founder, Glori Meldrum, who she calls "an inspiration" and learned she is the third child in Canada to speak publicly about her abuse while raising money for the charity.
That makes going public worth it, she said, although she has received some catty comments from her peers after sharing her story in local newspapers earlier this month.
But she tries not to focus on the negative. Instead, she thinks of the overwhelming number of people who have confided in her about their own abuse, and those who have offered their support.
"A lot of people are glad that it's becoming a conversation," she said. "When you have a child coming out and saying that it's a problem, people tend to listen."
Going public about their abuse is often a difficult, highly personal decision for sexual assault survivors, according to the University of Lethbridge's Suzanne Lenon. The assistant professor of Women and Gender Studies says victims shouldn't feel like they have to tell the world about their abuse in order to tear down society's victim-blaming "rape culture."
"The onus of challenging rape culture is on all of us. The responsibility for that just doesn't lay on the shoulders of survivors. I think we all, as individual members in our city and in our province and in our country and our society, have a responsibility to speak out against sexist jokes, against rape jokes, speak out for gender equality," she said.
The term "rape culture" refers not only to the prevalence of sexual violence, but society's attitudes about it that focus on the victim instead of the abuser. And society's attitude toward sexual violence isn't improving, despite the increasing number of victim services programs available, Lenon said, and victims today are still likely to keep silent for fear of being blamed if they speak out.
"Sexual assault and sexual abuse have always been very difficult for people to speak out about," she said. "People and society just don't want to believe that these kind of horrific things happen."
But for some, like Alison, talking about their experience helps.
"Every woman or man who is a survivor of sexual violence has their own means by which they need to heal. And for some people, it's not saying anything. For some people, it's just talking with a friend and/or counselling, and for other people, it's about really making it public," Lenon said. "And I think it's about honouring all the different types of disclosure or non-disclosure that happen."