It was late on Nov. 2, 2015 when Ron Blake was sitting on his couch in Phoenix, Arizona. “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” had just started, and per usual, he opened the show with a monologue taking jabs at politics and pop culture.
Blake doesn’t remember what it was exactly, but Colbert made a joke during the monologue that had him cracking up with laughter. When he realized he was laughing — something he hadn’t done in a while — he paused the show to take in that moment.
“It’s not the fact that I laughed at that show that saved my life, it’s that I recognized that something was good . . . I went to bed with hope that night.”
Before the outburst of laughter, Blake was in the throes of suicidal thoughts. For four years, he had been struggling with the effects of PTSD after he was sexually assaulted by an ex-partner and two others.
But things were starting to turn around for Blake. Soon after, he was shopping at office supply store Staples when he saw a stack of foam poster boards. A sales associate asked if she could help him, and he had an “ah ha!” moment.
“I’ll take all of them,” he told her, and armed with Sharpies, he has traveled to half a dozen states to meet with complete strangers, open up about his story, and ask them to sign his board to get him on the “The Late Show.”
So far, he has met roughly 24,000 people and they have signed more than 350 poster boards.
“I always said I would keep going every day until I get on this show,” he said. “I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I think the beautiful part is everybody I meet, I open up. It’s a grassroots campaign.”
This chapter of Blake’s story began years earlier in 2011. He and his partner had been together for a number of years despite animosity, including alcoholism — his Catholic upbringing had engrained the mantra of “for better or worse.” One night when Blake was at home, sick, he said his partner and two acquaintances came to his home, drunk, and raped him. After the assault, he called the police.
No one was held accountable.
People Blake opened up to doubted his story. How could someone so in shape not fight them off? How could someone you know do this to you?
“It was just sheer hell for me, absolute sheer hell,” Blake said. “That night was just horrific for me … I took ownership for that night because no one else would.”
For years, he suffered from the invisible effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Then that night when Stephen Colbert took the stage, Blake found laughter and a light at the end of the tunnel.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), one in 10 victims of rape are male and they are even less likely than women to report their assaults.
“Sexual assault can happen to anyone,” said Sara McGovern, RAINN press secretary. “Cultural stereotypes about men and how they portray masculinity can make it harder for men to disclose their assault and add additional challenges to their recovery. Many men feel intense shame and embarrassment about being abused or assaulted and stay silent.”
According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 26 percent of gay men will experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. That’s 3 percent lower than the rate for straight men — however, gay men often don’t want to report these crimes because it means they have to out themselves and they fear it being on the public record.
In Blake opening up to others, many reciprocate. Women and men share their stories of surviving rape, and a police officer told Blake she got a call of a man who was raped, but he only wanted them to be there as he packed his bags and begged them not to do anything more.
For some, sharing their story was the first time their friends with them had heard of it. When Blake attended a pride festival in rural Oklahoma, he came across a group of men and asked them to sign his poster. One of them spoke up.
“He said, ‘Hey, I want to tell you something, I think it’s time,’” Blake remembers. “He said that ‘About 15 or 20 years ago, I was sexually assaulted …’ All his friends got up and they hugged him and none of them knew. It was shocking that here he’s with a big group of his friends at a gay pride festival, but none of them even knew. He kept the secret from every one of them.”
McGovern explained that every survivor’s story is different and their means of recovery is different as well.
“It can be extremely difficult for survivors to disclose their assault, even to close friends and family. Encountering judgement or a negative reaction can be traumatizing,” she said. “The most important thing you can do is listen and believe them. It’s important to be supportive, non-judgemental, and patient. There is no timetable to recovering from trauma.”
When Blake is feeling down — he’s proud of not needing medication for 15 months, but it still happens — the poster boards filled with poems, Bible verses, jokes, stories, and signatures remind him about his mission. It’s to get on “The Late Show,” sure, but the self-funded project has become much more than that.
“It’s really incumbent on all of us in our LGBT communities to keep talking about this, especially the gay men,” Blake said. “Guys don’t talk about this stuff.”
“I think there’s a reason for everything that happens in life, I’m starting to figure that out,” he said. “We can’t leave anybody behind.”
Are you or a loved one the survivor of rape? For help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).