How One Sexual Assault Survivor Created a 'Healing' Virtual Safe Space for Women
Olivia DeRamus has been open about her past trauma and how she channeled that pain into creating Restless, an online platform for women
Olivia DeRamus is a sexual assault survivor who spent years struggling to find closure within the justice system. She was determined to channel her experience into a resource for women facing struggles and pain like her own.
"This ultimately has given me something positive to focus on and has allowed me to let go of that really difficult time," she tells PEOPLE. "Starting a business, I am sure any entrepreneur knows, is really difficult, and my one goal here is to make something better happen for me and for women who are experiencing similar difficulties.”
“The app specifically goes more into this community-led product that works as a social network for women who really want to be able to talk about traditionally taboo subjects like mental health, work, money, sex, and relationships in a safe space,” says DeRamus. “Somewhere they can ask questions and ask for help without having to worry about trolls eviscerating them for being vulnerable online.”
DeRamus knows firsthand the challenges women face in finding community upon facing hard times, and wanted to develop a space where women could be vulnerable and feel supported.
“It's a way for women to be able to connect with each other in an increasingly isolated world,” she continues. “I kind of created a product that fills the gaps that I was dealing with when I was in college and going through some difficult times of my own.”
DeRamus was the victim of sexual assault as a college freshman in California, a case that took years to come to an end.
“Unfortunately, so many women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime and across college campuses," says DeRamus. "After I reported him to my university and was found in the right not once but twice, my assaulter then sued me for defamation for millions of dollars, and that went on for the majority of my adult life.”
“When I was thinking about Restless for the first time, it was very much because I had gotten to a point after a number of years where I really had to realize that I kept relying on the justice system and our legal system to give me a sense of empowerment again, and to give me my voice back essentially,” she continues. "I learned the hard way that for me and so many other people in America, the legal system really doesn't serve us the way that we were taught that it would when we were growing up. So I really had to get creative with how I found my empowerment again."
DeRamus used that harrowing experience — as well as her frustrations with the legal system — to develop resources she struggled to find at the time.
“It got to the point where they were given access to my medical records, so I couldn't even feel comfortable going to a mental health professional," she explains. "This isn't an issue that I knew could happen to me at all, never mind how to deal with it, and I couldn't reach out for help. Restless was really an experiment because I started to wonder, okay, maybe I can't share what's happening to me — I can't use my voice, but maybe if I was able to have a part in platforming other women's voices and other women's stories that I would start to feel empowered through that and make something good come out of something really traumatic.”
The Restless app has already mined a community of women since its May launch, and DeRamus couldn't be happier with the response.
“We really were expecting to have to wait until those conversations got started, but already these women have felt comfortable enough to share what they're going through," she says. "To see these women respond with these really thoughtful, really considered responses has been wonderful."
"I think that there is a way to create a positive atmosphere that does not exclude real conversations on tough topics," continues DeRamus. "And from the feedback that we've gotten, people have been able to have these really tough conversations, and feel like it's happening in a really respectful and safe way."
"I keep thinking about younger me and I'm really happy that other women who are dealing with similar things can have that space," she says. "Getting to witness that come out of something so terrible is really powerful for me.”
DeRamus is hopeful Restless can be used not just as a space on the issues surrounding sexual assault, but as a resource for women in all aspects of their lives.
“My dream is that the app can help soften the blows of life that so many people face," she says. "We cover all aspects of the female experience — or at least we very much try to — and there are still so many biases against certain topics when it comes to sex or relationships or mental health. We have the #MeToo section, the sex and relationship section, the mental health section, and the working/money section.
"But we're very aware that as a whole, empowerment is so many things and so we really strive to address all of these aspects, whether they're really tough problems or also some of the lighter parts of life," adds DeRamus. "I think sometimes women need answers to tough questions, but sometimes women just want to think about fun things and talk about beauty and wellness.”
For women facing traumatic situations like hers, DeRamus wants to assure them there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
"It was really hard to see the end of all the bad stuff, to know it was going to get better, and that eventually, it would end," reflects DeRamus. "I think that everyone takes their own path to trauma healing. It's not linear, but having to go through a traumatic event is not going define the rest of your rest of your life. Healing as possible."
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to online.rainn.org.