COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS —When Becca Paxman launched her online clothing shop in April, she didn't know what to expect.
Not only was she selling clothes, she was opening up about a deeply personal experience in the hope of helping others.
"I just wanted them to know, 'Hey, this is my story. This happened to me,'" Paxman explained during a recent interview in her Cottonwood Heights apartment.
She shared her story on the website of her store, Havenly Creations Co., explaining why she plans to donate 15 percent of proceeds to victim advocates.
In October 2017, Paxman said she matched with a man on a dating app and they met at her work, a public place "which I thought would be safe."
But soon after he got her alone in his vehicle, Paxman recalled, he choked and assaulted her.
The weeks after involved unrelenting fear, reporting the experience to police, and a stay in the University of Utah's Neuropsychiatric Institute, she said. Advocates with the National Center for Victims of Crime helped her through that process.
Paxman later decided that though police may never identify her attacker, whose last name she never learned, she could allow the experience to drive her to help others.
Health department statistics show that 1 in 3 Utah women will experience some form of sexual violence during their lives. In addition, 1 in 8 Utah women and 1 in 50 Utah men will be raped. Sexual violence costs Utah billions of dollars every year.
And online dating has changed the landscape when it comes to dating violence.
According to Pew Research Center, 45 percent of those who use online dating apps and websites believe that it is a "more dangerous way" to meet people than traditional methods.
While there are no U.S. statistics that explore the relationship between online dating and assaults, several Utah cases in the past few years of men accused of sexually assaulting women they met on dating apps have caught the attention of police and victim advocates.
"I hope I can help other women and men heal from sexual abuse or any kind of violence," Paxman said. "Not only by donating, but just by speaking out and putting attention on the fact that this is such a huge problem. … And I know (we're) becoming more and more aware as the time goes on, but it's still very taboo."
Since sharing her story publicly, Paxman says she has already heard from women she knows and women she's never met who have in return shared their stories with her.
"I'm not gonna lie, I've cried a few times reading people's stories," she said.
Paxman said she plans to donate part of each purchase to the organization that helped her when she needed it. She recently quit her day job in medical billing to focus on the store full time, and she hopes to eventually become a victim advocate herself.
Building the strength to share the story took many months.
Last October, she decided to "come out" and disclose what happened to her in an Instagram post. Though she got a "big response" of support from family and friends, "it was very scary," Paxman said. "I had such a bad panic attack, I took it down within a few hours."
But since then, the support of family, friends and her boyfriend helped her heal. "It felt good. Like, I felt like I was healing, letting it all out, so I decided to just let everyone else hear my story, because I'm sure, I know there are so many more women out there" who have gone through similar experiences, she said.
On healing from an assault, according to Paxman, "It's not easy. It takes a lot of work mentally, physically, emotionally. You need a good support system. If your family doesn't encourage you to do what's best for you, then you need to find other ways to do it," she said.
She emphasized the importance of seeking mental health support if needed.
"And eventually you will realize that you are OK. You are alive, and you've got a life to live. And you've gotta find your purpose and strive for that," Paxman explained.
For Paxman, Havenly Creations has been a labor of love and healing.
She runs the shop herself, choosing and purchasing clothing and accessories from manufacturers, developing the store website, marketing, organizing photo shoots, managing inventory and preparing shipments out of her apartment.
Now, Paxman says she's looking for models of all sizes, looks and abilities to show off the clothes.Comment on this story
"Because I've never been the perfect size," she said. "I just wanted to put an image out there that women aren't defined by one type of size, because I know there's someone out there that needs that. And knowing that, I want them to feel beautiful in their skin, in their religion, in their disability."
She's also considering adding a blog to her website where other women can tell their stories. "I think hearing other women's stories will inspire other women that they're not alone."
"We're all beautiful, and we can all make a difference," according to Paxman.
Those interested in modeling for the store can contact Paxman at [email protected]