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Loyal, Brave, and True

Interview with Canvas Rebel Magazine

Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Danielle Leukam. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.

Danielle, appreciate you joining us today. So let’s jump to your mission – what’s the backstory behind how you developed the mission that drives your brand?

I found a school assignment written by my sister from 1993. It says, “My sister loves to write.” I was five, she was six. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. It took me 30 years and a horrific event for me to finally start writing. My life then transitioned from me being “just” a full-time nurse and mom to now a full-time nurse, mom, author, public speaker, advocate, and survivor of rape.

In short, an unknown, armed, masked man broke into my home in November of 2018, zip-tied me at gunpoint, and raped me three times over five hours with my 3 year old son sleeping in his room next door to my room. Three and a half months later, another victim’s rape kit results matched my rape kit results, finally leading us to the man who raped me, and as it turns out, I knew the guy. He had been a groomsman in my wedding to my ex-husband. The rapist had told his wife at the time that he was going on a hunting trip. Which was semi-true… He just wasn’t hunting deer like she believed, he was hunting me. He drove almost four hours to my house to rape me in the middle of the night.

Journaling was cathartic. I wrote down everything that happened and how it made me feel. When the man was sentenced and sent to prison in 2021, I put all of my journal entries together and that’s how I came up with my memoir, Four Pounds of Pressure: A Memoir of Rape, Survival, and Taking Back My Power. Four pounds of pressure is the average trigger pull on a 9mm handgun. I survived rape, mental torture, being kidnapped in my own home, having my son’s life threatened, and my life threatened with a 9mm handgun in my face.

After my memoir was published, I published a thriller novella, two children’s books, and a sequel memoir. My upcoming book is a compilation of the experiences of twelve sexual assault survivors. Each survivor has a chapter, and at the end of each chapter is feedback, education, and resources from two victim advocates from Olmsted County, Minnesota.

Shortly after the sentencing hearing, I also began public speaking. I quickly learned talking about what happened to me was as healing as writing. I was being validated by sharing my experiences while also spreading awareness, educating professionals who work with victims, and inspiring and empowering other victims of sexual violence.

Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.

There are so many horror stories of victims of sexual violence not being believed, being retaliated against, or being discriminated against. I fear these stories deter victims from reporting. I want to be an example of when things went right in the criminal justice system. I was believed and justice was served. I was treated like a person, a victim, by trauma-informed professionals. I was not treated like more work, which is unfortunately how many victims are made to feel upon reporting. I’m proud of the professionals I was blessed to work with after I was raped.

I am the president and founder of a non-profit organization called WISH: We Inspire Survivor Healing, INC. We’ve successfully held two item drives and have donated items to our local emergency room sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs) to give to victims of sexual assault at the time of their rape exams. My long-term goal for this organization is to be able to help secondary victims as well, including children of perpetrators. The man who raped me has six children. When he went to prison, they were suddenly without a father, without his income, and had to face the devastating reality of figuring out a new normal. They were victims too.

Any insights you can share with us about how you built up your social media presence?

I built my audience on social media by following advice from the movie Mulan.

Loyal, brave, and true.

After I was assaulted in my home and my son’s life and my life were threatened, I had to still be a functioning member of society. I had to be a mom, go back to work, and pretend my life was carrying on as usual. Because there was an active investigation, I wasn’t supposed to talk about what happened to me to many people, let alone publicly. It had to remain a secret for most of the investigation and trial, which was over two years. Throughout that entire time, I wanted to climb to the top of the Empire State Building and scream about what happened to me. I wanted to share it with the world and advocate for other victims. When finally sentencing was over, I could talk about it but I was cautioned by some of my friends and family not to. They didn’t understand the passion that was brewing inside of me for advocacy work. Despite not having 100% support in the beginning, I remained loyal and true to myself and did what my body, mind, and soul needed me to do. I published my book, I spoke to the media, I started public speaking, and most importantly, I was able to publicly and loudly advocate against sexual violence. Once everyone found out what happened, I was told how brave I was through it all. I was grateful to be validated because I felt it too. Like a lioness, I will always protect my cub.

My advice for those who are starting to build a social media presence is to be true to who you are. That’s what people want to see – people they can relate to and connect with. Victims of sexual assault are walking among us, everywhere. They’re about one in every four women you run into at Target. Hopefully you don’t have to relate to the public through trauma, but I guess that’s where I fit in.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of being creative in your experience?

It is rewarding hearing feedback from other victims who have reported their assault because of my book or my speaking event, or that I helped to give law enforcement perspective from a survivor’s standpoint. It is rewarding donating items to local emergency rooms and victim advocacy centers through my non-profit organization.

Most of all, it is rewarding to empower women and victims of all genders to use their voices and take back their power.

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Image Credits: Twelve Ten Photography

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